Saint Marie of the Incarnation
Marie Guyart was born in France, in Tours, probably rue des Tanneurs. Her parents, Florent Guyart and Jeanne Michelet, were master bakers and had seven children. It was a Catholic home where children were encouraged to get an education. During the first three decades of her life, she lived among the artisans and middle-class merchants of Tours, where she lived for forty years, from her birth until her departure for Canada, from 1599 to 1639.
Youth, mystical graces
Little is known about her education. She attended school. She admits to having received a “good education” which “gave her a good grounding in all things Christian and in good morals. At the age of seven, she had her first mystical grace which led her to give herself to Christ. She then had a striking dream that she herself would recount much later (1653): “In my sleep, it seemed to me that I was in the courtyard of a country school, with one of my companions… When I looked up to heaven, I saw it open and Our Lord coming out of it, and he came to me through the air, and when I saw him, I cried out to my companion: ‘Ah, there is Our Lord! He is coming to me! […] My heart felt all ablaze with his love. I began to stretch out my arms to embrace him. Then he, the most beautiful of all the children of men, with a face full of sweetness and an unspeakable attraction, embracing me and kissing me lovingly, said to me: “Do you want to be mine?” I answered him: “Yes” – Then, having heard my consent, we saw him ascending to heaven”.
Around the age of 14, she was attracted to the cloistered life. She expressed her desire to enter the Benedictine nuns of Beaumont, a religious order established in the region. Her parents, who did not understand her aspiration to religious life, married her at 17 to the master silk worker Claude Martin. From their union Claude was born on April 1, 1619. Six months later, she was widowed at the age of 19 when the small factory went bankrupt. She found herself with assets to liquidate and debts on her hands, in addition to a child to raise. She decided to return to her father’s house. She was made to feel that a new marriage would solve her material problems. But the call of God and solitude was too strong.
On March 16, 1620, she had a mystical experience that she called her “conversion”: the irruption of Christ in her life. She confessed to the first religious she met and felt transformed. She aspired to a life of reclusion, but her sister Claude, married to Paul Buisson, a merchant, invited her to live with her in 1621. She accepted this offer to ensure her subsistence and that of her son. Marie wanted to lead a life of self-denial and servitude. However, her talents as an administrator were recognized and the couple hoped that she would help them consolidate their struggling river transport business. She sometimes took on the role of manager when the two bosses were out of town. In 1625, she was even entrusted with the management of the company. That same year, mystical graces led her to union with Christ. She could not enter religion because she had to raise her son Claude, but she already took a vow of chastity, poverty and obedience at that time. On January 25, 1631, she enters the Ursuline convent in Tours.
A mysterious vision of Canada:
A few years later, she had a mysterious vision. One night,” she reported, “I was shown in a dream that I was with a secular lady whom I had met by some means. She and I left the place of our ordinary residence. After many obstacles, we finally arrived at the entrance of a beautiful place at the entrance of which there was a man dressed in white and the shape of this habit as the Apostles are painted. He was the guardian of this place. He made us enter there. This place was delightful, it had no other opening than the sky, the silence was there which was part of its beauty. As I walked inside, I saw a small church on which the Blessed Virgin was sitting holding her little Jesus in her arms. This place was very eminent, at the bottom of which there was a big and vast country full of mountains, valleys and thick fogs which filled all. The Blessed Virgin, Mother of God, looked at this country as pitiful as it was frightful. It seemed to me that she was speaking to her blessed Child about this country and about me, and that she had some purpose about me. She kissed me three times, filling my soul with her caresses with an unction and sweetness that is unspeakable.”
This vision aroused in the heart of our ursuline an intense apostolic ardor: from her cloister, she went to do all she could to obtain the salvation of souls who were in the wilderness. It was only in January 1635 that she learned the meaning of the dream of Christmas 1633: “While I was in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, this adorable Majesty said to me these words: ‘It is Canada that I have shown you; you must go there to make a home for Jesus and Mary. ”In the same way, she learned that the guardian of the country she had seen was Saint Joseph.
Canada! Until that day she thought it was a mythical country invented to scare unruly children. And now she finds herself chosen to go and found a house there!
Missionary nun in Quebec City
Finally, her meeting with another woman, rich and pious, Madeleine de la Peltrie, was to be decisive because she obtained the necessary funds to found her monastery in Quebec City. In 1639, she left with two other Ursulines, Marie Madeleine de la Peltrie and a servant, Charlotte Barré, to found a monastery in Quebec City. The objective was to provide instruction to the little Amerindian girls. She tried to convert to Catholicism the girls who were entrusted to her: first the Montagnais and Abenaki, then the Huron and Iroquois.
However, they will have difficulty in francizing the Amerindian girls who sometimes resist assimilation. With the demographic decline that disrupted the Amerindian population and the growing reluctance of Amerindian parents to entrust their daughters to the Ursulines, Marie de l’Incarnation had to move away from her role as a missionary to devote herself more to the instruction of the French girls of the colony.
Even though she was cloistered, Marie de l’Incarnation played an active role in the life of the colony. In 1663, she witnessed an earthquake in Quebec City. She recounts the event in the abundant correspondence she has with her son. The Ursuline saw in the catastrophe a sign from God punishing the trade in alcohol between the colonists and the Amerindians. She was also involved in an epidemic of pox that hit the native peoples hard: her monastery was transformed into a hospital on several occasions. She also comments extensively on the Franco-Iroquois wars and the destruction of Huronia.
Marie de l’Incarnation, through her writings, is considered by many historians to be the author of the first mention in French, and no longer in Latin, of the Canadian identity of the colonists, by virtue of a letter dated October 16th 1666.
She died of old age on April 30, 1672 in Quebec City at the age of 72. She was associated with the life of the small French colony founded in Quebec City in 1608, which without her and her companions would hardly have survived. Her tomb is located in the Ursuline Chapel at 12 Donnacona Street, Quebec City, Canada.