Today, February 2, we celebrate the feast day of Saint Joan de Lestonnac (1556-1640), patron saint of abuse victims, individuals rejected by religious orders, and widows. Saint Joan is remembered for her steadfast desire to serve the Lord, despite frail health and rejection. She eventually founded a religious community dedicated to Our Blessed Mother, the Order of the Sisters of the Company of Mary Our Lady, dedicated to “education in the faith and the promotion of justice.”
Joan was born in Bordeaux, France in 1556, during the Protestant Reformation sweeping that country at the time. Joan’s family was affected by these changes, and conflict regarding religion and the upbringing of the children in the faith was no uncommon. Her mother was a Calvinist, whereas her father held firm to the Catholic teachings and faith. This conflict, Joan later recalled, challenged her to remain steadfast in her Catholic faith and cemented within her a desire to serve the Lord as part of a religious community.
Although she desired nothing more than to devote her life completely to God, her father urged her to marry, and so she did. At age 17, Joan married Gaston de Montferrand. A period of sadness and grief followed when her first three children died while still very young. Later in life, the Lord blessed her with five healthy children, to whom she served as mother, spiritual director, and teacher. This continued after her husband’s death, when Joan was 40. Although difficult to raise three children alone, Joan persevered, instructing each in the ways of the faith.
As soon as her five children were grown and capable of caring for themselves, Joan turned her attention to her life-long desire of joining a religious community. Following a period of serious prayer and discernment, she entered the Cistercian monastery at Toulouse. However, given that she was 47 at the time, and due to her difficult life and delicate constitution, Joan was unable to successful adapt to the rigorous penance required at the monastery. She fell gravely ill and was forced to leave after having been only a few days in residence. Deeply disappointed, Joan prayed to discover God’s will in this latest challenge.
In answer to her prayers, Joan felt called to establish a new religious community. She returned to Bordeaux, accompanied by several young girls who became her novices. There, they ministered to victims of the plague and combated the heresies of Calvinism. Dedicated to Our Blessed Mother, this order was one of the first religious orders with an apostolic dimension for women instituted by the Catholic Church. At it’s core was the integration and harmonization of social action and contemplation of the faith.
The Order of the Sisters of the Company of Mary Our Lady received papal approval from Pope Paul V in 1607, and soon spread through France. Joan oversaw the order until her death, in 1640, at the age of 84. Following her death, many miracles were reported at her tomb. Her body remains incorrupt to this day. She was canonized in 1949 by Pope Pius XII. Today the religious order she founded has over 2,500 sisters spread throughout 17 European countries, Africa, North America, and South America.
Please join me in lifting these intentions to Our Lord, through the intercession of Our Blessed Mother.
Prayer requests, 2013: Week 4:
Blessings and healing upon an aging grandmother (M, USA-NY); Immigration assistance, health and healing, personal intentions, growth of God’s kingdom on earth (A, Philippines); Protection for the homeless, the jobless, and the poor (S, USA-NY); For healing of a husband, protection of a daughter (S, India); Closer relationship with the Lord, healing, blessings upon a family (I, USA-CA); For successful return to work, for blessings upon mother and brother fighting addiction (A, Ireland); Resolution to financial difficulties (J, USA-FL); Health for a husband diagnosed with cancer, financial assistance (A, USA-DE); Healing for a daughter and her boyfriend (A, USA-TN); End to legal difficulties, for religious life, for strength, for approved home improvements (M, USA-TX); For resolution to a difficult family situation; for those who are depressed (G, United Kingdom); For end to health difficulties (S, India); Vocations, financial assistance, healing, repose of souls (H, Philippines); Protection for a family in a difficult situation, healing, strength (M, Ireland); Blessings, wisdom, health, successful employment (L, Romania); Blessings and conversion for a family (M, USA-NE); Successful employment and financial security (G, Canada); Blessings, health, successful pilgrimage, personal intentions (F, India); Reunification of a family (D, USA-MA).