Patron Saints for Girls – Saint Jane Frances de Chantal

detail of a portrait of Saint Jeanne de Chantal, date unknown, artist unknown; swiped off the Wikimedia web site
NOTE: My only copy of this book is missing the pages 159 and 160, the first two pages of the story of Saint Jane Frances de Chantal. We pick up her story “in progress”. If you have access to a copy of this book, I would greatly appreciate it if you could send me the text from those pages so I can complete her entry.

….dogma of Christ’s real presence in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Some years afterwards, when a wily and intriguing woman sought to destroy her innocence, she had recourse to the Mother of God, and that Faithful Mother, who watcheth over the young and innocent, heard the prayers of her suppliant child.

The Countess of Effran, her sister, after obtaining her father’s permission, took her on a visit to her, and here, during her sojourn, a gentleman of large estates proposed to marry her; but Jane, knowing that he was a Calvinist, refused a union which must have been prejudicial to her faith. She therefore wrote to her father, beseeching him to send for her.

When she had attained her twentieth year, her father gave her in marriage to the Baron de Chantal, the eldest son of the House of Rabutin. He was then in his twenty-seventh year, and an officer in the army of Henry IV, who honored him with many marks of great respect.

Some days after the marriage, the Baron de Chantal conducted his wife to the Castle of Bourbilly, which was his ordinary residence. Our Saint found the house in a state of the greatest disorder. The frequent absence of the baron had caused innumerable abuses. Jane immediately set about correcting them. Her first care was to watch over her servants, to make them practise the duties of religion, and to make them assist at the prayers, which were said morning and night, in common. On Sundays and festivals, she sent them to the ceremonies of the parish church, which was distant half a league, and on the other days they heard Mass in the chapel of the Castle of Bourbilly. Our Saint did everything in her power to induce her husband to be present as frequently as possible. “Nothing,” she would say, “influences so much as example; and how can these poor people know their duties to God, if they do not see us fulfilling ours? How could they love religion, if they did not see us practising it ourselves?” In a very brief space, the house of the Baron de Chantal became remarkable for its regularity. Everyone had his allotted employment, and hours appointed for the execution of it.

When the baron was obliged to be absent either at the court or with the army, his pious wife shut herself up in her house, and rarely did she make or receive visits. Thus did she avoid dissipation, and thus did she leave herself free to attend to her children and domestic affairs.

Not wishing to have anything to do with the frivolities and idle amusements of wordly women, she employed all her leisure moments in reading and praying. But when her husband returned, she sought to please him by procuring for him innocent recreations. She then surrounded herself with agreeable companions; nay, she abridged her devotional exercises, and indulged in such amusements as are not forbidden by the spirit of true piety. At a subsequent period, however, she reproached herself with having indulged them too much. Amusements, said she, involve considerable loss of time, and dissipation cools religious zeal.

Thenceforth it was only for motives of charity, or to comply with the indispensable obligations of her social position, that she could be induced to abridge her religious exercises.

The Baron de Chantal allowed her the fullest liberty. He was an honorable man, and warmly devoted to his religion. He loved his wife tenderly, and she returned that love with a true wife’s affection. Their condition was a truly happy one. But this blissful life, so happy, so prosperous, and so joyful, was about to receive a sad visitation. A fearful tempest was soon to shatter the sweet chain of these beauteous peaceful days.

The Baron de Chantal had just recovered from a severe illness, when one of his friends came to visit him at the Castle of Bourbilly. This gentleman invited him to join a hunting party. The baron accepted the proposal, and went out dressed in a dark dress. His friend, who did not perceive that the baron had gone into a thicket, mistook him for a wild beast, and fired his fowling-piece at him. The shot was mortal. The baron, however, lived for a few days, and received the sacraments with the tenderest piety. He submitted himself with the most perfect resignation to the will of God. He consoled hIs frIend, who was thrown into a state of despair by this untoward accident, and frequently repeated that he pardoned him – nay, he caused the record of his pardon to be inscribed on the parochial registry. He expired, aged thirty-six years, in the arms of his wife, whose desolation no words could adequately describe.

