Thursday, May 5, 2011
The de Chantal Society
St. Francis de Sales Seminary has formed a new society for women who have a desire to support the seminary and the seminarians while deepening their own relationship with Christ and with others through spiritual friendship. This brilliant idea to form the de Chantal Society came from the lovely Lydia LoCoco who works for the Nazareth Project at the John Paul II Center in the Milwaukee Archdiocese and from Fr. Don Hying, the rector of St. Francis de Sales Seminary.
At the first gathering, Lydia shared the importance of good and holy spiritual friendships for a deepening of our personal friendships with the Lord. Fr. Don followed Lydia's presentation by sharing the life story of St. Jane de Chantal for whom the society has been named.
St. Jane de Chantal was born in Dijon,France on January 28th, 1572 and died at one of her Visitation Convents on December 13, 1641. She enjoyed a happy childhood and was married at age 20 to Baron de Chantal with whom she was deeply in love, and together they gave birth to six children, two of whom died in infancy.
After the death of her husband in a tragic hunting accident, she lived with her father-in-law who treated her cruelly. One day while out riding her horse in the fields, she had a vision of a bishop whom she had never seen before. At the same time, this bishop, St. Francis de Sales had a vision of Jane. It wasn't until a few years later while Jane attended a Lenten mission given by St. Francis de Sales that they immediately recognized each other from their visions. Francis became Jane's spiritual director and the two were fast and close friends. They are well known for the vast amount of correspondence that they kept up, not only with each other but with others as well, and in all of these letters written by them, love was the major theme.
It was St. Francis de Sales who helped Jane make a complete change of life and together they established the religious order of the Visitation Sisters. What was most remarkable about this religious order was the fact that from the time Jane began the order until her death, she opened 86 houses for the religious order and by the time of her canonization in 1767, there were 164 Houses of the Visitation Sisters throughout the world.
Fr. Don shared the story of St. Jane's arrival in a town where she was greeted by 80 women who all wanted to enter the order of the Visitation Sisters. He commented that it would be almost unheard of today for 80 women to all demand to enter a religious order at the same time. But I would challenge that statement, because although a religious society of lay women can't come close to a religious order of sisters, there were easily 80 women gathered at the seminary for the program that I attended, and another 80 anticipated for the following day's session. So here, in this modern world, there were at least 160 women gathered in the same place looking to enter into the St. Jane de Chantal Society hoping to form spiritual friendships with the priests and seminarians of the Milwaukee Archdiocese and to support them with our physical presence as well as our prayers.
Well done Lydia and Fr. Don! And thank you so much for bringing saints of the past into our modern world and showing so many women that the call to holiness is not something from the ancient past to be sentimentally remembered, but something from the present in which we can all take an active part right now!