In 1639, Marie de l’Incarnation left France for the wilderness of Nouvelle France. At forty years old, she had already lived an interesting life. She had no way of knowing what a lasting difference she would make in the world.
Marie Guyart was born at Tours, France, 18 October 1599, daughter of Florent Guyart and Jeanne Michelet and baptized there in the parish of St. Saturnin the following day. From the age of seven, when she had a vision of Jesus, she felt drawn to religious life. Ignoring her wishes, her parents made her a match with a silk worker named Claude Martin. Married at 18, she became a mother a year later and a widow just months after that. She lived with her parents for a time, then her sister. In 1631 she joined the Ursuline convent, and in 1639 she went to New France, where she founded a convent in Quebec City.
The Jesuits had been teaching young native boys their European Christian values for years. Now the Ursulines took upon themselves the education of young native girls in these ways. They were the first female religious order from Europe in North America. After three years in the lower town, they moved to the upper town and built a new monastery. The land was donated to the nuns by the Company of New France. The Ursuline convent has been located on this property ever since.
Since its founding, the Ursulines have been dedicated to teaching. From the natives, to the children of colonists, to the children of wealthy merchants, the nuns have taught girls of all ages. More than two dozen convents and monasteries were founded, starting in Trois-Rivières in 1697 and ending in Yagi, Japan, in 1974. Many members of our ancestral families joined the Ursulines to continue their mission of teaching.
From small beginnings, the Ursuline Convent is now a large complex of buildings. In 2014They remained a cloistered order until the 1960s. Unfortunately, that was a harbinger of greater changes to come. The sisterhood is dwindling. The numbers of those joining religious orders in general has diminished greatly since that time, and the Ursulines are no exception. Today there are only 40 nuns living at the convent, the youngest of whom is in her 60s.
A recent story broke the news that the sisters have made a difficult decision. After 375 years of living on the same land, the remaining Ursuline sisters will move into a modern assisted living facility in 2018. In 2017 the Musée des Ursulines de Québec was founded. It will work to preserve the monasteries and convents, artifacts, and the archives of these valiant women. In these archives is doubtless a great deal of information about those in our ancestral families who became Ursulines.
Little could young Marie Guyart have known what a difference she would make around the world. After more than thirty years toiling in her new home in Canada, Marie de l’Incarnation passed away on 30 April 1672, just two weeks after Easter. Pope John Paul, II, beatified her in Vatican City. More than 340 years after she died, Pope Francis canonized her on 2 April 2014, making her now Sainte Marie de l’Incarnation.
For more information about Marie Guyart and the Ursulines of Quebec, visit the following resources:
The Canadian Encyclopedia entry for the Ursuline Convent
The Catholic Encyclopedia entry for Marie de l’Incarnation
The Musée des Ursulines de Québec