(1572–1641), co-founder of the Order of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Visitation Order or Visitandines). Jane was born in Dijon, France, into a Catholic loyalist family in a period of Catholic reform and spiritual renewal. At the age of twenty, she married the Baron de Chantal, produced four children, and enjoyed a happy union until his sudden death in a hunting accident. In her grief, the young widow determined she would not marry again. She was introduced to the charismatic preacher, Francis de Sales, bishop of Geneva, and took him as her spiritual director. (Their correspondence is collected in Francis de Sales, Jane de Chantal: Letters of Spiritual Direction, translated by Peronne Marie Thibert and edited by Wendy M. Wright and Joseph F. Power.) The spiritual friendship that developed between the two bore fruit in the creation of the Congregation of the Visitation in 1610 in Annecy, in the duchy of Savoy. Carefully providing for her children, the widow became the first superior of this group designed for women drawn to a contemplative love of God but ineligible to join a traditional contemplative religious order because of age, health, handicap, or their widowed status. The original vision of the Visitation Congregation was of a simple congregation without lifelong binding vows. This allowed flexibility for its members to move in and out of enclosure to aid those in need and to attend to necessary family business. The Visitation also provided married women the opportunity for short retreats. The plan was modified when requests came for foundations outside of Savoy. In 1618 the Visitation Order was transformed into a formal religious order with lifelong vows and observing strict enclosure. At the heart of the life is the cultivation of Salesian spirituality. The popularity of the Visitation was immense. During her lifetime, Jane supervised the founding of over eighty new houses. She died in 1641 and was canonized in 1767.
Wendy M. Wright, The Upper Room Dictionary of Christian Spiritual Formation, ed. Keith Beasley-Topliff. Copyright © 2017. Used by permission of Upper Room Books.