Jeanne de Lestonnac was born on December 27, 1556, in Bordeaux, France. This time of great turmoil within the Catholic Church of France, which was brought about by the Protestant Reformation, had its effect on each individual and family in France and throughout the world. Thus, Jeanne’s early childhood was marred by a religious conflict within her own family, which constantly challenged her to remain steadfast in her Catholic faith.
Although as a young woman Jeanne desired to enter religious life, she was advised to the contrary by her father and married Gaston de Montferrand at age 17. Her first three children died at an early age, but a few years later she was blessed with five more children.
At the age of forty, Jeanne’s husband died and she continued the spiritual formation and upbringing of her children alone. As soon as her children were grown and able to care for themselves, she once again seriously considered a religious vocation. In 1603, after much prayer and discernment, she entered a Cistercian monastery. However, due to her advanced years and her delicate health, she was unable to adapt to the rigorous penances of the monastery. She became so gravely ill that it was necessary for her to leave the monastery after having been there for only a few years. Once again she had to discover God’s will and plan in this new development.
It was at this time that she was inspired to establish a religious community under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Order of the Sisters of the Company of Mary Our Lady would dedicate itself to “education in the faith and the promotion of justice”. As one of the first religious orders for women in the Catholic Church to have an active apostolic dimension, it had, at the core of its spirit, the harmonization of action and contemplation.
On April 7, 1607, the Company of Mary received papal approbation from Pope Paul V. Blessed in seeing the Order flourish throughout France during her lifetime, Jeanne died on February 2, 1640 at age 84, after a long life of dedication as wife, mother, and foundress. Saint Jeanne de Lestonnac was canonized on May 15, 1949, by Pope Pius XII.