by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Vis Companion
St. Jane de Chantal
“When shall it be that we shall taste the sweetness of the Divine Will in all that happens to us, considering in everything only His good pleasure, by whom it is certain that adversity is sent with as much love as prosperity, and as much for our good? When shall we cast ourselves undeservedly into the arms of our most loving Father in Heaven, leaving to Him the care of ourselves and of our affairs, and reserving only the desire of pleasing Him, and of serving Him well in all that we can?” – St. Jane de Chantal
Today is the day we celebrate the Feast of our co-foundress, St. Jane de Chantal, in the United States. As I reflect on this woman’s life, I’m moved by her faithful example and it informs my prayer and writing.
A Monday night gathering of Salesian Companions
Maybe it was the Fall of 2004 or 2005 that I first really heard the story of Jane de Chantal. I was sitting in the living room of the Visitation Sisters’ Monastery on Girard Avenue in North Minneapolis. It was a Monday night, and the Salesian Spirituality group was convened under the auspices of our lay Visitation Companion leaders, Maryann and Jeff Pearson. As always, the evening began with a light soup supper, and was followed by a presentation co-lead by a Sister and another Vis Companion. There were small group discussions on the topic for the eve and then closing prayer.
On this particular night, it was former Urban Homeworks neighbor and Northside resident, Kim Jakus, co- facilitating with Sr. Mary Virginia. There were maybe 25 to 30 familiar and new faces spilling over from the living and dining room spaces and filling the main floor of the monastery. The night got underway with Kim telling a story. Unbeknownst at first to me, it was the tale of Jane de Chantal’s life and calling.
I’m struck by how the details of her early journey give rise to her ensuing purpose: serving the poor and fashioning a life of prayer in the midst of unceasing activity. The letters of spiritual direction from this period between Jane and Francis are especially inspiring to me, as a lay woman, because I am so taken with how their depicted friendship reveals a transformation of their hearts, a healing of a broken spirit, and a love that transcends typical bounds.
"Love! love! love! my daughters; I know nothing else." -Jane de Chantal
I remember that evening because I was so moved by this opening narrative, and how Kim told it. It was like Ms. Jakus was sharing the tale of a close personal friend of hers. I sat rapt by the story of Jane: a woman who was married to a beautiful, but philandering fellow; a gentleman who completely had her heart, and to whom she bore several children. I heard details of their life and love together: the two children they had who died in infancy, the babe he fathered with another woman; her steadfast devotion to him, and faith in God. I was told about her husband’s early death, when he was shot in a hunting accident by a friend. I leaned in to glean how this woman coped in the wake of all this, especially his passing; I wondered how she moved on? Kim told us how Jane worked to simplify her family’s life, selling possessions, and ultimately moving in to her father-in-law’s home to assume care-taking responsibilities there. I related the narrative of this woman to a member of my own family, whose husband was also shot in a hunting accident. I felt my heart expand with empathy for the way she loved and remained committed to this man and their family. I grieved with her his loss, and the agony she must have known in his cruel, premature passing. I was beyond curious – desiring further details about her life.
Kim went on to share the rest of Jane’s story with ease and familiarity. The years it took for her to forgive the man who killed her husband; the ache she knew grieving and wondering why God had dealt her this cruel hand; her constant prayer in the midst of so much activity; the gift she received in the spiritual friendship and correspondence with a bishop called Francis de Sales — and ultimately, how it all lead to her eventual calling to begin something anew: co-founding the religious order of the Visitation of Holy Mary for women desiring consecrated life.
It’s the early section of Jane’s life that always strikes me when I reflect on her journey. I think it’s because I’m so taken by the fact that a woman who married and had children, and who lost seemingly so much in the death of her partner, realizes and grows tremendously through it all and goes on to found a religious order for women. I’m struck by how the details of her early journey give rise to her ensuing purpose: serving the poor and fashioning a life of prayer in the midst of unceasing activity. The letters of spiritual direction from this period between Jane and Francis are especially inspiring to me, as a lay woman, because I am so taken with how their depicted friendship reveals a transformation of their hearts, a healing of a broken spirit, and a love that transcends typical bounds. Francis and Janes’ manner of practicing hidden, inner virtues -of humility, obedience, poverty, even-tempered charity, and patience — that are central in their relational manner of “living Jesus” are also key elements in this story that challenge me in my own current journey.
On this feast day, I invite you to reflect on St. Jane’s story, and consider what strikes you about her path. How is it similar to your walk, or of someone’s close to you? I encourage you to recognize the moments of great suffering and loss in your own life, and how God’s love is at work. I ask you to consider the role of a friend, mentor, spiritual guide or counselor in seeing you through to your next purpose or highest calling. What is this next discernment for you? I invite you to pray a special prayer dedicating your life in gratitude and service for something that honors your deepest convictions. Are you, or someone you know, like Jane, seeking a consecrated life? Could this be with the Visitation Sisters of North Minneapolis? What is your prayer?
Happy Feast Day of St. Jane de Chantal! Blessings on your prayerful reflections!