St. Jane Frances Fremyot de Chantal was born of a prominent family at Dijon, France, on January 23, 1572. She married Christopher de Rabutin, Baron de Chantal, in 1592 at the age of twenty. They had six children (of whom four survived into adulthood) and enjoyed a happy marriage. When her husband was killed by a family friend in a hunting accident in 1601, she became desolate and sought spiritual guidance in her grief.
In the wake of her husband's death, Jane and her children went to live with her father-in-law, a thoroughly unpleasant and difficult man who, among other things, kept a mistress. As if her widow's grief and raising young children alone wasn't enough of a burden, Jane de Chantal eventually found herself trying to manage the financial affairs of her father-in-law's estate. Through it all her faith in God and love for others deepened.
In 1604, she met St. Francis de Sales in her home town of Dijon, France, where the young bishop was preaching a Lenten mission. Francis de Sales was deeply impacted by Jane's passion for God and the things of God. Their friendship was to endure until his death in 1622.
With the support of Francis de Sales, Jane de Chantal founded the religious Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary at Annecy in 1610 with three other women who joined her: Jacqueline Favre, Charlotte de Bréchard, and Anne Coste. They were to be daughters of prayer who lived the life of the gentle, humble Jesus through the practice of the little virtues. Those already out of the novitiate visited the poor and others in need, although this outreach to the larger community was not the focus of their day-to-day life together. Within eight years the community observed papal enclosure.
The unique thing about the Visitation, compared with other religious communities of women at the time, was that it admitted women who were widowed, older, of delicate health and handicapped. This community lived a balanced life of prayer and activity.
Even by today's standards, Jane de Chantal was a capable administrator in her own right as evidenced by the fact that over eighty Visitation communities had been established by the time of her death at Moulins on December 13, 1641. Jane Frances was buried at Annecy near the body of Francis de Sales.
To read some of the saint's own words,
To learn more, read these Salesian Studies ...