Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Jane Frances de Chantal

Yesterday was the feast day of St. Jane Frances de Chantal, one of my favorites. Her feast day has moved around a lot; it was originally August 21, then December 12, then August 18 in the Americas, then August 12. She was born Jane Frances Fremiot in 1572; at the age of 20 she married the Baron de Chantal and as Baroness de Chantal lived at the Ch√Ęteau de Bourbilly. The Baron died from an arquebus accident a few years later, and she took over the management of his estates. In Lent of 1604 she met St. Francis de Sales, at the time the bishop of Geneva, and they became friends. This soon led to the project of founding the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary, devoted to interior discipline through the cultivation of the virtues of humility and gentleness. They were notable at the time for being highly active and public; instead of remaining cloistered, they visited the sick. The Baroness, of course, being experienced in estate management, put the order on solid ground; they had dozens of houses by the time she died in 1641, and were still expanding. Much of what we in the Western world today think of as obviously Catholic in look or tone derives from the massive expansion of Salesian spirituality in the early modern period, which owes itself as much to Chantal as to Francis de Sales himself. She was revered in her lifetime; but, practical as ever, she simply dismissed it as people being mistaken.

John Conley has an article on her at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Some of her letters are available online; they are often quite good. I think I've mentioned before that I think Chantal is a candidate for being declared Doctor of the Church at some point; much of my reason for thinking so is in her letters.

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