North American Sanctity: St. Marie of the Incarnation

Landing in Québec in 1639, Mother Marie recorded what she saw: “Forest as far as the eye can see, a country covered in fog, an abrupt and rocky path.”

Welcome to "North American Sanctity," a new series on holy men and women, boys and girls, saints and those on the road to sainthood, from Canada, the United States, and Mexico. Some will be familiar, others less so; but all are inspiring!

By Kimberly Bruce

She was a widow with a 12-year-old son. Yet she was called to the religious life, sacrificing everything to bring the word of God to the people in the untamed land of Canada in the 1600s.

She is St. Marie of the Incarnation (feast day: Apr. 30). Said Pope Francis at her canonization in 2014: “Missionaries [like St. Marie] have served the Church’s mission by breaking the bread of God’s word for the poor and those far off” and bringing them the love of Christ. 

Mystical experience
Born in Tours, France in 1599, Marie Guyart was the fourth of eight children to Catholic parents. At age 7, she had her first mystical experience of our Lord in a dream. She recalled:

I saw the heavens open and Our Lord Jesus Christ, in human form, came toward me through the air … [He] embraced me and kissed me with indescribable love and asked me: “Will you be mine?” — I answered him: “Yes.”

This dream would forever change Marie’s life. She wished to be a contemplative, but, because of her lively disposition, her parents felt her more suited to marriage. They chose Claude Martin, a master silk merchant, to be her husband, and the two wed in 1617. 

Two years later, Claude passed away, leaving Marie a widow at 19 to raise their 6-month-old son, Claude, named after his father.

After her husband’s death, Marie discovered his business to be close to bankruptcy, and liquidated her husband’s assets. Because of her business acumen, she then began managing her brother-in-law’s transportation business.

Answering the call
Still feeling called to religious life, in 1631 Marie entered the Ursuline community. “Her sister took charge of young Claude and raised him as her own son,” noted a biography. “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,” possibly because she was a mother.

In 1634, Sr. Marie experienced a second prophetic dream. In this one, she saw herself in a land filled with obstacles. Yet she also saw the Blessed Mother, who embraced her three times while holding the Child Jesus. Later, God confirmed this dream to her, saying, “I want you to go to Canada to build a house for Jesus and Mary.”

One day, a wealthy widow, a woman now-Mother Marie had also seen in her dream, arrived at the convent door. She told Marie that she wished to accompany her to Canada to begin a school for girls. This woman, along with Marie and another young Ursuline sister, embarked upon a perilous three-month journey across the ocean to Canada.

Landing in Québec (in the region known as "New France") in 1639, Mother Marie recorded what she saw: “Forest as far as the eye can see, a country covered in fog, an abrupt and rocky path.” 

Perseverance
Their tiny house was far from comfortable and did not even keep out the elements. They had to adapt to strange food, battle against famine, work despite fears associated with dealing with the natives.They succeeded in building a monastery and a boarding school. To teach the native girls more effectively, Mother Marie learned the Algonquin, Huron and Iroquois languages and wrote dictionaries and catechisms for her students. Vocations grew.  

Then on Christmas Day, 1651, their newly-built monastery succumbed to fire. The Ursulines wanted Mother Marie and her sisters to leave Canada, but she persisted, vowing to be a victim “for this unfortunate country.” 

Still in debt from the building of the first monastery, they had to rely on Divine Providence and donations from abroad to rebuild. 

Construction of a new monastery began as soon as the snow melted. It was nothing short of a miracle that the sisters, with Mother Marie at their helm, were able to aid those displaced by the fire, as well as feed and clothe natives in need, all while simultaneously paying for materials and construction workers to rebuild. But that they did, moving into the rebuilt monastery before its interior was even complete.

Enduring in charity
Mother Marie communicated with her son constantly through letters. Remarkably, he entered the Benedictine religious order in 1641 and later became an abbot.

Mother Marie was particularly conscious of the Blessed Mother’s presence in her life. She was blessed, too, with an apparition of St. Joseph, who offered her his guidance and protection.

Known to welcome anyone who came to the monastery, Mother Marie was a woman of great charity and mercy. 

Our Lord loves when we imitate His attributes of love and mercy, evidenced by an experience recalled by St. Faustina: 

Jesus came to the main entrance today, under the guise of a poor young man. This young man, emaciated, barefoot and bareheaded, and with his clothes in tatters, was frozen because the day was cold and rainy. He asked for something hot to eat … I succeeded in finding some soup … and I gave it to the poor young man, who ate it. As I was taking the bowl from him, he gave me to know that He was the Lord of heaven and earth. When I saw Him as He was, He vanished from my sight … I heard these words in my soul: My daughter, the blessings of the poor who bless Me as they leave this gate have reached My ears. And your compassion, within the bounds of obedience, has pleased Me, and this is why I came down from My throne — to taste the fruits of your mercy (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 1312).

How well do we respond to the poor? Are we cognizant of them in our own communities and seek to alleviate their plight by donating food, money, or even helping to staff food pantries or soup kitchens? Can we donate more to support missionaries or answer the call to be one? Like St. Faustina and St. Marie of the Incarnation, may we respond readily to those in need.

Entry into Heaven
Mother Marie died on April 30, 1672, age 73 and having spent 33 years in the new World. Her sisters believed her to be in a “high place in glory.”

Before she died, Mother Marie wrote a note to her son, Br. Claude: “I am carrying him with me in my heart.” He wrote, “God did not will that love alone separate her soul from her body; He joined suffering to her love, that she might die, like her Divine Spouse, of love and suffering together.” 

Her tomb can be visited in the Ursuline Monastery in Old-Québec City, Canada.

Saint Marie of the Incarnation, pray for us!

Next in the series: Blessed Mother Marie Leonie Paradis, May 4.
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