SAINT JEANNE DE LESTONNAC AND THE COMPANY OF MARY
The Company of Mary was founded by Saint Jeanne de Lestonnac in Bordeaux, France in 1607 with the purpose of providing education and evangelizing women. Among its objectives, the revival of the devotion to the Virgin Mary (as the Catholic Revival was at its height), the renewal of women’s religious life (which was limited to prayers) and the manufacturing of handcrafts as a way to get economic support were some of the most important ones.
Jeanne de Lestonnac was born in Bordeaux in 1556 to a prominent family affected by religious division: her mother was a Calvinist and her father was a Catholic. Jeanne was a relative to the French philosopher and humanist Michel de Montaigne. Jeanne early started to feel attracted to a consecrated life, but she couldn’t fulfill her vocation due to the difficult situation the church was going through during the sixteenth century, in which the establishment of religious communities was characterized by being either very relaxed or very strict. Jeanne got married and had 7 children. Later, when her husband died, Jeanne started to think about her consecration again.
Jeanne entered the Cistercian Monastery, but had to leave because she became very ill and could not put up with the radical and demanding rules of the Monastery. After leaving, she felt God was calling her to devote her life and goods and she established the religious order: The Company of Mary. She envisioned it to the education of women and was convinced that “educating a woman means educating a family”. The priests of the Company of Jesus supported her and provided her with advice. On April 7, 1607, Pope Paul V approved the Order of The Company of Mary Our Lady. On November 21, 1610, during the Feast of the Presentation of the Mary the child, Jeanne de Lestonnac offers God the first fruits of her apostolic work and proposed such gesture to be used in all of the community houses.
When Jeanne died, (February 2, 1640) 30 houses existed in France with the purpose of educating children and youngsters and preventing them from “falling in the hell of her times”.
Soon after, the community spreads to Spain, and during the eighteenth century the community gets to America, Mexico, Argentina and the New Granada.
Some of the phrases reflecting the thought of Jeanne and her humanist transcendence are: