Anne de Xainctonge (Dijon, November 21, 1567 – Dole, June 8, 1621) was the founder of the Society of the Sisters of Saint Ursula of the Blessed Virgin, the first non-cloistered women’s religious community.
She has been declared a Venerable by the Roman Catholic Church.
She was born in Dijon, the eldest child of Jean de Xainctonge, who was a councilor in the local parlement, and his wife Lady Marguerite Collard, both of whom were members of the nobility.
Her father saw to it that she had a good education. Her upbringing was also very practical.
She and her step-sister Nicole were entrusted with the care of the poultry-yard, cellar, and fruit-rooms.
At the age of seventeen, Anne made her appearance in high society with all the pomp of her position.
She is described as vivacious and witty.
When an acceptable suitor presented himself, she declined the proposal and her parents reluctantly let her have her way.
The catechism lesson of a Jesuit, gave her the idea to assist with the instruction.
She gathered those students having most difficulty and helped prepare them for the regular class.
Near her house was a Jesuit school for boys and was inspired her with the idea of educating girls.
An uncloistered order of women, operating a free school for girls, was a new idea at that time, and she met with a great deal of resistance.
In 1596 she left Dijon for the university town Dole, which was at that time in Franche-Comté and under Spanish influence. There she found other young women interested in teaching women and girls.
Rome had recently reasserted the cloister as the only approved form of religious life for women.
Nonetheless, with the help of the Jesuits, on June 16, 1606, Anne opened the first convent of what would later become the Society of the Sisters of Saint Ursula of the Blessed Virgin.
In lieu of a religious habit, she and her companions adopted the simple black dress of the Spanish widows everywhere visible in the region of Dole.
The society spread rapidly in the east of France and in Switzerland.
In addition to the original school, seven more were established by de Xainctonge during her lifetime. In 1619 a community was established in Porrentruy, Switzerland.
Francis de Sales wrote to her expressing the wish that she make an establishment in his diocese, but she died in Dôle at the age of 53, before that could happen.
Due to her work she was considered a candidate for beatification soon after her death, but the French Revolution and other wars of the period led to the destruction of many documents.
Some sources add that de Xainctonge herself asked that her personal writings be burned after her death. On May 14, 1991 John Paul II declared the heroic virtues of Anne Xainctonge.