"I want a beautiful soul": St. Joan de Valois

"I am ugly in body but I want a beautiful soul."

By Matthew August

On Feb. 4, Catholics around the world unite to remember the "other" St. Joan of France, the patron of difficult circumstances. She was born into a world that despised her and reviled her appearance. In the midst of hatred, this soul became a light in the world that longed for true beauty. 

She is St. Joan de Valois (1464-1505). The Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception have taken St. Joan as one of their patrons.

For the Marians, St. Joan sets an example of the powerful faith we can all have in God. Even in the most difficult of circumstances, you can still look up to the Lord and remember that He has a dream for your life. What God has started in your life, He will finish.

Joan de Valois was a princess, born on Apr. 23, 1464. Her father was Louis XI, the King of France. Although royal blood flowed through her veins, her life was anything but pleasant.

Joan's childhood was filled with pain, and her father detested her. He resented Joan because of her sex, but also because of her deformity. She had a massive hump on her back and limped when she walked.

Young Joan avoided the pompous life of the aristocratic court and instead retreated to meditation and prayer, away from the crowds. King Louis saw this as unbecoming for a princess, so he treated her with severity and punished her. 

Vision of Mary
Joan turned to God in her pain and suddenly received a vision of Mary, the Mother of God.

"Be consoled, my daughter!" said the Queen of Heaven. "A time will still come when you will belong to me entirely. A large group of young women consecrated to God will join you in serving me and proclaiming my praise everywhere."

Joan walked away from this experience with heavenly fervor and a desire to persevere in her love for God.

When Joan was only 5, her father sent his daughter away after not being able to stand the sight of her any longer. She was taken in by her new guardians in a secluded home in the country. As a child, she was deprived of basic necessities. There was no semblance of love in her outward life, but she drew strength from the interior castle of her soul. There, she knew, she was a true princess, and Christ was her King.

Greatest pleasure
Joan was in deep prayer when she asked the Lord how she could most please Him. The Virgin Mary whispered these words to her: "Before you die, you shall have founded the Order in my honor: this is the greatest pleasure that you can give to my Son and myself."

"O Mary, Virgin and Mother of Jesus, Grant that I think, say, and do all that is most pleasing to God and to you," Joan said.

Joan was invigorated by her heavenly mission. She dreamed of someday entering the convent and giving herself completely to God. However, everything in the outside world contradicted what Joan held in her heart. 

King Louis ordered Joan to be married to the Duke of Orleans, and there was nothing she could do to run from his will. Joan surrendered her will to God and was married in 1476, when she was only 12.

It was a miserable marriage. The Duke made known that he was betrothed against his will, and he never allowed Joan to appear before him. If there was ever a moment when he did see her, he treated her with tremendous disrespect and viciousness. 

When the Duke ascended to the throne, he publicly humiliated Joan and divorced her. The Pope declared the marriage to be null and void.

Pain and despair
Joan descended into the depths of pain and despair.

"She suffered a great [emotional] pain within her heart without letting it show," states the chronicles of the Order. "The enormity of her suffering was even greater in her soul, because she could properly assess the whole situation ... ."

Joan chose to look up in her misery and trust that God would show the way. She joined with Christ in her suffering and humiliation, and proclaimed, "God has now detached me from the world and has made it possible for me to serve Him better than heretofore."

Joan remembered the promise that God put in her heart. She eventually founded the Sisters of the Annunciation of Mary, serving as the community's abbess. The sisters in her community devoted themselves to deep prayer and penance, but above all, they strove to honor Mary, the Mother of God.

Joan died on Feb. 4, 1505. A series of miraculous events occurred after that day. Those who entered Joan's tomb would emerge healed from their infirmities.

In 1562, the Huguenots stormed Bourges and plundered Joan's religious order and monastery. They were a group of radicals and heretics who sought to destroy the sacred grounds that Joan had built. They broke in to Joan's tomb and ripped her body from the enclosure. The body, now having been dead for decades, was incorrupt. The group took swords and began to mangle the body, out of which poured an immense amount of blood. The Huguenots were unfazed by the miracle and burned the body.

Despite Joan's remains being turned to ash, many around the world began to be healed from their sicknesses through her intercession. Many watched in bewilderment at the sight of their loved ones being restored to health. Those that were healed looked up to the heavens and knew it was Joan de Valois, the little princess of France who was now in her rightful place, a princess in God's Kingdom.

Many of us have dreams and desires that God placed in our hearts, but like St. Joan de Valois, we may not see how they could be fulfilled. Every circumstance and setback may tempt us to abandon our destiny. We must follow Joan's example and put God back on the throne. 

Joan completely abandoned herself to Christ and trusted that her King would lead the way. What do you have placed on the throne? Could it be worry or fear? Could anxiety about the future or regrets of the past be ruling your life? Put Christ back on the throne, and He will take you to places you never dreamed were possible.

Saint Joan, help us to remember the dreams God placed in our hearts. Help us to remember that with our heavenly King, nothing is impossible.

Saint Joan de Valois, pray for us!

Portrait: Jean Perréal, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons 


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