St. Joan de Lestonnac (1556-1640)

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Sun, 02 Feb 2014 19:52:16 +0000  joandarc

St. Joan de Lestonnac

Today, February 2nd, the universal Church honors St. Joan de Lestonnac, an incredible wife, mother and founder of the religious order of Notre Dame of Bordeaux.

Joan was born in 1556 in Bordeaux, France, of a well-to-do family.  Richard de Lestonnac, her father, was a member of Parliament and her mother, Jeanne Eyquem, was the sister of the humanist philosopher, Michael de Montaigne.  She was educated in the Renaissance atmosphere, receiving a wonderful education.

During this time, Calvinism spread through all of France, which adversely affected the unity of the country.  Joan’s mother chose Calvinism and tried to convince her daughter to also join the Reformation.  Nevertheless, Joan rejected her mother’s pleas, remaining true to her Catholic Faith, with the support of her father and her uncle.  Therefore, during this time of her adolescence, her Faith was tested.

Joan married Gaston de Montferrant when she was 17, having seven children.  Joan’s husband, her eldest son, her father and her uncle died, wherein Joan experienced great suffering and terrible sorrow.  One can only imagine the grief and tears she experienced.  Nevertheless, Joan saw to it that the rest of her children were properly raised and educated, as she had a resolute and strong spirituality.

After her children were raised, at the age of 46, she entered the Cistercian Monastery in Toulouse, with her name being changed to Jeanne of Saint Bernard.  She desired this life of prayer, finding great peace in it, experiencing  penance and also silence.

She spent six months at the Monastery, but her health could not bare the austerity of that lifestyle; hence, she left.  At this time, Joan experienced an inner vision advising her what to do next:  it was about a response to many young souls in danger of being lost.  Joan knew that Our Lady was also helping her.  She formed a group of women to perform acts of charity.  These brave women served those individuals suffering from the horrible plague.

Two Jesuit priests, Fathers de Bordes and Raymond, whilst they celebrated Mass, received an understanding that they should assist in founding an order to counteract the surrounding heresies and that Joan must be the first superior.  The rule and constitutions of the Order were founded on those of St. Ignatius and the first house was opened in the Holy Ghost priory at Bordeaux.

In 1608, Joan and her companions received the habit from Cardinal de Sourdis, Archbishop of Bordeaux, with Joan being elected the superior in 1610.  Ladies came quickly to join the order, with their aim of teaching young girls of any and all classes of society.  The schools prospered all over France, with the sisters living in poverty and peace.

But with great goodness also comes great evil. . .One of the sisters and one of the directors of one of the houses conspired against Joan, telling lies about her actions and her reputation.  Remarkably, the Cardinal believed them and Joan was no longer the superior of the order, with Blanche Herve, the accusatory party, being elected superior.  Joan was treated terribly by Blanche, who insulted Joan in every possible way, even being physically violent towards her.  However, Blanche’s heart was moved by Joan’s response and her incredible patience, wherein Blanche repented of her wrongdoing.  By this time, Joan was now an elderly woman and did not want to serve as the superior; hence, Mother de Badiffe was elected.

During the last few years of her life, Joan spent it in retirement, preparing for death.  She died right after her nuns had renewed their vows, on the Feast of the Presentation in 1640, which is February 2nd.  We also celebrate this Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord today, February 2, 2014.

Joan was canonized in 1949.  She is the patroness of widows, and those who have been physically abused.  I find her accomplishments remarkable, her busy role as a devoted mother of seven, the fact that her husband died when therefore, she had to serve as a single parent, educating and caring for her large family.  And even when she lost so many members of her family, she was brave and resolute to be productive and to serve God, that she became the great foundress of Our Lady of Bourdeaux.  Finally, her great love shown by her patient example even whilst she was being emotionally, spiritually, psychologically and physically abused, with her reputation being ruined as a result of lies and hatred, she still remained firm in her Faith and love of God, even converting the person who was so mean and cruel to her.  Let us remember the extraordinary example of this beautiful and incredible woman always!  St. Joan is a true feminist, true to her Faith, true to her abilities and never afraid to love, even her most vicious enemies!  God be praised for this magnificent lady!

With love and respect,

Joan

SourcesButler’s Lives of the Saints, Edited by Michael Walsh; www.lestonnac.org

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