Serving in a way that is always new and creative, the Company of Mary Our Lady was founded in Bordeaux in 1607 by Jeanne de Lestonnac.
The Sisters of the Company of Mary Our Lady, moved by their contemplation of world reality, find new ways at each moment in history to live out their call as educators.
They educate in many different ways and settings:
- In Schools, where children can grow and feel at home
- Among youth, fostering intellectual growth and bridging isolation
- Among women, in solidarity with their marginalised position in society
- In poverty-stricken countries, areas and contexts
- In institutions committed to social ethics, economics and religion
Company of Mary educators share the same vision and have a sense of family. The educational focus of the Company of Mary is each individual person. It offers an integral education aimed
at forming a well-balanced mind and an integrated personality.
Jeanne de Lestonnac
Jeanne de Lestonnac, keenly aware of the important role of women in the Church and in society, had the visionary insight and conviction to introduce a new form of Apostolic Religious Life. She founded the Order of the Company of Mary Our Lady.
Nourished by Ignatian Spirituality, the Sisters of the Company of Mary are contemplatives in action, with a spirit of availability like Mary Our Lady. The mission of the Company of Mary Our Lady is education in the faith that bears fruit in the works of justice.
On 15th May 1949, the Catholic Church canonized Saint Jeanne de Lestonnac as a model for young people, mothers and Apostolic Women Religious. In her life-long path of sanctity, she manifested a profound love of God and of others, thus serving as an inspiration to countless men and women of yesterday, today and the future.
A Life-Long Path of Sanctity
1556 marks the birth of Jeanne de Lestonnac in Bordeaux, France. She was the first born of a very influential family in the city. Her father, Richard de Lestonnac, was a member of Parliament. Her mother, Jeanne Eyquem de Montaigne, was the sister of the renown humanist philosopher, Michel de Montaigne.
The particular cultural environment in which she grew up had a great influence on education. Calvinism spread throughout France. The Wars of Religion tore the country apart. Jeanne’s mother was won over by the Reform and attempted to draw her daughter as well. Jeanne found two staunch supporters of the Catholic faith in her father and her uncle, Michel de Montaigne.
Jeanne’s faith continued to grow in her adolescent years. It was a faith that had been tested, nurtured, and confirmed. The Spirit fed her interior growth. In her heart she heard the words:
“Do not allow the flame I have enkindled in your heart
to be extinguished...”
Wife and Mother
At the tender young age of 17, Jeanne married Gaston de Montferrant. Her 24 years of marriage were blessed with the birth of seven children. There followed, though, a time of deep pain and sorrow with the deaths of both her husband and oldest son, coupled with the deaths of her beloved father and her uncle.
Jeanne, alone and on her own, attended to the education of her children. She was ‘the strong woman’ spoken of in the Holy Scriptures; (Prov.31: 10 – 31).
A Mystical Experience
With her children grown up, Jeanne sensed a call from God. In 1603, at the age of 46, she entered the Cistercian Convent in Toulouse. Her name changed to Jeanne of Saint Bernard. She was happier than she could ever have imagined in her new life, a life filled with long hours of prayer, austere penance, silence and abnegation, and infinite peace.
After six months of a challenging initiation, her desire to follow this life grew, but her physical health weakened. She prayed to the Holy Spirit to shed light in her darkness. She experienced an inner vision indicating the way forward. She realised that she must respond to a multitude of young souls in danger of being lost. She knew deep in her heart that it was she who must reach out her hand to them. In this experience Mary, too, was present as a source of inspiration and strength.
For Jeanne it was a call to a two-fold commitment: to reach out her hand to young people in need and to live a life inspired by the virtues of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
“There is no need for you to fear, if your interests
are those of Our Lady.”
Foundress of the Company of Mary Our Lady
After leaving the Cistercian Convent, she retired to the countryside of La Mothe and, filled with hope, she patiently awaited further guidance and direction. Her vocation matured and she began to conceive the new Religious Institute that would respond to the situation of France in the 17th century. Jeanne was aware of the urgent need for the education of women.
During this time, she began a dialogue with two Jesuits, Fathers de Bordes and Raymond, who shared her concerns. She found in Ignatian Spirituality the expression of her own spiritual experience. It nourished her charism and helped her clarify her future mission in the Church. In 1605 a deadly plague spread throughout 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.
In this work of charity she came into contact with young women who, attracted by her personality, were inspired to join her in her apostolic endeavour. With Jeanne, they were to become the foundation stones of the Company.
In 1606 Jeanne wrote the Abrégé or Formula of the Institute and presented it to the Church for its approbation. Against those who would change her project, she staunchly defended the identity of the Order as a Religious Institute and its unique apostolic character.
On 7th April 1607, she received the official approbation from the Church for the foundation of the first Religious Institute of women dedicated to active ministry in education. With great joy Jeanne and her companions moved into their first convent, the Priory of the Holy Spirit, and began to live as a community. The Company of Mary Our Lady was born. Jeanne was 50 years old. Mary was key in the development of this new Religious Order. The Company of Mary was called and congregated in her name and under her protection.
“Keep friendship alive among yourselves.”
By the time of the death of the Foundress in 1640, 30 convents had been established throughout France. It quickly extended to other parts of Europe. Its apostolic zeal led it to other lands, crossing oceans and continents to North and South America, later to Africa and Asia...
The Company of Mary Our Lady has been growing and expanding world-wide over 400 years. It is characterized by its universality and dynamism, adapting and responding to the needs of new situations in each period of history through its service of education. The challenge has been to foster life and hope by a presence that is undeniably filled with the Spirit.
“To serve in a way that is always new.”