First superior of the Ursulines of Quebec, b. at Tours, France, Oct. 28, 1599; d. at Quebec, Canada, April 30, 1672
Marie de l'Incarnation, VENERABLE (in the world MARIE GUYARD), first superior of the Ursulines of Quebec, b. at Tours, France, October 28, 1599; d. at Quebec, Canada, April 30, 1672. Her father was by birth a bourgeois; her mother was connected with the illustrious house of Barbon de la Bourdaisiere. From infancy Marie gave evidences of great piety and detachment from the world. At the age of seventeen, in obedience to her parents, she was married to a silk-manufacturer of the name of Martin, and devoted herself without reserve to the duties of a Christian wife. The union was a source of trials: the only consolation it brought her was the birth of a son, who afterwards became a Benedictine as Dom Claude, wrote his mother's biography, and died in the odor of sanctity. Left a widow after two years of married life, she entertained the idea of joining the Ursulines, but the care which her child required of her delayed the realization of this project, until he had reached the age of twelve, when she followed her vocation unhesitatingly. The Ursuline Order had recently been introduced into France by Madame de Sainte-Beuve, and Madame Martin took the veil in the house of that order at Tours. The care of the novices was confided to her two years after her entry into the convent. She always felt intense zeal for saving souls, and at the age of about thirty-four she experienced new impulses of "the apostolic spirit which transported her soul even to the ends of the earth"; and the longing for her own sanctification, and the salvation of so many souls still under the shadows of paganism inspired her with the resolution to go and live in America. She communicated this desire to her confessor, who, after much hesitation, approved it. A pious woman, Mme de la Peltrie, provided the means for its execution. This lady, better known as Marie-Madeleine de Chauvigny, by her generosity, and the sacrifice she made in leaving her family and her country, deserved to be called the co-worker of Marie de l'Incarnation in Canada. Sailing from Dieppe April 3, 1639, with a few sisters who had begged to be allowed to accompany her, Marie de l'Incarnation, after a perilous voyage of three months, arrived at Quebec and was there joyfully welcomed by the settlers (July 4). She and her companions at first occupied a little house in the lower town (Basse-Ville). In the spring of 1641 the foundation-stone was laid of the Ursuline monastery, on the same spot where it now stands. Marie de l'Incarnation was acknowledged as the superior. To be the more useful to the aborigines, she had set herself to learn their languages immediately on her arrival. Her piety, her zeal for the conversion and instruction of the young aborigines, and the wisdom with which she ruled her community were alike remarkable. She suffered great tribulations from the Iroquois who were threatening the colony, but in the midst of them she stood firm and was able to comfort the downcast. On December 29, 1650, a terrible conflagration laid the Ursuline monastery in ashes. She suffered much from the rigors of winter, and took shelter first with the Hospitalieres and then with Mme de la Peltrie. On May 29 of the following year she inaugurated the new monastery. The rest of her life she passed teaching and catechizing the young Indians, and died after forty years of labors, thirty-three of them spent in Canada.
Marie' de l'Incarnation has left a few works which breathe unction, piety, and resignation to Divine Providence. "Des Lettres" (Paris, 1677-1681) contains in its second part an account of the events which took place in Canada during her time, and constitute one of the sources for the history of the French colony from 1639 to 1671. There are also a "Retraite", with a short exposition of the Canticle of Canticles, and a familiar "Explication" of the mysteries of the Faith—a catechism which she compiled for young religious women.