Saint Joan of Valois, born on April 23, 1464, was the second daughter of Louis XI, the King of France, and Charlotte of Savoy. At a tender age of two months, she was betrothed to Louis, Duke of Orleans, and their marriage took place in 1476 under duress, making it undoubtedly invalid.
Despite her physical challenges – she was hunch-backed, lame, and pock-marked – St. Joan was not defined by her appearance. When her husband ascended the throne, he secured a declaration of the marriage’s invalidity, denying her the title of Queen of France. Instead, she graciously accepted the title of Duchess of Berry, saying, “If so it is to be, praised be the Lord.” This acceptance forms the core of her holiness and her spiritual legacy in the Order of the Annunciation, which she founded.
In her choice of name for her fellow nuns, she highlighted the parallel between the Virgin Mary’s “Be it done to me” and her own “If so it is to be.”
Throughout her life, St. Joan faced numerous challenges but always responded with gentle and patient words. There were countless obstacles, including reluctance from the Pope to approve her order, even though Louis XII readily supported it. Louis may have hoped that Joan, bound by vows, would not challenge the nullity verdict. His fears, however, proved unfounded, and shortly after the verdict, he married Anne of Brittany.
Joan’s character also presented difficulties, as she occasionally displayed an autocratic streak with her nuns and impatience with their progress. The foundation of her order was established at Bouges, where the remnants of the house still stand today.
St. Joan passed away at the age of 41 on February 4, 1505. She was canonized in 1950, and her feast day is celebrated on February 4, the day she departed this world.
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