By Denise Trull
Every little girl dreams of being a princess. She dreams of beautiful dresses and jewels, of tasty delicacies at her beck and call. A throne encrusted with sparkling jewels. Her very own prancing pony to sit upon. A castle to call home. And, oh yes, the handsome prince. It’s a lovely dream, but perhaps only that. A dream. The reality is, of course, far different.
It does not seem, at first glance, that saints would be found among the courts of kings. What did they have to suffer in this life? They had wealth, they had power, they had prestige and comfort. But royals had their own particularly unique sufferings to offer up to God. Some quite painful, in fact. Especially if you were a princess.
Today is the feast of such a princess. She was born in 1464 to King Louis XI of France, who from the very first moment of her birth was quite put out that she wasn’t a boy. She was a happy, smiling baby daughter, but alas, not a son. Oh those kings and their obsession with sons! So, Louis dismissed her from his mind like a useless lottery ticket the moment she was born and didn’t even bother to ask her name. It was Jane Valois.
Despite her father’s indifference to her sex, Jane might have had a lovely room at the palace and perhaps a pleasant time of it with her mother. She might have even been given a pony to call her own and a pretty jeweled crown. She was, after all, a princess. But she also had the misfortune not only of being a girl, but also of being deformed. She had trouble walking and she wasn’t pretty to look at. Except her smile.
The affronted king sent her away at the tender age of five to be hidden away in the countryside to live among strangers just so he would not have to look at her. And so she went without a murmur of protest or resentment.
And in this hidden house in the countryside, forgotten by an earthly King, she became a favorite of the household and was cheerful and kind to all. She learned to love her life there and was taught by some kind and loving soul how to pray. Jane learned about Jesus, his Mother, and the saints. She discovered how to offer up her sufferings to Jesus and, princess that she was, she understood immediately that He was a King. Her handsome prince. But he was not a King of this world. She would need to learn to live with Him in his.
As she grew up hidden away in this place she had come to call home, Jane decided she wanted to devote herself to that heavenly kingdom by remaining a virgin and serving the poor. You might think that her father wouldn’t have cared one way or the other. But that is another suffering endured by princesses.They are used as bargaining chips in kingly schemes. She was called back to the palace and given the once over. Damaged goods as she was, she was still a princess and could be used to seal an alliance with the Duke of Orleans. Seeing this as the will of her Heavenly King, Jane submitted happily and quietly to the marriage.
She stayed with the Duke for twenty long years as a cheerful and devoted wife. Twenty years! When he at last became king he also sent her away as damaging to his image because she was deformed. She had no recourse. She had no say. She was sent away again.
Strangely, in the round about way of grace, she managed to get her wish in the end. Jane happily went to live in some out of the way township among strangers. She gave all her money to the poor and started a religious order of nuns with all that time she could have been wallowing in understandable self-pity and the heaviness of grudges. But she tripped along in joy and lightness of soul because she had found her true kingdom at last. A kingdom that moth and rust would not consume - nor worldly kings destroy. A kingdom from which the powerful of this world could not banish her for it dwelled within her.
She might very well be the patron saint of those who must fight temptations to resentment or grudges for the terrible sufferings laid upon them by others. She might be the patron saint of the handicapped! She might be the patron saint of so many things, this deformed, forgotten little princess who found her rightful place at the court of the Most High King where both sons and daughters, the lame, the blind, the outcast all find a home.
And in the arms of this most Handsome of all Princes, Princess Jane found herself living happily and quite truly, forever after.