Illustrated Catholic Family Annual – Mother Mary of the Incarnation

illustration of Mother Mary of the Incarnation, artist unknown, printed in the 1873 Illustrated Catholic Family AnnualArticle

Among the remarkable and holy personages who illustrated the church in France during the seventeenth century, few rose higher than Mary Guyard, known in religion as Mother Mary of the Incarnation, who, with Madame de la Peltrie, founded the Ursuline Convent at Quebec. Charlevoix, called by Bancroft “the best of our early historians,” styles her the Saint Teresa of New France; and so great an admirer was he of her singular ability and holiness that he wrote her life. She was born at Tours, 18 October 1599. Her childhood was marked by eminent piety, and her inclinations all pointed to a religious life, but, yielding to the will of her parents, she married at the age of seventeen Mr. Martin, a silk manufacturer. Aiding him in his affairs, she showed already an ability for management that was to be subsequently of great assistance to her. But her married life was short. Left a widow at the age of nineteen, her mind turned to the religious state; but, till her son attained the age of twelve, she remained in the world, leading a life of piety and industry, combining the highest contemplation with the most distract ing employments.

In 1631, she entered the Ursuline Convent at Tours. Here she felt supernaturally called to labor in a country utterly strange to her. The vocation of Madame de la Peltrie to labor in Canada drew the two together, and led to the project of founding the Ursuline Convent of Quebec. Mother Mary of the Incarnation came over in 1639 with a few nuns.

In the organization and direction of her new convent, Mother Mary of the Incarnation showed that she was indeed called by God. She began at once the work of instruction, the nuns taking as pupils, not only the daughters of the colonists, but also those of the friendly Indian tribes. This led Mother Mary to acquire several of the Indian languages, in which she wrote instructions for her little pupils. They lived for a time as best they could, their monastery not being begun till 1641; in fact, they did not enter it till 21 November 1642. Poverty and trials of various kinds befell them; their convent was destroyed by fire in December 1650, in the very middle of a Canadian winter, but nothing could daunt the great soul of Mother Mary of the Incarnation. She restored her house, and the nuns resumed their work of devotion. She continued to direct the monastery as Superior to her last illness, and died 30 April 1672.

In the troubles of the colony caused by the war waged by the Iroquois, she was frequently consulted, all respecting her advice. Her son, Dom Claude Martin, who had become an eminent Benedictine, published her Life and her Spiritual and Historical Letters, her Holy School, or, Explanation of the Larger Catechism, and her Spiritual Retreats.

Bossuet, Camus, Mr. Emery, in France, as well as Bishop Laval, Fathers Lallemant and Charlevoix, speak of her in the highest terms of admiration, Bossuet styling her “the Teresa of our days and of the New World”; and Rev. Mr. Emery used her works exclusively in one of his spiritual retreats, saying: “She is a saint whom I most sincerely revere.”

The convent she founded, the oldest on the continent north of the Spanish parts, still flourishes in Quebec, both as a select academy for young ladies and a free school for poor children. In August 1873, it contained professed choir sisters, novices, and lay sisters – ninety-three in all. In the select school there are four hundred and ten pupils, and in the free school three hundred pupils.

MLA Citation

  • “Mother Mary of the Incarnation”. Illustrated Catholic Family Annual, 1874. CatholicSaints.Info. 16 January 2017. Web. 28 October 2020. <>