The Life of the Venerable Mother Mary of the Incarnation by “A Religious of the Ursuline Community”

Produced by Anne Soulard, Juliet Sutherland and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team. This file was produced from images generously made available by the Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions. THE LIFE OF THE VENERABLE MOTHER MARY OF THE INCARNATION BY A RELIGIOUS OF THE URSULINE COMMUNITY INTRODUCTION. The materials for the following Biography have been gathered
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Produced by Anne Soulard, Juliet Sutherland and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
This file was produced from images generously made available by the Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions.




The materials for the following Biography have been gathered principally from “The Life of the Mother Mary of the Incarnation” by her son, and from “The History of the Ursuline Monastery at Quebec,” by a member of that community, the former published in 1677; the latter in 1863.

The Life of the Venerable Mother by her son, is founded partly on her own communications regarding the graces with which she had been favoured, and partly on her correspondence with himself extending over the thirty years which she passed in Canada. With the genuine information thus received, he intersperses, under the name of “Additions,” further details which had either come under his personal observation, or been gleaned from perfectly reliable sources. His work is therefore a sure and invaluable guide to the biographer.

The accounts of her inner life referred to, were written by the Venerable Mother at two different epochs, and each time in obedience to an imperative command from her confessors. The first written in 1633, the 34th year of her age, fell into the possession of the Ursulines of St. Denis, near Paris, who on hearing that Dom Claude Martin was engaged in writing his holy Mother’s life, obligingly sent him the precious document. The second, written in 1654, was forwarded to him from Canada.

The Annals of the Quebec Ursulines also afford rich material to the historian of the Mother of the Incarnation, their pages containing constant references to and quotations from her letters both spiritual and historical, as well as from the Annual Reports of the Jesuit Missioners, and other contemporary documents of the highest authenticity and the deepest interest.

The historical statements in the introductory chapter, rest chiefly oh the authority of the Abbé Ferland in his “Cours d’Histoire du Canada,” 1861, and of Bancroft in his “History of the United States,” 1841. The historical facts incidentally introduced in the course of the work can be verified by reference to the Abbé Ferland or any other Canadian historian, or to the Letters of the Mother of the Incarnation.

It only remains to be noticed that the words “saint,” “saintly,” and others of similar import are used throughout solely in their popular acceptation, and not with any intention of anticipating the decision of the Church regarding the sanctity of the Venerable Mother Mary of the Incarnation or of any other of God’s servants mentioned in these pages.

In like manner, the record of miraculous occurrences, visions, and other extraordinary supernatural favours, is understood to rest as yet only on human authority, and therefore to claim no more than the degree of credibility which attaches to any well authenticated human statement.

_April 30th_ 1880.

208th Anniversary of the death of the Venerable Mother of the Incarnation.


A Glance at Canada, as it was in the days of the Venerable Mother Mary of the Incarnation.

FIRST PERIOD, 1599 TO 1631.

Her infancy, childhood and youth–Early call to union with God.–Charity to the poor.–Purity of soul–Inclination for the Religious Life.

Her married life.–Rule of life.–Love of prayer–Perfect fulfilment of duty.–Patience under trial–Zeal for her household.–Influence.–Death of her Husband.

Her First year of Widowhood.–Life of solitude in the World.–Vision of the application of the Precious Blood to her soul.–Increased purity of conscience.–Charity to the sick poor.

She quits her solitude.–New evidence of her purity of soul.–Humiliation and dependence in her Sister’s house.

She is called to a high degree of Divine Union.–New invitation to the perfection of Interior Purity.–Infused knowledge of the nature of the works of God.–Austerities.–Love of contempt.–Active life.–Makes the vows of poverty and obedience.–Heavenly favour.–Temptations.

Supernatural favours.–Lights on the mystery of the Incarnation.–Vision of the Most Adorable Trinity.–Submission to her Director.–Temptations renewed.–Lights on the Divine attributes.

Second Vision of the Most Adorable Trinity.–She is elevated to a sublime degree of Divine Union.

She resolves to embrace the Religious Life.–Decides finally on the Ursuline Order.–Temptations.–Disappearance of her son.–His return.– Enters the Convent.