The Baroness de Chantal was a widow at the age of twenty-eight years. She had had six children, or whom four were still living, one son and three daughters. Poignant as her grief was, she bore it with admirable resignation and constancy; so much so that she was often surprised at the strength which the Lord bestowed on her in her hours of bitterest tribulation. It was at the foot of the cross that she acquired this strength. Prostrated before her crucifix, she was often heard addressing God in such sentiments as these: “I offer myself to thee, my God, as a victim prepared to suffer all the crosses that thou wilt be pleased to send me. I make to thee an entire sacrifice of myself, and I accept all the visitations which henceforth thou wilt deign to inflict on me.” Furthermore, she now made a vow of perpetual continence.

Her greatest consolation was now to think that she could live for God alone, and she took great delight in constantly repeating these words: “Lord, thou hast broken my bonds, and I can now offer myself to thee as a victim of praise.”

Entering perfectly into her husband’s views, she heartily pardoned the author of his death; and, that the latter might have no doubts as to her sincerity, she did him all the services in her power. In fact, she wished that he would act as sponsor for one of her children.

Being now deprived of her husband, the Baroness de Chantal proposed to herself a new system of life, according to the rules laid down by Saint Paul and the Fathers for the sanctification of widows. The Saint gave all her costly dresses to be disposed of for the benefit of the poor; and she made a vow never in future to wear any but of the coarsest quality. She dismissed nearly all her servants, after having remunerated them amply for their services. Her fastings now became frequent anq rigorous. A portion of her nights was consecrated to prayer. Totally secluded from the world, she divided her time between prayer, labor, the education of her children, and visiting the poor and sick. She no longer paid any visits, nor received any, save such as charity and politeness would not allow her to decline. This love of solitude, far from being the result of excessive melancholy, sprang from a desire to be alone with God, to hold converse with him in prayer, to hear his voice in the perusal of holy books, and to be united to him in silence. Such, indeed, was her desire to be altogether with God that she would gladly have buried herself in a desert to escape the world. She avowed that she once entertained the notion of going to end her days in the Holy Land, and that she was withheld only by the fear of failing in an essential duty – the educating of her children, who were as yet very young.

Exalted by perfection, and desirous to live with God alone, our Saint now only needed a director to guide her in the way which she ought to pursue, and she never ceased imploring God to send her such a director. One day, as she was walking in the country, and praying, according to her custom, she saw, on the declivity of a neighboring hill, a man very much resembling Saint Francis de Sales, and dressed like him; in a word, just as she saw him subsequently at Dijon. At the same moment, she heard a voice saying: “There is the man beloved of Heaven, whom God destines to lead thee.” The vision disappeared; but her heart, now filled with ineffable joy, no longer doubted that God had heard her.

Saint Francis de Sales was then in great reputation, but as yet he was not acquainted with our Saint. On learning that he was to preach during the Lent of 1604 at Dijon, she determined to go and hear this eminent servant of God. The first time she saw the holy bishop she was struck by the resemblance he bore to him whom she had seen in the vision of which we have spoken, and an interior sentiment gave her to know that this was the man chosen by Providence for her guidance. The holy bishop, too, had had a vision, in which God informed him of his predilection for our Saint. She introduced him to her father, whom she visited frequently. She now gave him her unbounded confidence, and never addressed him without experiencing sentiments of the profoundest piety. She consulted him ‘on all the movements of her soul; but as yet she scrupled revealing it entirely to him, because a religious had caused her to promise, even by avow, to refer to him her whole spiritual conduct. On the other hand, she was greatly influenced by the discourses of the Bishop of Geneva. She conformed herself to him even in the most minute details, and her docility was always followed by the most extraordinary consolations. At last Madame de Chantal disclosed to him the cause of her perplexities; and he decided that the vow she had made was indiscreet, and that she was not bound by it. She then made a general confession of her whole life to the Bishop of Geneva. Her disquietude was followed by peace, and then again by agitations which tormented her soul. Saint Francis taught her to profit by these various interior tempests, which should never alarm a Christian soul, but should rather find it unshaken in God, who chastises those whom he loves.

The holy bishop taught her so to regulate her spiritual exercises that her exterior seemed to depend on the will of others, and above all, while she was residing with her father or her father-in-law. Her conduct conciliated all hearts, and those who lived with her were accustomed to say: “Madame prays continually, but she is not in anybody’s way.”

