St. Jane Frances de Chantal was born in Dijon, France, on January 28, 1572. Her father was the president of the parliament of Burgundy. When she was 20, Jane was married to the Baron de Chantal. They had four children together, and Jane lived happily as a committed wife and mother until her husband died in a hunting accident at age 28.
For the next seven years, Jane and her children had to live in the house of her father-in-law, who greatly disliked her. During this time, Jane took a vow of perpetual chastity, and asked God to send her a guide. She received a vision of the spiritual director that God had waiting for her.
In Lent of 1604, during a visit to her father at Dijon, Jane met St. Francis de Sales, who was preaching at the Sainte Chapelle. She recognized him as the mysterious director she had seen in her vision, and placed herself under his guidance. The two corresponded regularly, producing volumes of spiritual direction, some of which are still available today, but most of which were destroyed by Jane after St. Francis died.
In 1610, Jane went to Annecy, feeling that God was calling her to found an order for women and girls who were called to lives of Christian perfection, without practicing the severe asceticism of the religious orders at that time.
The Congregation of the Visitation was canonically established at Annecy on June 6, 1610, Trinity Sunday. Visitation nuns followed St. Francis’ method of spiritual perfection, always keeping their will united to the Divine Will, giving soul, heart, and longings to God, and seeking to always do what is pleasing to him. At the time of Jane’s death, 31 years later, there were 86 convents of Visitation nuns.
Jane was known for her strong spirituality and her sanctity. She encouraged her daughters not to give in to human weakness, but to battle against passions and habits that kept them from God’s will. She bore continuous trials of her own, especially in the last nine years of her life, when she experienced an agony of the soul.
St. Jane died on December 13, 1641, at the Visitation Convent Moulins, Her body is venerated with that of St. Francis de Sales in the church of the Visitation at Annecy. She was canonized in 1767.
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