Saint Angela, Foundress of the Ursulines.–Her Early sanctity.–Zeal for the instruction of the ignorant.–Lays the foundation of her great work at Dezenzano–Vision of the Mysterious Ladder.–Removes to Brescia.–Goes to the Holy Land.–To Rome.–To Cremona.–Returns to Brescia.–Founds her Order.–Her holy Death.–Parting Counsels.–Prediction of the stability of her work.–Diffusion of the Order.–Archconfraternity of St. Angela.

SECOND PERIOD, 1631 TO 1639.

Her Novitiate.–Holy joy.–Virtue tested.–Love of common life.– Humility.–Obedience.–Trials from her son.–Offers herself as a victim for his salvation.–Third Vision of the Adorable Trinity.–Receives the Holy Habit.

Supernatural favours.–Infused knowledge of the Holy Scriptures and of the Latin language.–Facility for imparting Spiritual Instruction.– Temptations.–Loses her Director.–Interior desolation.–Fidelity.– Consolation.–Profession.–Renewed Trials.–Reassuring direction.–New difficulties about her son.

She is named Assistant-Mistress of Novices.–Prophetic Vision of her vocation to Canada.–Spiritual maxims and instructions.–Spirit of silence.–Forms many Saints.

Increase of zeal for the salvation of souls.–Divinely directed to pray for their conversion through the Heart of Jesus.–Her vocation for Canada is revealed to her.

Madame de la Peltrie.–Early Piety.–Charity.–Desire for the Religious State.–Obliged to marry.–Loses her Husband.–Zeal for Souls.–Is inspired to devote herself to the Canadian Mission.–Her vocation confirmed in a dangerous illness.–Opposition.–Death of her Father.– Services of Monsieur de Bernières.–Goes to Paris.

The Mother of the Incarnation declares her vocation for Canada.– Contradictions and Humiliations.–Her confidence in God.–Esteem for her vocation.–Submission to the Divine Will.

Madame de la Peltrie invites the Mother of the Incarnation to accompany her to Canada.–The Venerable Mother’s answer.–Madame de la Peltrie at Tours.–The Mothers of the Incarnation and St. Bernard selected for the Mission.–Opposition from relatives.–The Venerable Mother’s vision of the trials awaiting her.–Monsieur de Bernières.–Farewell Letter.

THIRD PERIOD, 1639 TO 1672.

Embarkation.–Alarm from a Spanish Fleet.–Danger from an Iceberg.– Arrival at Tadoussac.–First night in Canada.–Reception at Quebec.– Visit to Sillery.–The “Louvre.”

The Mother of the Incarnation recognises Canada to be the country shown her in her prophetic vision.–Opening of the Schools.–Study of the Indian languages.–Small-pox among the Pupils.–Arrival of two Sisters from Paris.–Union of Congregations.-Building of new Convent.

Work at the “Louvre.”–Progress of the Pupils.–Piety.–Lively Faith in the Real Presence.–Refinement of feeling.–Zeal.–Teresa the Huron.– Agnes.–Little Truants.–Banquets at the “Louvre,”

Renewed Trials of the Venerable Mother.–Madame de la Peltrie removes to Montreal.–Great Poverty of the Ursulines.–Apprehensions.–The Venerable Mother’s confidence in God.–Fidelity to grace.–Exactitude to duty.– Active Life.–First Elections.–Removal to the New Monastery.–Return of Madame de la Peltrie.

The Mother of the Incarnation a victim for the Conversion of her son and her niece.–Conversion of both, followed by the cessation of her interior sufferings.–Arrival of new subjects from France.–Mother St. Athanasius Superior.–First Profession at Quebec.–Destruction of the Hurons.– Charity of the Ursulines to the Survivors.

The Monastery consumed.–Charity of the Hospital Sisters.–Sympathy of the Hurons.–Serenity of the Venerable Mother.–Lodgings in Madame de la Peltrie’s House.–Poverty.–Monastery Rebuilt.–A Pretty Picture.– Removal to the New Monastery.

Early Life of Mother St. Joseph.–Her zeal for the Indians.–Virtues.– Last Illness.–Happy Death.–Apparitions after Death.

