Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 26, 2004
Mystical Marie penned as many as 13,000 letters
Blessed Marie of the Incarnation -- April 30
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Half hidden on rue le Petit Pre behind the great Cathedral of St-Gatien in Tours, France, the little chapel of St-Michel honours a prominent Canadian personage. It, and an adjoining museum, parts of the Ursuline Monastery, are dedicated to Blessed Marie de l’Incarnation, a local woman who left her homeland almost 400 years ago to answer God’s call in the New World.
Marie Guyart was born in 1599, at 18 married Claude Martin and two years later found herself widowed with a baby boy. Virtuous and prayerful, Marie then left a life as a successful businesswoman and mother to join the local Ursulines in 1631.
She began experiencing visions in which the Blessed Virgin with the Christ Child showed her the vast lands of Canada and indicated that Marie should go to this “afflicted place” to found a house for Jesus and Mary. So, a few years later, called from a potentially quiet, contemplative life, she didn’t hesitate to embark on a history-making venture.
At Dieppe in May 1639, Mother Marie with two companion Ursulines, joined other religious to board the sailing ship St. Joseph and embark on an epic one-way trans-Atlantic voyage to New France. A long 88 days later, the party was greeted at Quebec by Colonial Governor Montmagny.
There, the sisters endured life in a hovel in lower town for the three years before a proper monastery was built for them with the resources of their sponsor, Madame de la Peltrie. Unfortunately, this establishment burned to the ground in 1650.
Rebuilding, Marie became immersed in her mission of conversion and education and soon opened the colony’s first school for French and native girls. Her endeavours are celebrated in an impressive monument on the monastery grounds. The 1942 work, by sculptor Emile Brunet, shows her with two students standing on a base that commemorates the trans-Atlantic voyage and the devastating fire.
Mother Marie applied herself to learning local languages and compiled both a native catechism and dictionary. Considered a saint during her lifetime by the people of Quebec, she was admired and loved by all who knew her, including her bishop, Francois de Laval. This author of remarkable mystic writings, windows into her life of praise and prayer, later in life experienced frequent ecstasies. She became noted among women of letters of her time and was said to have penned as many as 13,000 letters.
Blessed Marie is venerated today at her tomb in the Ursuline monastery chapel in the “world heritage city” that she helped to build. A dramatic, black stone sarcophagus bears the simple inscription “Marie de l’Incarnation, 1599-1672” while overhead, in effigy she carries a model monastery and gazes down on visitors.
The chapel is a serene place, a pilgrimage destination for those seeking her intercession. A lone sister, silently praying in a far corner, is available to pleasantly field enquiries from visitors.
Historic in its own right, this sanctuary dates from 1902, a recreation of an earlier one. Most of the furnishings, including paintings salvaged from the time of the French Revolution, an elaborate reredos and a plaque marking the original burial place of French General Montcalm, are from the original 1722 chapel.
“Mother of the Canadian Church,” Marie was beatified by Pope John Paul in 1980, along with her peer Bishop de Laval. Her cause for sainthood is being actively advanced by not only her Ursuline community but by Catholics country-wide.