by J. B., a high school student in Northern Virginia
Through her deep devotion to her husband, children, and God, Saint Jane de Chantal proved herself to be role model to girls and women of every nation. She devoted her life to conform herself to what she owed to God through the world despite the great obstacles and misfortunes that she had to overcome along the way.
Jane was born in Dijon, France on January 23, 1572 the daughter of wealthy and well-educated wealthy parents. Jane's mother died when she was only an infant and she was cared for by her father, Benigne Fremyot the president of the Parliament of Burgundy. Jane learned her religion from an early age as well as the proper manners expected of a young lady of that time. Suitors soon surrounded her from which her father chose one for her to marry when she was twenty. Her new name was Baroness de Chantal. There were seven children from her marriage of which three girls and a boy survived. But after just eight years of marriage, her husband was fatally wounded in a hunting accident.
In 1604 Bishop Frances de Sales was asked to give a series of Lenten talks at Dijon. Jane had heard of his reputation and attended hoping that through him God might answer her prayers for a spiritual director. He understood her soul and they entered into a close spiritual friendship. Frances awakened in Jane the realization of the need to create a religious community for women who were of poor health, single, widows, or unable to live the more severe life required by some religious orders.
Jane began by gathering other interested ladies around her who pledged to devote their lives to this calling and together formed a new religious order of women called the Congregation of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary. But there were sometimes personality differences which tested Jane's patience such as the opinions of overly sensitive daughters of noble families who found it difficult to care for the sick and dying and others who criticized and even opposed the ladies in their work.
The affairs of her family, her children, and forming new convents often forced Jane to leave the convent and Annecy in Savoy and return to her home in Dijon. She was deeply saddened by the loss of her father who had died only a year after she entered the convent, the death of Francis de Sales her spiritual advisor, her son-in-law, and then a son who was killed in battle. It can be seen through her letters that she often experienced times of spiritual darkness and dryness.
In 1629 a terrible bubonic plague spread throughout France, and many Visitation sisters died. Although in great personal danger, Jane refused to abandon her convent in Annecy and inspired the sisters to stay and increase their efforts to help the sick and the dying.
Before Jane's death, she had founded more than eighty Visitation homes, and since she had not yet visited them all, she planned to do this to promote peace and charity. In 1641, Jane was invited by Queen Anne of Austria to be recognized for her work, but while returning home, she became ill and died on December 13, 1641 at the age of 69. She was canonized a saint in 1767.
Jane was a humble, courageous and deeply religious woman who was God's instrument in forming the Order of the Visitation, and through which so many acts of charity were accomplished. She trusted in God through hard times when her faith was tested and her life was in danger. Her charity toward others came from a heart as Jane put it, "Content, as long as I know that God wills it and that I am being faithful to what he wants."