The Seminary Re-opened.–The good work partially checked.–Geneviève and Catherine.–Appointment of Bishop Laval.–Threatened Invasion of the Iroquois.–Heroism of Daulac and his Companions.

Trade in Intoxicating Liquors.–Awful Manifestation of Divine Anger.– Repentance.–Prosperity.–The Marquis of Tracy Viceroy.–Expedition against the Iroquois.–Advancement of the Colony.

New Sisters from France.–Illness of Mother of the Incarnation.–She is Re-elected Superior.–Lingers for Eight Years.–Illness and Death of Madame de la Peltrie.

Last Illness of the Mother of the Incarnation.–Her Blessed Death.– Universal regret for her loss.–Her Virtues.


Evening Devotion of the Mother of the Incarnation in honour of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Evening Devotion of the Venerable Mother in honour of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

A few Parting Words on the Old Monastery of Quebec.


Early in the sixteenth century, reports of the progress of discovery in America began to make their way to France, and, as a natural result, to arouse emulation. For no one had the stirring tales a greater charm than for the reigning Sovereign, Francis I., whose spirit of rivalry, thirst of glory, and love of adventure, they were especially calculated to stimulate. It would have been as repugnant to the nature, as it was inconsistent with the policy of the ambitious monarch, to permit the Kings of Spain [Footnote: In 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered the islands of the Western Hemisphere, and took possession in the name of the Spanish Sovereigns, Ferdinand and Isabella. At his third voyage, in 1498, he added to the first discovery, that of the Continent of South America.] and Portugal [Footnote: in 1500, Alvarez de Cabral, a Portuguese navigator, took possession of Brazil for his royal master, Emmanuel, King of Portugal. Amerigo Vespucci had discovered its coast in 1498.] to monopolize the glory and the advantages anticipated from possession of the western world; such an idea was not to be for a moment entertained. If their banners waved over its Southern Continent, that was no reason, he argued, why France should not unfurl her fair white lilies in the Northern. [Footnote: The mainland of North America was discovered in 1497 by the celebrated Italian adventurers, John Cabot and his sons, under a commission from Henry VII of England, who, however, did not avail of the discovery.] “I should like,” he exclaimed with characteristic impetuosity and originality, “I should like to see the clause in Adam’s will which authorizes these, my royal cousins, to divide the New World between them!” As there seemed, however, little chance of his being permitted to adjust the rival claims by a reference to our first father’s last testament, he resolved, as a more practical solution of difficulties, to take the law into his own hands, and by getting possession of a share of the spoils to secure at least nine points of it in his favour.

In justice to his Most Christian Majesty, it must be admitted that although self-interested considerations had no doubt a large part in his decision, other and worthier views influenced him. perhaps even more strongly. If his proud title of eldest son of the Church was to be more than an empty name, it devolved on him, he felt, to take prompt measures for introducing Christianity into some part of the newly discovered idolatrous West. Spain and Portugal had anticipated him in one direction, it was true, but the world of Canada still presented a vast field for his zeal in another. The existence of that barbarous, heathen land was now an ascertained fact, What nobler use could he make of his royal resources than to introduce into it the two-fold light of faith and civilization? None, assuredly. Over far-off Canada, therefore, he determined that, fortune favouring, the banner of the Lily should ere long float.

And, truly, it was well worth the seeking, that fair, too long neglected gem in Nature’s coronet, the distant land over the Western sea. Cultivation has no doubt done much for the Canada of Francis I., still even in the undeveloped beauty of those remote days, its natural features were strikingly fine. Prominent then, as now, was the noble river flowing through its midst–its own beautiful St. Lawrence, “the river of Canada,” as the French sometimes styled it by pre-eminence; a recognised monarch [Footnote: “The St. Lawrence has a course of nearly three thousand miles, and varies in breadth from one mile to ninety miles. It annually discharges to the ocean about 4,277,880 _millions of tons_ of fresh water, of which 2,112,120 millions of tons may be reckoned melted snow– the quantity discharged before the thaw comes on being 4,512 millions of tons per day for 240 days, and the quantity after the thaw begins being 25,560 millions per day for 125 days, the depths and velocity when in and out of flood being duly considered.”–_Martin’s British Colonies_.] in the world of waters, embracing in its wide-spread dominion, rapids and cataracts, and tributary streams, with vast lakes like seas, and a little world of islands like fairy realms, [Footnote: Among others, the Thousand Islands, happily described as “picturesque combinations of wood, rock, and water, such as imagination is apt to attach to the happy islands in the Vision of Mirza.”] the whole enclosed within romantic shores, worthy to form the framing of so magnificent a picture.

