Companions in Faith
Read your way
through just about
any volume of lives
of the saints and you may
conclude that you’re unlikely
to become a saint if you
develop a long-term friendship
with a member of the
opposite sex. You could
think this, however, only
if you overlook that more
than a few saints are examples
of just the opposite.
Indeed, these saints’ friendships—that they shared
themselves with each other
on a more-than-superficial
significant ways to the fact
that the grace of God
holiness in their lives.
St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622)
St. Jane Frances de Chantal (1572-1641)
From a distinguished family, Jane
de Chantal was the daughter of a
prominent lawyer, the president of
the parliament of the Burgundy region
of France. Her husband, with whom
she had a happy marriage, was the
baron of Chantal. Her brother was
the archbishop of Bourges. Jane gave
birth to six children, but only a boy and
two girls lived past early infancy.
In 1601, Jane’s husband was killed
in a hunting accident, and for three years
thereafter she was deeply depressed. A
priest offered to become Jane’s spiritual
director, and she accepted gratefully. But
as things developed, this priest was no
great blessing. Jane struggled under his
harsh and insensitive influence.
Jane de Chantal met Francis de Sales
for the first time in 1604, when Francis
was the 37-year-old bishop of Geneva,
Switzerland, and Jane was
a 32-year-old noblewoman
and widow with three
children, living with her
father in Dijon, France.
During Lent that year,
Francis gave a series of
public sermons in Dijon
which Jane attended and
which affected her deeply.
Francis’ kindness and
wisdom touched Jane’s
heart. Aware that she
needed spiritual help,
Jane was able to meet
with Francis and tell him
of her situation. Francis
sympathized, but he felt
that he could not lightly
take over Jane’s spiritual
direction from another
priest. After much prayer,
however, Francis informed
Jane that the other priest
had accomplished nothing
but to destroy her conscience. Thereupon,
Jane made her confession to
Francis, which resulted in a feeling of
deep joy and freedom of heart.
As a spiritual director, Francis de
Sales respected the life experience of
those he directed. He was a good listener,
and he refused to set himself up in the
place of God “for fear,” he said, “of
In the beginning, Jane was
mystified because Francis did not give
her a set of firm rules to follow. Soon,
however, she began to appreciate Francis’ gentle style. “Never,” she
later recalled, “did that blessed one
make quick replies.” Rather, he knew
that God’s love was at work in Jane
and that both he and she must
After Francis’ return to Geneva,
the two corresponded regularly. In
one letter, Francis advised, “As regards
devotions, I should approve of your
still going slow.” It was three years
before the two met again, near
Pentecost 1607. Jane put her life in
Francis’ hands, but he advised waiting
patiently while she found her own
Jane felt called to join an order
of women religious, but at the time religious orders demanded a life of
such austerity that Francis advised
against them all. There was a need,
Francis said, for a new kind of religious
community for women, “not too
mild for the strong, nor too harsh for
the weak.” It would be a community
for women unable to join any of the
existing orders because of their age,
poor health, or need to care for
children, and it would be especially
appropriate for widows. These women
religious would maintain their ties
of affection with their families.
Later, Francis wrote his spiritual
classic, On the Love of God, for the
community that Jane established near
Anneçy. Wanting to emphasize the
contemplative prayer that would be
at the heart of community life—rather
than the life of active service that
Francis had proposed—Jane named
her community the Daughters of the
Visitation of St. Mary, or Visitandines—a reference to the visit of Mary to her
cousin Elizabeth and Mary’s praying of
the Magnificat (see Luke 1:39-56).
It was a great blow to Jane when
Francis died in 1622, but with time
and prayer she regained her spiritual
equilibrium and carried on. Later in
life, Jane suffered great spiritual aridity
and anguish, but she remained firm
in her faith. By 1635 there were 65
Visitandine convents, and Jane
worked tirelessly to nurture them all.
