- Born: December 27, 1556, Bordeaux, France
- Died: February 2, 1640 (83 years old)
- Canonized: May 15, 1949 by Pope Pius XII
- Feast: May 15
Saint Jeanne de Lestonnac was born in Bordeaux in 1556 to a prominent family. Her father, Richard de Lestonnac, was a member of the French Parliament. Her mother, Jeanne Eyquem, was the sister of the philosopher and essayist, Michael de Montaigne. She grew up in a time where the conflict between the Protestant reformists and the defenders of the Catholic faith was at its height. This was evident in her family. While her mother was an enthusiastic Calvinist, thus a Protestant, her father and her uncle Montaigne, adhered to the Catholic tradition.
At the age of 17 she married Baron de Montferrant and had 7 children. After 24 years of marriage her husband died. This marked a painful time in her life where not only her husband but her father, uncle and oldest son also died. Widowed at age 41, she ran the affairs of her estate and castle by herself.
Much later after her husband’s death, Jeanne de Lestonnac turned to a contemplative life and entered the Cistercian Monastery at the age of 46. She changed her name to Jeanne of Saint Bernard. But she was not up to the rigors of the order’s discipline, became seriously ill and was advised to leave the monastery. On her last night at the monastery, she had a vision of Mary who presented an image of herself helping lost young people.
After leaving the monastery she lived in countryside La Mothe and began a period of deep discernment. In 1607, at the age of 51, she established the Company of Mary Our Lady, the first women religious order approved by the Vatican by the then Pope Paul V. She envisioned the essential task of the sisters to be educators in faith. Soon the Company of Mary established its first school for girls in Bordeaux. By the time she died in 1640 at the age of 83, 30 houses existed in France.
Though Jeanne de Lestonnac lived in the XVII century her body remains incorrupt.
Jeanne de Lestonnac was beatified in 1900 by Pope Leo XIII and was canonized on May 15, 1949 by Pope Pius XII. Today her religious order is present in 27 countries around the world: France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, England, Netherlands, Albania, Egypt, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Kenya, Tanzania, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Peru, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Mexico, Cuba, Chile, Guatemala, United States of America, Lebanon, Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines.
In 1605, two years after Jeanne de Lestonnac left the Cistercian Monastery where she lasted for only six months, a deadly plague devastated the city of Bordeaux. Placing her own health at risk, she visited and cared for the people in the poorest parts of the city. It was through this experience that she discovered in a very special way the presence of Jesus in the poor. It was in this work of charity that she came in contact with young people who, experiencing a call from God and attracted to her personality, wished to make a commitment to her apostolic endeavor.
Fr. Jerome de Lestonnac, S.J., Jeanne’s brother, was instrumental to Jeanne’s contact with the fathers of the Society of Jesus who were also concerned with the situation of girls and women in her place. Fr. John de Bordes, S.J. became her adviser who personally directed her and her first companions through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.
The Ignatian principles made a strong impression on Jeanne and found an echo within her heart and those of her companions. The project they wished to live became clearer: they would become a community of apostolic women who harmonized contemplation and action with total dedication to the education of women and girls. Mary was to be their model; they would place themselves under her protection and be called: The Daughters of Our Lady.
Pope Paul V approved the Order of Our Lady on April 7, 1607 but in the Rules the Institute was called Company and Order of Our Lady. On March 12, 1921, with the Decree of the Sacred Congregation for Religious authorizing the union of Houses with the Generalate in Rome, the name given was Company of the Daughters of Our Lady. Since 1956, with the union of all the Houses all over the world, the Institute has been called, Order of the Company of Mary Our Lady.
The initial ODN at the end of a sister’s name signifies Ordinis Dominae Nostrae; meaning, Order of Our Lady.
As a global apostolic body for mission, the Company of Mary is characterized by its universality and dynamism, adapting and responding to the new needs of each period of history. The aim of the ODN religious is to consecrate herself, with all her strength, to announce the Kingdom in any part of the world where there is hope of rendering greater service to God, according to the mission received.
Youth, hope for the future and for the transformation of society, is the area of preference in our apostolic endeavors as educators in the faith that bears fruit in works of justice.
Our apostolic life requires union of hearts as a condition for making credible the message which we proclaim. We live the acceptance of our mission like Mary, harmonizing contemplation and action, in growing availability and dedication. We embrace Ignatian spirituality: To find God in all things…; In everything to love and to serve… according to which are subordinated the organization of work, formation, ascetical and community life.