Then, as now, the valley of the St. Lawrence was rich in every variety of natural beauty, but with this difference, that at the arrival of the French the superb panorama was more or less enveloped in an apparently interminable forest, to which the predominance of the pine imparted in some places an air of solemnity, and even gloom. Since then, the axe has done its work in the inhabited portions, opening up a landscape of singular loveliness in some parts; of stern, wild grandeur in others; nevertheless, enough of the lordly old woods still remains, to justify their claim to a place among the characteristics of Canadian scenery. Lovely in their summer garb of many-hued green, relieved by a carpeting of myriads of flowering plants, they are glorious beyond telling, when after a few frosty nights at the close of autumn, they assume every imaginable variety of shade, from glowing scarlet and soft violet, to rich brown and bright yellow.

Champlain, the founder of Quebec, describes the Canada of his day as beautiful, agreeable, and fertile; producing grain of every kind; abounding in valuable trees; yielding wild fruits of pleasant flavour, and well-stocked with fish and game. Later observation was to add to the catalogue of its natural riches, mines of iron, lead and copper. The early colonists, too, have recorded that the river banks were covered with a profusion of vines so productive, that it seemed difficult to trace all their luxuriance to the unaided hand of nature.

As a partial counterpoise to its many advantages, Canada is exposed to extremes of temperature, alternating between heat nearly tropical, and cold approaching polar. Owing to the clearing of the forests, and other causes, the winter is now somewhat less harsh than in the days of the first settlers; it is, however, still a very severe one. And yet, even under its stern reign, Canada is not without natural charms,–its giant river fast bound in icy chains; every stream, and lake and rivulet in the land a sheet of sparkling crystal; every trunk, and branch, and twig glittering in the sun as if sprinkled with diamond dust; every valley, hill and woodland, every mountain slope and far-stretching plain wrapped in a soft mantle of spotless snow.

Yet, with all its gifts and resources, Canada had reposed for long ages in lonely grandeur. The chronicles of the Old World told of many a generation gone by. They traced the rise and fall of many empires, and the succession of many dynasties. They recorded the advance of art and science. They contained long lists of names inscribed, some in the annals of human greatness, some on the pages of the Book of Life. They spoke of the glorious triumphs of the Church, and enumerated the nations gathered within her fold, and still, on that fair land of the West, no step had trodden but that of the Red Man; on its broad, deep river no boat had ever bounded but his own light canoe; through its length and breadth no Deity’s name had resounded, save that of some senseless pagan idol. Truly it was time, as Francis I. concluded, that the ray of faith and civilization should beam on it at last.

In 1523, he sent out his first expedition, under the command of Verrazani, a Florentine, who, sailing along the coast from 28 degrees to 50 degrees north latitude, formally took possession of the whole region in the name of his royal patron, and called it “La Nouvelle France.” But while France was thus adding to her glory in the New World, her arms received a severe check in the Old. When Verrazani returned in 1525, he found the nation mourning the disastrous results of the battle of Pavia, and too much absorbed by grave interests at home, to be disposed to concern itself about lesser ones abroad. Deprived of the support of his royal protector, then a prisoner at Madrid, he could neither utilize nor follow up his first observations, and for ten years more we hear nothing of Canada, except that mariners from France, and other European nations, carried on a successful fishery on its coasts, where as many as fifty ships from Europe might sometimes be seen together. The French called the country the newly found lands, an appellation which survives in that of the largest island. It is stated on the authority of certain old chroniclers, that the islands off the mainland had been known more than a century before the era of Columbus and Cabot to sailors from the Basque Provinces, who named them “Bacallos,” their term for cod-fish. The name “Canada” seems to have been vaguely applied at this period sometimes to a part, sometimes to the whole of the region watered by the St. Lawrence. One derivation of it supposes the arrival of the French to have been preceded by a visit from the Spaniards, who, searching for precious metals, and finding none, expressed their disappointment by the frequent repetition of the words “aca nada,” “nothing here.” According to a more probable etymology, the term may be traced to the Iroquois word “Kanata,” a village, or assembly of huts, which word the early European discoverers mistook for the name of the country.

