Born at Dijon, France, 28 January, 1572; died at the Visitation Convent Moulins, 13 December, 1641.
Baron de Chantal was accidentally killed by a harquebus while out shooting in 1601. Left a widow at twenty-eight, with four children, the broken-hearted baroness took a vow of chastity. In all her prayers she besought God to send her a guide and God, in a vision, showed her the spiritual director He held in reserve for her. In order to safeguard her children's property, she was obliged to go and live at Monthelon in the home of her father-in-law, who was ruled over by an arrogant and wicked servant. This was real servitude, which she bore patiently and gently for seven years. At last her virtue triumphed over the ill will of the old man and house keeper.
The Congregation of the Visitation was canonically established at Annecy on Trinity Sunday, 6 June, 1610. Its aim was to receive, with a view to their spiritual advancement, young girls and even widows who had not the desire or strength to subject themselves to the austere ascetical practices in force in all the religious orders at that time. St. Francis de Sales was especially desirous of seeing the realization of his cherished method of attaining perfection, which consisted in always keeping one's will united to the Divine will, in taking so to speak one's soul, heart, and longings into one's hands and giving them into God's keeping, and in seeking always to do what is pleasing to Him. "I do always the things that please him" (John 8:29). The two holy founders saw their undertaking prosper. At the time of the death of St. Francis de Sales in 1622, the order already counted thirteen houses; there were eighty-six when St. Jane Frances died; and 164 when she was canonized.
Her reputation for sanctity was widespread. Queens, princes, and princesses flocked to the reception-room of the Visitation. Wherever she went to establish foundations, the people gave her ovations. "These people", she would say confused, "do not know me; they are mistaken". Her body is venerated with that of St. Francis de Sales in the church of the Visitation at Annecy. She was beatified in 1751, canonized in 1767, and 21 August was appointed as her feast day.
The life of the saint was written in the seventeenth century, with inimitable charm, by her secretary, Mother de Chaugy. Monsignor Bougaud, who died Bishop of Laval, published in 1863 a "Histoire de Sainte Chantal" which had a great and well-deserved success.
The words of the saint comprise instructions on the religious life, various minor works, among which is the admirable "Deposition for the Process of Beatification of St. Francis de Sales", and a great many letters. The saint's qualities are seen in her precise and vigorous style, void of imagery but betraying a repressed emotion, and bursting forth spontaneously from the heart, anticipating in its method the beautiful French of the seventeenth century. The book which may be called her masterpiece, "Réponses sur les Régles, Constitutions et Coutumes", a truly practical and complete code of the religious life, is not in circulation.