In the letters written to her at this period by the holy bishop, we discover the principles of that guidance which made piety so amiable to her. “You,” said he, “must perform every act through love and not through constraint. I leave you the spirit of liberty. I desire, if any just or charitable occasion should arise to take you from your spiritual exercises, that you should look on it as a species of obedience, and that the momentary suspension of them should be substituted by love.”

Our Saint, though still living in the world, was now attaining to the sublimest perfection. Her meditations, domestic employments, her austerities, alms, and visits to the sick, brought down Heaven’s choicest blessings on her. Her frequent interviews with Saint Francis de Sales, whom she was accustomed to meet from time to time at Annecy, served to detach her farther and farther from the world. Thus, she every morning renewed her ardent promise to love God alone, to love Him with all her faculties, to give Him all her heart’s longings, and to consecrate to Him all her actions. Such was her fervor that she stamped the holy name of Jesus with a heated iron on her breast, to testify that her heart throbbed for him alone.

The more she was detached from the world, the more abundantly did God communicate his consolations and lights to her. The truths of religion presented themselves to her every day in such delectable light as she had not heretofore witnessed. Often and often did she long to separate herself entirely from all things on earth, and all the bonds that ties us to them. She therefore revealed her intention to Saint Francis de Sales, who replied, saying that he required time to consider it. After various interviews, the holy bishop gave her to understand that he had made up his mind to establish a new congregation under the name of the Visitation of Holy Mary.

The pious widow gladly applauded the design, but its execution appeared to her to be very difficult. Now that her father and father-in-law were so very old, how could she think of quitting them? Could she abandon her children, who were still so very young? Ought she not to watch over the administration of their property? It was, indeed, hard to reconcile all these just obligations with her religious views. Does God require anything more than that we should sanctify ourselves each in the position assigned to us by Providence? But Saint Francis de Sales, who knew better than anyone else the circumstances of our Saint, and what Providence required of her, clearly proved that all these apparent difficulties were worth very little. In the first place, not being bound to cloister-life,. she could easily go to Burgundy as often as the interests of her family might require her presence. Secondly, there was no difficulty in superintending the education of her children according to the manner most advantageous for them. This obstacle, and indeed is was the chiefest one, being removed, her father and father-in-law consented to her retirement from the world. Oh! how bitter was the separation! but the divine love strengthened her and raised her far above human weakness.

Before quitting the world, and in order to arrange all the property of her children, the Baroness de Chantal married her eldest daughter to the Baron de Thorens, nephew of the Bishop of Geneva, and this union received the approbation of the two families. She took her other daughters with her; one of them died a short time afterwards; the other married the Count of Toulonjon, who, to nobility of birth, added great wisdom and virtue. As for the young Baron de Chantal, then aged fifteen years, the president Fremiot, his grandfather, undertook to finish his education. The management of his property was confined to persons of the highest honor and probity.

All these settlements made by the pious widow were sanctioned unexceptionably by her father, her father-in-law, and by the Archbishop of Bourges, her uncle; but when they were on the point of separating, they seemed to pour out their very hearts, and then there was an effort made to detain her, but nothing could shake our Saint’s resolution.

The appointed day came at last. Saint Jane cast herself at the feet of her father-in-law, praying him to pardon whatsoever faults she might have committed. She then besought his blessing, and entreated him to watch over her child with parental fondness. The old Baron de Chantal, then eighty-six years of age, was inconsolable. He tenderly embraced his daughter-in-law, and invoked Heaven’s blessing on her. The inhabitants of the district manifested the most poignant sorrow; the poor wept, for they were losing a mother; and some of them who had been the special objects of her care could not be comforted. The pious widow addressed a few words to them. She exhorted them to serve God, and recommended herself to their prayers. She then set out for Autun, with the Baron and the Baroness de Thorens, her son, her second daughter, and some other persons.

Arrived at Dijon she bade adieu to all these to whom she had been particularly attached. Throwing herself at the feet of her father, she begged his benediction, and besought him to take charge of her son, whom she confided to him. The president Fremiot felt his heart lacerated at this painful moment. “O my God!” he exclaimed, giving free course to his tears, “I dare not oppose myself to the execution of thy designs, though they should cost me my life. Lord, I offer to thee this dear child; deign to receive her, and to console me.” He then gave her his benediction, and, raising her up, folded her in his arms.

