Though Jeanne dreamed of a life of quiet and contemplation in a cloistered monastery, she made the decision to leave home and begin the foundation of a new Order as soon as her spiritual director, Father Jacqinot, confirmed what she believed to be God’s will. This she did on the feast of the Visitation, July 2, 1625. She and two companions, Marie Figent and Catherine Fleurin, settled in a house in Roanne, France, previously used by a community of Ursulines.
Since Jeanne’s father was adamantly opposed to her leaving home, he would not allow her mother to offer her any financial assistance. The small community began in great poverty, supporting themselves by educating young girls and accepting them as borders.
In just two weeks, a young widow, Claude Bernard, joined their group. They observed the cloister and the way of life of religious of their time.
In a letter to a priest who inquired about the spirit of the Order, Jeanne wrote: “One of the principal dispositions that the Incarnate Word asks of his daughters who enter this Order is to come there through love, disposed to divest themselves of everything and to be perpetual holocausts for Him as He was for them.”
One year later, in 1626 Jeanne’s mother died, a great loss for Jeanne. Her father urged her to return home to care for the family. Jeanne remained firm in her commitment to follow God’s will as she understood it. She did not return home. She planned to make five foundations in honor of the five wounds of the Savior, then to make her religious profession and end her days in prayer and peace.
Eventually the Sisters were asked to vacate the house in Roanne. They remained in Roanne until the middle of 1627. The monastery there was never canonically erected.
In May, 1627, Jeanne and Catherine Fleurin met with the archbishop of Lyons to request canonical recognition of the monastery of Roanne. Initially the Archbishop, Charles de Miron, opposed the establishment of a new religious order, thinking it would be better to reform the ancient ones. However, after questioning Jeanne, he was convinced that her request was from God. The foundation was then transferred to Lyons. Again, the Sisters moved into a convent previously owned by another Order, the Daughters of St. Claire. This foundation would be the cradle of the Order for more than a century and a half. Today it is the only house of the Order in France.
Archbishop Miron died the following year. His successor, Cardinal Alphonse de Richelieu, refused to recognize the foundation. Before a monastery could be considered canonically established in France at this time, permission had to be secured from secular, church and papal authorities. While waiting for this, the religious could not wear the habit, pronounce public vows or observe the cloister.
When numerous petitions were made to no avail, many of the Sisters became discouraged. Twenty of the thirty members departed. The other ten took a vow of stability. A few months later, four Ursuline Sisters requested admission and were accepted.
Not until the death of Cardinal Richelieu in 1653 was the foundation finally recognized. The reception of the habit was celebrated in 1661. By 1677 there were 60 members in the community. From this number some Sisters were sent to make another foundation.
The monastery in Lyons flourished until the law of 1790 suppressed all religious congregations in France.
Father Jean-Baptiste Guesnay, rector of the Jesuit College in Avignon, proposed that Jeanne make a foundation of the Order in Avignon. She accepted, certain that God wanted the Order to begin there.
Jeanne asked five members of the Lyons community to go to Avignon. On December 14, 1639, the Avignon monastery was blessed. Because this was the first canonically established house, the first five novices of the Incarnate Word Order received the habit there.
As agreed, Jeanne remained there to instruct the novices. This monastery was one of the two that lasted until the French Revolution in 1792. It was a member of this monastery, Sister Victoire de Quinquerant, who kept the remains and many of the writings of Jeanne during the Revolution.
The next foundation was begun reluctantly by Jeanne, partly because she was in the process of making a foundation in Paris and had no extra funds for one in Grenoble. Some members of Parliament opposed the foundation since there was already an Ursuline monastery there. But with the bishop’s support and the urging of many of the people there, the monastery was established in June, 1643. Jeanne brought three Sisters from Avignon to become the founding community in Grenoble. Within a few days three young women asked to join the new community. These were sent to the convent in Avignon because their families opposed their decision.
A short time later, the Sisters had to leave the city of Grenoble because of a plague. They were provided lodging in the house of a baron. While there, the Sisters organized catechism classes and won the affection and confidence of the people. When the Sisters returned to Grenoble, more families entrusted the education of their daughters to the them. Some of these students eventually became members of the monastery.
Still, the monastery had a short life. By 1717 there were only three Sisters remaining there. Because of this the Cardinal suppressed it and gave the monastery over to serve as a hospital for sick and retired priests. During the Revolution, it was destroyed and its goods confiscated.
Jeanne arrived in Paris on November 29, 1628 to begin the process of establishing a monastery there. She first visited her father who was in Paris at the time. He received Jeanne cordially, though he remained adamant about his desire for her to return home.
From the beginning, Jeanne encountered problems in Paris. Opposition by another foundress in Paris led to the Jesuit Provincial forbidding the Jesuits from continuing to offer spiritual direction to Jeanne. The prohibition lasted for three months until another Jesuit interceded on her behalf.
During the next four years opposition to the establishment continued. Also, it was necessary for Jeanne to travel to Lyons which interrupted the process.
Finally, on January 1, 1644, the monastery was canonically established. At the outset the foundation enjoyed the good will of many people. However, in 1663 the superioress of the monastery began an open conflict against Jeanne. This caused great suffering for Jeanne and contributed to the downfall of the monastery. Also, in 1669, the government decided to gather together in one monastery all communities that had not been registered in Parliament. The monastery of the Incarnatae Word was selected to receive the Sisters from various suppressed communities.
In 1670 a sister from another Order succeeded in being appointed superioress of the monastery of the Incarnate Word, a situation imposed upon the community. In spite of an investigation being made, the matter was never resolved. One year after Jeanne’s death the Paris monastery was suppressed. All the Sisters’ possessions became the property of the general hospital in Paris. The surviving religious were transferred to the monasteries in Lyons, Avignon and Grenoble. The Paris monastery was never restored.