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Marie of the Incarnation

“My dearest Jesus, through the holiness of Your actions, sanctify mine. I ardently wish them to depend upon You and to be performed for You alone, O my Jesus.” ~Marie of the Incarnation

On April 2, 2014, Pope Francis will canonize three new saints for the Catholic Church. Included in these three is Blessed Marie of the Incarnation, an Ursuline nun from France who came to the New World to establish a community and school for Indian girls. Below is the story of Blessed Marie and her beautiful dedication to Jesus and serving his people

Marie Guyart was born on Oct. 28, 1599 in Tours, France to Florent Guyart, a silk merchant, and his wife, Jeanne Michelete of the illustrious house of Baou de la Bourdaisière. Marie grew up strong in faith, adventuresome, confident and full of joy. At the age of 14 Marie confided to her parents her desire to join her cousin in the convent. Her parents chose instead to engage their daughter to marry Claude Martin, a young manufacturer. Claude was an honest man and Marie admitted she was beginning to love him “very much.” The couple soon welcomed a son, named Claude after his father. Their joy as a family came to an end six months later when Marie’s husband Claude died in 1919, leaving behind his 20-year-old widow and baby son.

Marie of the Incarnation

Marie of the Incarnation

Marie and her son lived for several years in her father’s house and eventually moved to live with her sister. Marie proved herself to have a great talent for management and was soon given control over the entire household. By the time Marie reached the age 30 she again felt the urgency of entering the religious life. In consultation with her spiritual advisor, she entered the Ursulines, feeling the desire to teach the young. Her sister took charge of young Claude and raised him as her own son. This decision was not easy for Marie, who was torn by the heartbreaking decision to leave her son. In the convent she was given the name Marie of the Incarnation.

Eight years after her entrance to the Ursuline community, Mère Marie of the Incarnation felt the call to serve the young Indian girls in Canada. The ship “St. Joseph” landed in Québec on July 31, 1639. Two other Ursulines made this journey with Mère Marie. The routine of everyday life was organized in the little house lent by Sieur Juchereau des Châtelets. It consisted of two rooms, walls and a leaky roof. Little Indian girls flocked to the convent in such great numbers that it was thought necessary to build a monastery in 1641. Setbacks could have discouraged this little community, but the management strength of Mère Marie kept the community going. Not only did the sisters teach the young Indian girls, but they also washed, dressed and fed them free of charge. To teach the girls more effectively, Mère Marie learned the Algonquin, Huron and Iroquois languages and wrote dictionaries and catechisms for her students. Slowly but surely the number of sisters grew as they received new vocations.

A fire destroyed the monastery and in a few hours the sisters’ work of nearly ten years was destroyed. Mère Marie and the sisters decided to not leave the area and to build again. She wrote, “We are in the dark here, and we must grope around for our way. We consult wise persons, but things do not turn out as foreseen. We roll along, however, and when we think we are at the bottom of the precipice, we find ourselves standing upright.”

A rendering of the convent in 1650.

A rendering of the 1650 convent.

Back in France, Mère Marie’s son Claude became a Benedictine monk in 1641. He was eventually elected prior, assistant, definer and president of the General Chapter of his Order. For 30 years he kept up regular correspondence with his mother in Canada. Beginning in 1664 Mère Marie suffered with sickness from time to time. On April 30, 1672, after 33 years in the New World, Mère Marie passed on to eternal life. Her son was the first to write a biography of his mother, and in the foreword, the Bishop of Quebec wrote:

“Having chosen her to establish the Ursulines in Canada, God gave her the full spirit of her Institute. She was a perfect superior, an excellent Mistress of novices, capable of undertaking any religious enterprise. Her exterior life, simple and well-disciplined, was animated by an intense interior life, so that she was a living Rule for all her Community. Her zeal for the salvation of souls, and especially for the conversion of the Indians, was great and so universal that she seemed to carry them all in her heart. We cannot doubt that, by her prayers, she greatly called down God’s many blessings upon this new-born Church.”