The scene grew still more affecting; the young Baron de Chantal, utterly unable to pronounce a word, rushed to his mother, threw himself on her neck, and conjured her to remain with them. Seeing all his efforts of no avail, he flung himself down on the treshold to bar her passage. The baroness, deeply affected by this spectacle, hesitated, and fixed her tearful eyes for an instant on her child. She then stepped over his body, and passed the barrier he would fain oppose to her egress. Much strength of mind and courage was required to do all this; but once convinced of her vocation, she believed it was her duty to obey its dictates; and now nothing could keep her from offering herself in sacrifice.

She set out for Annecy, where she arrived safely. She conducted the Baron and the Baroness de Thorens to their mansion, and remained there some days with them.

On her return from Annecy, she commenced the establishment of her institute, on Trinity Sunday, of the year 1610. A house was given to her by the holy Bishop of Geneva. She and two pious women who attached themselves to her took the habit on that memorable day. The young community was soon afterwards augmented by ten other members.

The Cardinal de Marguemont, Archbishop of Lyons, having counselled Saint Francis de Sales to change the plan of his congregation, and to give it greater stability by erecting it into a religious order, the Baroness de Chantal and her companions made solemn vows.

The Bishop of Geneva gave them a rule founded on gentleness and humility. “Let your humility,” said he, “be boundless; let it be the source of your virtues; let it be manifested in all your actions, till gentleness towards your neighbor become natural to you by force of your frequent use of it.”

The holy bishop, in this rule, did not prescribe any great austerity; he wished rather that it should be within the reach of the weakest capacities, and that its children should not fall into laxness by applying for any sort of dispensations. The constant practice of mortifying every little want (and herein, indeed, is great scope for the 180 mortification of the senses) was enjoined by Saint Francis, and this holy habit supplied the place of great austerities. Thus, this rule, though less rigorous than many others, and in appearance more easily practised, admitted of no relaxation or dispensation in such things as regarded the interior mortification of the passions and the senses. It consequently taught, in the most efficacious manner, the grand art of dying to one’s self. “We must die,” said Saint Francis to his children, “that God may live in us. It is impossible that our souls should by any other means be united to God.” These words appear hard; but yet is it not a consolation to know that by this death we may arrive at life in the Sovereign Source of all life?

“You ask me,” says the Saint, “what I would have most deeply graven on your hearts? Ah! what can I say to you, my dear children, that is not contained in these few words: desire nothing, and refuse nothing! Behold the infant Jesus in his crib. He does not refuse cold, nor poverty, nor nudity, nor the companionship of beasts, nor the inclemency of the seasons – in a word, nothing of that which His Father permitted. He refuses not the most trifling consolations that His mother can procure him. Thus should we, too, accept everything that is sent us according to the dispensations of Providence.”

It was thus by these various maxims that our holy foundress regulated her own conduct and that of her sisterhood. Humility, obedience, renouncement of selfwill, mortification of every passion, mildness, and charity were the virtues which she incessantly inculcated both by word and example. To God she would refuse nothing; and her generosity was such that, a short while after her religious profession, she thought of binding herself by vow al- ways to do what she conceived to be the most perfect. Saint Francis de Sales, whom she consulted, gave her his permission, for he knew her fervor, and he never doubted that she would faithfully accomplish any engagement that she contracted. Oh! how ardent was the soul of that blessed woman! “The whole world,” says she in a letter to Saint Francis de Sales, “the whole world would die of love for a God so amiable, if it only knew the sweetness that the soul tastes in loving Him.”

After the death of her father, our Saint made a journey to Dijon, to arrange the affairs of her family. She was frequently obliged to quit Annecy to visit the various districts in which the houses of her Order were situated. Thus she went from time to time to Grenoble, Bourges, Dijon, Moulins, Nevers, Orleans, and Paris. In the latter city she spent three years, in the Convent of the Visitation. It was here that she became acquainted with Saint Vincent de Paul, to whom Saint Francis de Sales had confided the direction of that monastery. She was of great assistance to Saint Vincent in establishing the “Daughters of Charity,” to whom the institution of the religious of the Visitation served as a model.