Nothing daunted by the failure of his first attempt at colonisation, Francis authorized a new expedition in 1534, and intrusted the command of it to Jacques Cartier, a well-known navigator of St. Malo. In addition to his experience as a seaman, Cartier possessed a profoundly religious spirit, and in risking the long voyage, with its certain dangers and uncertain, success, he seems to have been wholly influenced by zeal for the conversion of the savages. He has given us an insight into his ideas in his own quaint style: “Considering,” he says, “the varied benefits of God to man, I note among others how the sun pours his genial rays on every part of the globe in succession, excluding none from their beneficent influence, and my simple mode of reasoning leads me to infer that our great Creator intends for all his creatures a share in the illumination of faith, no less than in the cheering light of the orb of day. The sun comes to us from the East, as did our holy faith; may we not conclude, that as he passes thence to the West, the beams of the Gospel are meant to follow in his track, and pour their brightness in that direction too.”

Cartier set sail on the 20th of April, 1534; reached Newfoundland in safety on the 10th of May, and sailing along the coast as far as the Bay of Gaspé, planted near its entrance a lofty cross bearing a shield with the lilies of France, and a suitable inscription. The chief result of this first voyage was the discovery of the great river of Canada, and the opening of communication with the natives. The season being somewhat too advanced for farther exploration, Cartier returned to France in the month of August, accompanied by two young Indians, destined as a future interpreter to their countrymen.

Re-entering the river on the 10th of August of the following year, he named it the St. Lawrence, in honour of the saint whose feast the Church celebrates on that day. The island at its mouth, now called Anticosti, he named the isle of the Assumption. He finally anchored off Stadacona, where Quebec now stands, and on the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin in the next month, the Holy Sacrifice was for the first time offered on the Canadian shores. Cartier next visited the Indian settlement of Hochelaga, situated on an island formed by the St. Lawrence and a branch of the Ottawa. The discovery of this vaunted hamlet, with its picturesque surroundings, had been among the most cherished of his day dreams, nor was the reality unworthy of the dream. From the summit of an isolated mountain at the extremity of the island; his view embraced in front a wide expanse of fertile land; around him stretched forests of oak, with here and there a waving field of silken-tufted Indian corn; at his feet lay the hamlet, built in the form of a circle, and fortified in Indian fashion by three graduated rows of palisades, and to crown the whole, girding the island like a broad silver belt, as far as the eye could reach, shone the sunlit river. Enchanted with the beauty of the scene, and delighted too with the courteous greeting of the savages, their simplicity, their generosity and their ardour for instruction, he breathed a prayer, that a land so fair and a people so gentle might be marked ere long as the heritage of France,–above all, as a portion of the Kingdom of God. In his enthusiasm, he called the mountain on which he stood, Mount Royal, whence the name “Montreal.” [Footnote: Nearly three centuries and a half have gone by since Jacques Cartier surveyed Hochelaga and its environs for the first time from the heights of Mount Royal. Could he view the same locality from the same stand point to-day, how great would be his wonder at its transformation! The mountain itself is now covered, both base and acclivities, with flourishing corn fields, fruitful orchards, and handsome residences, above which, to the very summit, trees grow in luxuriant variety. On the site of the Indian hamlet of the olden time, is a large, wealthy city; its streets and squares adorned with remarkably fine buildings; its busy ways thronged with an active, industrious, thriving population; its port crowded with shipping and bordered with commodious quays; its vast river spanned by the great tubular bridge, and traversed through its length and breadth by vessels of every build. The environs are in keeping with the city, combining natural beauty with the refinements of art and the improvements of industry. Nestling among rich woodlands, are gay villages, rural churches and pleasant villas, while thickly interspersed through fertile, well cultivated grounds, are pretty cottages, substantial farms and happy peasant homes. The living picture acquires additional animation from the constant movement of long rows of railway carriages, ever sending up light streams of transparent vapour which curl among the bright foliage, with a grace of their own, then fade away heavenwards. Could Jacques Cartier see it all, he might well wonder at time’s changes!] At Stadacona where he spent the winter, he had the consolation of instructing the natives in the holy faith, by the aid of the two Indian youths, who, as already noticed, had accompanied him to France on his first return voyage, and spent the interval between that and his second expedition in learning the French tongue. So eager were these simple people to receive the truth, that he had to promise to take measures for their admission to the Sacrament of regeneration at his nest voyage.

