Salesians, an order of recluse nuns, otherwise known as Visitants. Its founder was count Francis of Sales (q.v.), who conceived the idea of providing an asylum for widows and other females in distress, and of devoting them to the service of the sick and to a religious life. A vision encouraged him to carry forward his purpose, and the active cooperation of a noble widow (saint), Francisca du Chantal, enabled him to succeed. The order of the Visitation of Mary, or Salesians, was the result. The first house for their use was secured in 1610, at Annecy, and the second in 1615, at Lyons. Their rules (given by St. Francis) were mild, and intended rather to promote spiritual dispositions and works of mercy than to encourage outward asceticism. The sisters were required to take only the simple vows; strict retirement was imposed only during the period of the novitiate; their apparel was not required to be different from that of ordinary females, except that it should be of black color and modest appearance. In 1618 pope Paul V raised the congregation into an order De Visitatione B.V.M. under the rule of St. Augustine, and conferred on it all the privileges accorded to other religious orders, making its special mission the training of female children. The convents were placed under the supervision of the diocesan bishops by the will of their founder. Their number increased rapidly, the first being established at Paris, in 1619; thirteen before Francis died in 1622, and eighty-seven during the life of mother du Chantal (died 1641). The order gradually spread also over Italy, Germany, Poland, Austria, Switzerland, Syria, and North America. It is now one of the most important in the Roman Catholic Church, having one hundred convents with at least three thousand inmates.
The members of the order are classed as choristers, associates, and house companions, the first of which classes performs the duties of the choir, while the last takes charge of the domestic administration of the house. The modern rule is not especially strict, but few special fasts being prescribed. The habit of the order is black, with a black band crossing the forehead, and a small white breast-cloth pendent from the neck, under which a silver cross is suspended from a black band.