St Jane Frances de Chantal

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Widow and foundress of the Order of the Visitation. Born of a noble Burgundian family, in 1572, St Jane Frances married a baron at the age of 20. Three of their children died very young but four survived. After only nine years of married life, her husband was killed in a hunting accident.

Three years later she met St Frances de Sales, who became her guide and counsellor. When her children became older, she founded a new religious order for women who wanted to work in the community rather than stay as enclosed nuns. Her first convent was opened at Annecy in 1610.

Like her counterparts Mary Ward and Angela Merici, she faced great prejudice from those who felt 'unenclosed' nuns were not respectable. However she persevered and over the next 30 years established 86 houses. When people criticized her, Chantal famously said: "What do you want me to do? I like sick people myself; I'm on their side."

During the plague years, the convents were devoted to the care of the sick and the bereaved. She suffered many family bereavements herself during this time. One son was killed fighting the Huguenots. Two of her three daughters, but left extensive correspondence. Her granddaughter also became a famous writer, Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, Marquise de Sévign.

St Jane Frances Chantal died at the age of 69 in 1641. She was buried next to St Frances de Sales. She was canonised in 1767.

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