During the progress of these various foundations which engaged her attention, our Saint had to encounter many reverses and persecutions; but her confidence in God enabled her to triumph over them all; and her gentleness and patience won for her the admiration of even those who had been most bitterly opposed to her.

In 1622, God took to himself the great spiritual guide of our Saint, the Bishop of Geneva. She felt this loss most sensibly; but she was so accustomed to adore the divine will in all things that she bore it with admirable patience. She caused the greatest honors to be bestowed on the body of the holy prelate, who was interred in the Convent of the Visitation at Annecy. She collected a part of his works, and she likewise made every effort to obtain his beatification. During the lifetime of the Saint, Mother de Chantal established thirteen houses of her Order; and after his death the number of them amounted to twenty-seven. After the decease of Saint Francis de Sales, Mother de Chantal had to experience various losses of the members of her own family, which sorely afflicted her tender heart.

In 1627, the Baron de Chantal, her only son, was killed whilst fighting against the Huguenots in the Island of Rhe; but it was a great source of consolation to his mother to know that he had received the sacraments before entering the battle. He was in the thirty-eighth year of his age, and left a daughter, aged one year, who was subsequently the celebrated Marchioness de Sevigne.

On hearing this melancholy event, our Saint wept copiously. But yet she maintained the most profound resignation to the will of God. She threw herself on her knees, and, with eyes raised up to heaven, pronounced the following words so demonstrative of her entire subjection to the decrees of the Most High:

“My Redeemer, I accept this visitation from thee with all the submission of my soul. I beseech thee to take my child into thine embraces. Oh! my son, my dear son, I rejoice that thou hast sealed the fidelity of thy sires to the faith with thy blood. This is to me a high honor, and I give God thanks for having made me thy mother.”

Our Saint was accustomed to offer her heart to God on all occasions of unforeseen accidents; at such moments, she was wont to say: “Lord, destroy, cut down, and consume everything that is opposed to thy holy will.”

In 1631, she had to witness the departure out of this life of her daughter-in-law, the Baroness de Chantal, and of the Count de Toulonjon, her son-in-law, whom she loved devotedly, and who was Governor of Pignerol.

All those visitations served only to give additional lustre to the sanctity of Mother Chantal. They taught her to triumph over herself, and, as it were, to be mistress of her own heart. Thence came the salutary lessons of self-renouncement that she imparted to her community.

“Our Lord,” said she, “has attached the reward of his love and of eternal glory to the victory we win over ourselves. You cannot be the spouses of Jesus Christ if you do not crucify your judgment, your will, and inclinations, that you may be conformed to him. We are born full of evil propensities which must be lopped off, for otherwise we never can be conformed to him who is holy and perfect.”

On one occasion, she received a letter asking her opinion of a religious person, who seemed to live a life of great virtue, and who, it was said, received extraordir:tary graces from God. Here is her answer: “You have sent me the leaves of the tree: send me some of its fruits, in order that I may judge of them; I set little value on simple leaves. All I can say at present is that the fruits of a good heart that God nourishes are total oblivion of self, an unbounded love of humilitations, and a limitless joy for all that is done to advance God’s glory.”

The plague having committed terrible ravages at Annecy, the Duke and Duchess of Savoy endeavored to induce Mother Chantal to go to them; but nothing could tempt her to abandon her dear community. The contagion never visited her convent, and none of the sisterhood died of it.

In 1638, the Duchess of Savoy brought her to Turin, to establish a convent of her Order in that city. Arrived at Moulins, she was seized with fever. Her malady now became an inflammation of the chest. She received the sacraments with the tenderest sentiments of piety; and then, after having given her last instructions to her spiritual children, she slept in the Lord on the 13th December, 1641, aged sixty-nine years.

Many miracles having been proved as wrought by her intercession, she was beatified by Benedict XIV in 1751. Clement XIII canonized her in 1767, and fixed her festival on the 21st of August.

The body of Saint Jane now reposes in the Church of the Visitation at Annecy, and her heart in the Church of the Visitation at La Charite, on the Loire.