St. Jane Frances Fremyot de Chantal was born of a prominent family at Dijon, France on January 28, 1572. She married Christophe de Rabutin, Baron de Chantal, in 1592 at the age of 20. She bore four children and enjoyed a happy marriage until her husband was killed tragically in a hunting accident in 1601. Left a widow at age 28 with young children, she was forced to live with her father-in-law. She found him to be unpleasant and difficult but, nonetheless, she had to manage the financial affairs of his estate while raising her children.
During this very trying time, the brokenhearted Jane de Chantal took a vow of perpetual chastity and she struggled to forgive the man who shot her husband. She asked God to send her a spiritual guide. In a vision, Jane saw the man whom God had chosen to be her spiritual director.
While visiting her father at Dijon in Lent of 1604, she met Francis de Sales who was preaching there at the time. She recognized him as the mysterious director who had been shown to her in the vision and she placed herself under his guidance. Francis de Sales was greatly impacted by Jane de Chantal’s passion for God and the things of God. Their deep spiritual friendship continued until his death in 1622 and later became the basis for Salesian spirituality.
With the support of Francis de Sales, Jane de Chantal founded the Congregation of the Visitation Sisters of Holy Mary at Annecy in 1610. This community was unique in that it did not follow the severe asceticism of religious orders of the time but instead admitted women who were widowed, older, in delicate health or handicapped. Their life of prayer and activity allowed them to reach out to the larger community around them while striving for Christian perfection. They followed the methods of Francis de Sales which stressed above all keeping one’s will united to that of God and seeking always to do only what is pleasing to God.
Her reputation for sanctity spread throughout Europe and she was visited by royalty from many countries. When she died on December 31, 1641, at age 69, there were 86 convents of Visitation Sisters. By the time she was canonized in 1767, there were 164 houses throughout Europe. St. Jane Frances de Chantal is buried near St. Francis de Sales in the Church of the Visitation at Annecy.
St. Jane Frances de Chantal was a very capable administrator in her own right and a woman ahead of her times. For men and women in the 21st century, St. Jane Frances de Chantal is a role model for our many walks of life. She was extraordinary in her struggles of everyday life and, through them, became a great saint and our special intercessor for St. Jane Parish.