Jane Frances Fremiot (+1641) was a beautiful, refined young woman from Burgundy, betrothed to the handsome Baron de Chantal at 21 years old – a veritable Austen-esque marriage of true minds, in a French mode; and a happy union it was, before the Baron was killed by an arquebus in a tragic hunting accident, leaving Jane a widow with four small children.
Yet she was resourceful, like the good wife of Proverbs, running her husband’s estate and finances prudently and well. Upon meeting the Bishop of Geneva, Saint Francis de Sales, she adopted him as her spiritual director (after his death, she was guided by Saint Vincent de Paul, so she was fortunate!). After ensuring her children were provided for, Jane committed herself to a life of chastity and almsgiving, eventually founding the Congregation of the Visitation in 1610, in which Order she would spend the rest of her life. Originally dedicated to external good works, the Congregation, due to external pressure and carping voices, Bishop de Sales – who was overseeing things – obliged to ask the nuns to remain contemplative and enclosed; the world and culture were not yet ready for Sisters outside the convent, but the day would soon arrive, and Chantal helped pave the way.
The Congregation was unique in taking in even those rejected by other communities due to age or some other factor. When people complained about their taking in those who were considered outside the pale for vocation, What do you want me to do? I like sick people myself; I’m on their side. By the time of Jane’s death in 1641, there were already 86 houses throughout Europe, and when she was canonized in 1767 by Pope Clement XIII, there were 164. By their fruits, ye shall know them, and the Visitation Sisters to this day do marvelous work for the kingdom of God, which is always closer than we think.