The extreme rigour of this first winter rendered it a season of terrible suffering to the French; sickness, broke out amongst them and death thinned their ranks. Cartier had therefore no alternative but to conduct the discouraged survivors back to France early in spring. He determined to bring with him also some specimens of the natives whom he wished to present to the King. The practice of the time seemed to give a tacit sanction to the act, but it is much to be regretted that in carrying out his object, Cartier should have had recourse to stratagem. Donacona, one of the chiefs, was decoyed on board the French ship, with nine other savages, and borne away from his home in the wilds, which poor though it might be, was more precious to him than all the grandeur of the French King’s capital. To pacify his people, he promised them before sailing away, that he would return after twelve moons, but save in dreams, he saw his beloved woods no more. With the exception of one little girl, all the exiles died in France, where, however, they were well treated, and had the happiness of being instructed in the faith and received into the Church.

On returning to Canada for the third time in 1540, Cartier found it difficult to resume his former intercourse with the natives, whom the disappearance of their chief had rendered distrustful and suspicious. Besides, he occupied only a subordinate position in this new expedition, the principal direction of which had been committed to the Lord of Roberval. The division of authority seems to have worked badly. Cartier had spent a year of inactivity in Canada before the Viceroy was prepared to join him, so seeing no prospect of success, he left for France, just as Roberval reached Canada. Without the co-operation of his lieutenant, the leader could accomplish little; his expedition may indeed be said to have resulted only in corroborating the reality of the discoveries reported by the navigator of St. Malo. The purport of Cartier’s fourth and last voyage, was to bring back to France the miserable remnant of the adventurers who had accompanied Roberval.

Though an apparent disappointment, the failure of the first attempt to colonize Canada was in reality a blessing. A few persons of good position had, it is true, joined Roberval’s expedition, but it is equally certain that a considerable proportion of his recruits had been drawn from among the convicts of the French jails. Had the colony been then established, the mixture of such an element must have tainted its very source, and exercised an utterly demoralizing influence on its future. But God had designs of special mercy on Canada, so the day of her visitation was deferred, only that it might rise at a later period with a steadier, a clearer, and a more enduring light. Although Jacques Cartier failed in his immediate object, he succeeded in exploring a considerable part of the country, and as the first to open a way for missionaries to the hitherto unknown region, his claim to the gratitude of Catholic hearts should ever be recognised. He died at his peaceful home of Limoilou in Brittany, leaving the wilds of the West once more in undisputed possession of the native tribes.