It was on her way back to Anneçy from
a visit to one of the convents that Jane
became ill and died on December 13,
1641. Her body was taken to Anneçy
where she was buried near her beloved
St. Vincent de Paul
St. Louise de Marillac
Vincent de Paul is familiar to us
because of the thousands of
social service agencies, in more
than 130 countries, that bear his name.
Many don’t realize, however, that Louise
de Marillac worked closely with Vincent
in serving the poor in 17th-century
France. Vincent was born about 1580
to a peasant family. Louise was born
out of wedlock on August 12, 1591.
Vincent de Paul and Louise
de Marillac met in 1623, and he
agreed to be her spiritual director,
even though his overriding concern
was to serve the poor. Initially, she
thought Vincent was rigid and
distant. Gradually, however, the two
became close friends.
When Louise’s dull, anger-prone
husband died on December 21, 1625,
she decided that she would not marry
again. Louise lived in a little apartment
and spent much time in prayer. She
painted watercolors, knitted for Vincent’s poor people and sewed vestments
for him. Vincent pleaded with
Louise not to work so hard and not to
burden herself with pious devotions
In her late 30s by this time,
Louise had never known any human
warmth, but she knew that she had to figure out what to do with herself.
Gifted with practical wisdom when
it came to spiritual issues, Vincent
told Louise that he would not tell
her what to do; she would have to
figure it out for herself. Finally, more
than two years later, Louise began to
get her act together.
Vincent had established groups
of upper-class women, which he called
the Ladies of Charity, who cared for
the poor and the sick. In 1628,
Vincent asked Louise to travel about
to inspect his growing charity activities,
and Louise realized that she possessed
talents she had never known she had.
She wrote out detailed reports for
Vincent and, before long, she became
a management whiz.
In each place she found someone
to teach the children to read because
she believed that literacy was the key
to improving people’s lives. She also
became a captivating public speaker.
In a few places Louise met opposition,
even from the local clergy who accused
her of trying to do their work, but, for
the most part, the people welcomed
and supported her.
Most of the Ladies of Charity were
reluctant to serve the poor directly. They would send money or a servant
instead. So Louise decided to recruit
hearty country girls, who had common
sense and didn’t shy away from work.
She would train them in religion and
nursing. On November 26, 1633,
she welcomed her first four recruits.
At every opportunity, Vincent
supported Louise and offered advice.
When Louise’s difficult son needed help
to become self-sufficient, Vincent found
him work. Later, he solicited enough
money from Louise’s father’s family
for the young man to marry. About
this time, Louise named her fledgling
community the Daughters of Charity.
She drew up statutes, and Vincent
gave them his approval. The women
of the community learned prayer,
meditation, basic nursing skills and
practical ways to help the poor. They
wore peasant clothes rather than a
traditional religious habit.
Because most of the Daughters
of Charity were not well educated,
Vincent and Louise held “conferences”
once or twice a month, and all the
Daughters were encouraged to join
the conversation. Over time, Vincent
stepped away from the work of the
Daughters of Charity, confident that
Louise could take care of it. The two
had a long and affectionate friendship,
and they continued to correspond
until Louise died on March 16, 1660.
Vincent followed her in death on
September 27 of the same year
Next: Saints of the Eastern Tradition
Share your life with faithful friends. Follow in the footsteps of…
• St. Francis de Sales, whose gentleness and listening ear invited Jane Frances de
Chantal’s trust. Patiently listen to a friend in need.
• St. Jane Frances de Chantal, who sought her friend Francis de Sales’s guidance
yet trusted herself about the kind of religious community to form. Seek advice
from others, but also trust God’s guidance and your own heart.
• St. Vincent de Paul, who refrained from solving Louise de Marillac’s problems
and challenged her to sort things out herself. Give your friends the space they
need to grow in confidence in their own abilities.
• St. Louise de Marillac, who moved beyond her negative impression of Vincent
de Paul to become his friend. Have you made unfair or hasty judgments of others?
Could you be missing out on a good friendship?
Share how these and other saints inspire you
We will post selected inspirations in this feature.
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