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Jeanne de Lestonnac

(1556—1640)


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(1556–1640),

foundress. Born at Bordeaux of a religiously divided family and the niece of Montaigne, Jeanne in her youth resisted maternal pressure to become a Calvinist and married in 1573 Gaston de Montferrand, related to the kings of France. This happy marriage ended on his death in 1597; of their four children two became nuns and two subsequently married. In 1603, in spite of family opposition, she became a Cistercian nun at Les Feuillantes, Toulouse, but had to leave as her health was not sufficient for the austere regime. Two quiet years were spent in the country before she returned to Bordeaux, where she devotedly nursed the victims of plague. She now came under the influence of Jean de Bordes, a Jesuit priest who saw the need for a group of dedicated women to educate girls as his own Order educated boys. This accorded with her own plans and a start was made with several companions at Bordeaux in 1608. Other foundations rapidly followed and the schools prospered.

Meanwhile the Bordeaux community suffered divisions. The archbishop of Bordeaux resented attempts to gain extradiocesan freedom and Blanche Hervé, a middle-class but illiterate nun, was preferred as superior. Once in power, she oppressed and humiliated Jeanne who showed heroic humility. This regime lasted for three years, after which Jeanne in 1625 visited the other 26 houses in turn, returning to Bordeaux only in 1631. Two of her daughters and at least one granddaughter had by now joined the Company of Mary, as her Congregation was called, for which the revised rules and constitutions were drawn up in 1638. Meanwhile the foundress's health was failing and she died on 2 February. Miracles of different kinds were reported at her tomb. After many delays she was beatified in 1900 and canonized in 1949. Her nuns number about 2,500 and serve in seventeen countries. Feast: 2 February.

Life by Paula Hostel (1949), tr. In the Service of Youth (1951). Bibl. SS., vi. 587–8.

Subjects: Christianity.


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