During the next sixty years, the French took no active steps for the colonization of Canada. Their attempts under Henry II and Charles IX, to form settlements in Brazil and Florida, seem to have diverted their attention from New France, but they never quite forgot it, nor utterly relinquished the hope of one day founding a State on the St. Lawrence. Merchants from Dieppe and St. Malo continued to visit its shores, and from time to time, slight, ineffectual attempts at settlement were made. It was not, however, until 1608, that an expedition of any importance was organized. Monsieur des Monts, a Calvinist of wealth and rank, then received from Henry IV, the authority necessary for the purpose, and as an indemnity for consequent expenses, he also obtained the monopoly of the fur trade for one year. A company of merchants was immediately formed, and the command of the expedition given to the illustrious Samuel Champlain. Quebec, the Stadacona of Cartier, was decided on as the most advantageous site for the projected settlement, the destined cradle of the Canadian nation. There accordingly, Champlain unfurled the white Banner on the 3rd of July, 1608. In the Algonquin tongue, “Kebec” signifies a strait, the St. Lawrence flowing at this point in a narrow channel between two high banks. The intended capital [Footnote: Quebec is now considered the military capital of Canada, Montreal ranking as the commercial metropolis, and Ottawa as the legislative.] of Canada could not have been more judiciously located. It possesses a magnificent harbour, navigable for the largest vessels, and capable of containing the most numerous fleet. The great river at its base forms a commodious highway of communication with the very heart of the continent, while in consequence of the narrowing of the waters in its immediate vicinity, the citadel commands the passage. Quebec is thus the key of the great valley of the St. Lawrence, “the advanced guard,” as the Abbé Ferland calls it in his History of Canada, of the vast French empire, which, according to the project of Louis XIV., was to extend from the Straits of Belle Isle to the Gulf of Mexico. The colony was not, however, to be established on a firm basis, until it had passed through much tribulation. Its early annals were to record an ordeal of trials, sickness, privation, hardship, destitution, alarms from the terrible Iroquois, molestation from the English, and finally, all but total extinction. They were to tell how the growth of the young nation had been checked, and its very existence threatened, by the bad faith of self-interested companies; worse than all, how, destined as it was for a bright star in the firmament of the Church, and a beacon light to the benighted heathen, its grand end had been temporarily frustrated by the frequent appointment of Calvinists for its patrons, and a mingling of the same sectarians among its small population. Then the page of triumph would come, and on it would be inscribed, how, like its own flower-enamelled meadows, bursting into bloom and beauty from beneath their pall of snow, Canada had emerged from its long moral winter, neither paralysed by the chill, nor depressed by the gloom, but glowing to its inmost heart with warm young life, and throbbing in every pulse with irrepressible energy and vigour.

Happily for the result of the undertaking Champlain, its guiding spirit, was eminently qualified for his position. Wise, as energetic; persevering, as enterprising; brave in reverse, as unassuming in. success, he laid his plans with consummate prudence and carried them out with unwavering constancy. Disinterested, honourable and patriotic, he suffered no secret view of personal advantage to narrow his mind or mar his usefulness. Looking on his work as the work of God, and therefore believing implicitly in its final success, he threw his whole heart into it, devoting to it time, talents, wealth and life, and pursuing it with a courage that never quailed and a heroism of self-sacrifice that never faltered. Profoundly religious, his great aim was to establish it on the solid foundation of faith and piety. For this end, he looked carefully from the beginning to the moral elements of the little society, and as far as his control extended, admitted among the early colonists only persons of irreproachable character. As soon as affairs appeared sufficiently promising, he invited missioners to the spiritually destitute land. Four Franciscans answered the appeal, and on the 25th of June; 1615, to the great joy of the Catholic inhabitants, Mass was celebrated in Quebec for the first time since the days of Cartier and Roberval. In 1624, St. Joseph was solemnly chosen Patron of Canada, which from its birth has claimed devotion to the Holy Family and to St. Anne, as its devotion by excellence. The following year, the Recollet Fathers were joined by a little band of Jesuits, who came to fertilize the soil with martyrs’ blood and win for themselves the martyrs’ palm. Their arrival gradually prepared the way for the realization of the pious governor’s first and dearest wish, the establishment of missions throughout the country. On these we shall touch in a future page.

