Pauline Books and Media has just released Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal. The story of the extraordinary spiritual friendship between Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal is recounted in this welcome addition to the Saints by Our Side series. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) was a priest, bishop, founder of Salesian spirituality, and a renowned spiritual director. Jane de Chantal (1572-1641) was a wife, a mother, a nun, and the founder of a religious community.
Author Wendy M. Wright is a well-known expert in the lives of these two saints who captures the heart and imagination by employing her vivid storytelling skills, using excerpts from their correspondence, and contextualizing elements of the mid-fifteenth to mid-sixteenth centuries for readers' greater understanding and enjoyment.
Below is the Introduction to Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal, by author Wendy Wright.
My decades-long familiarity with Saints Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal began in the late 1970s when I was at the end of my graduate studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara and was searching for a dissertation topic. To write about a woman seemed natural as the retrieval of Christian women’s texts and stories from the past had just begun in earnest in the English-speaking world. I was attracted to women with a contemplative bent, but sensed that I would need to feel a certain affinity with my subject. Six-year-old visionaries, women who eschewed marriage, and heroic martyrs were wonderfully fascinating but my personal experience did not match that of these women. Plus I needed to find someone who was not overstudied so that I could break new ground, but whose writings were not so inaccessible that they would require decades of research in remote archives.
As I surveyed the historic tradition I kept coming across the name of Jane Frances Frémyot, baroness de Chantal, mostly as a footnote in accounts of Francis de Sales, the seventeenth-century, French-speaking bishop from the duchy of Savoy and author of the Introduction to the Devout Life. In fact, Francis himself tended to be something of a footnote in general histories of Christianity written in the 1970s, since figures from the era of the Catholic Reformation—with the exception perhaps of Carmelites Teresa of Àvila and John of the Cross—were not much studied at the time.
Jane drew me. She had been happily married, raised four children, and led a householder’s life but also had a leaning toward a more contemplative existence. Due to the untimely death of her husband and her fated meeting with Bishop de Sales, she embraced religious life. Those events changed everything for her. I felt that I could identify both with her contemplative impulses and her identity as wife and mother, as well as with her experience as a working woman, since Jane was the busy foundress of a burgeoning community.
Thus I met Francis through Jane. My dissertation focused on their spiritual friendship as seen through the lens of Jane’s growth and transformation. Because much of her correspondence with her mentor and friend has been lost, I had to reconstruct a good deal of their shared experience by reading his letters of spiritual guidance to her. This allowed me to, as it were, sit at his feet and learn in a special way. I also read a great deal of his voluminous correspondence to others and his writings for the public. All that reading was deeply formative for me. I quite simply came to love the spiritual perspective they shared. That perspective emerges from the rich soil of early modern Catholic Christian humanism. It is optimistic, balanced, heart-centered, and relational, applicable to many different persons in diverse circumstances, eras, and lifestyles. It has weathered the test of time well and continues to inspire us today.
Over the years I have had opportunities to continue to study Francis, Jane, and Salesian spirituality from a variety of perspectives. Although I have written extensively I am delighted to be asked to pen a joint biography, quite a different task than considering simply the two saints’ relationship. It has given me a perspective from which I have never viewed the two of them before. For while the spiritual bond of friendship is at the heart of both their lives, Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal were also persons with very different life experiences and personalities. Their shared relationship did not fully define either of them. They were regarded by their contemporaries and by posterity in distinct ways. It is with delight that I turn again to the story of these two most attractive saints and see that story anew. It is a story that survives the centuries and speaks poignantly and powerfully in our present age.
By Wendy Wright
From the Introduction of Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal, published by Pauline Books and Media.