Indefatigable in his zeal for the colony, Champlain made frequent voyages to France in its interests, undeterred by the inconveniences and even positive dangers then often attendant on travelling, and although he was subjected to constant petty annoyances from the selfishness and parsimony of the Company, the jealousy and rivalry of the traders, and the coolness and indifference of noble patrons, he never relaxed in his exertions, because ever sustained by trust in God and faith in his work. At great personal risk, and with incredible fatigue, he explored the country in all directions, observing, and afterwards describing its physical features, as well as the character and customs of the savages. From time to time, we even find him in arms against the dreaded Iroquois, but notwithstanding his superhuman efforts, the colony could make but little progress while its destinies remained in the hands of mercenary agents, who were utterly regardless of its interests, and intent only on enriching themselves at its cost. After Quebec had been founded fourteen years, it still contained only fifty-five inhabitants, and its growth in all other respects had been proportionally tardy. Hope, however, began to brighten, when in 1627, the Canada Company was superseded by that of the Hundred Partners, with Richelieu at its head. This association was to hold Canada, as a feudal seigniory under the King, and with the right of soil, was to possess a monopoly of trade. In return for these privileges, it contracted the obligation of amply supplying the country with colonists, including a sufficient number of artisans and labourers. It was also bound to provide for the support of a specified number of missioners, and in general, to promote the welfare of the colony. Unfortunately, five years elapsed before it was ready to enter on the government of the province, which meantime was brought to the very verge of ruin, partly by famine, and partly by foreign invasion.

Much about the time of the transfer of Canada to the new Company, the Huguenots raised the standard of civil war in France, and being aided by England and Holland, their revolt soon assumed a formidable aspect. To complicate the difficulties of the mother country, a band of French Calvinists in the service of England determined to seize the favourable opportunity of invading her possessions in America. These were headed by Sir David Kerkt and his brothers, who procured the command of a small fleet of English vessels, and after devastating the coasts in the vicinity of Quebec, sent a summons to the Governor to surrender the town itself. Not having received supplies from France for three years, its resources were nearly exhausted, nevertheless, as Champlain. was in. hourly expectation of succour, he bravely determined to resist the summons and maintain his ground to the last. Before long, the people were reduced to a daily allowance of five ounces of bread; a little later, they were compelled to subsist on roots and herbs, yet still, even after hearing that the vessels containing the much needed supplies had been intercepted by the English, the resolute Commander never faltered. He encouraged his companions in misfortune by word and example; exhorted them, to patience; cheerfully shared their privations, and strained every nerve to improve their condition. But although they struggled through the trying winter and spring, it was but too evident that without relief they could not hold out much longer; when therefore the last hope was blighted by the wreck of two ships laden with provisions, the Governor, recognising the inutility of further resistance, accepted the only alternative left him, and at the second demand, surrendered the heroic little town, which amidst almost incredible difficulties had withstood the invaders an entire year. It was on the 20th of July, 1629, that the English took possession, and the following month, Champlain and his people embarked for England, whence, according to the terms of surrender, they were to be conveyed to France. One French family alone consented to remain in Quebec, and that only until after the next harvest. Thus it would seem as if a single step had brought us from Canada’s cradle to her grave, for in what light can we look on those vessels bearing Champlain and the colonists from her shores, but as the tomb of the hopes lately so bright and buoyant? It happened however that when Kerkt seized Quebec, he was ignorant of the triumph of Richelieu at La Rochelle; unconscious therefore that the French Calvinist party was utterly crushed, and the long protracted civil war at an end. On landing at Plymouth in the following October, he learned to his dismay that peace had been concluded between England and France two months before the seizure of Quebec, the restitution of which had now become, simply an obligation of justice. But although its restoration was at once decided on, the measure was, not carried out until 1632, when by the treaty of St. Germain-en-Laye, France secured a formal recognition of her right to Canada, including Nova, Scotia and Cape Breton Island, or as they were then called, Acadia and Isle Royal. As it was evident that the interests of the country could not be in better hands than those of the great and good Champlain, happily for its future destiny, the government of the province was once more confided to him.

It was hard to have to begin his work anew, but he set about repairing the wreck around him with all his old energy and devotedness. While intent as ever on the material interests of the colony, those of religion were still his first concern. Fortunately, there was no longer a dominant Calvinist party in the country, to thwart his zealous projects, and molest the Catholics in the discharge of their duty to God. The era of Calvinist rule had passed; that of Catholic triumph had dawned. One of the Governor’s first acts was to build a church which was dedicated to our Blessed Lady in honour of her Immaculate Conception. The facility thus afforded for the practice of religion was eagerly availed of by the new band of exclusively Catholic colonists. All approached the Sacraments at fixed intervals; morning and evening prayers were said in common in private families; the precepts of God and the Church were strictly observed. Stimulated by good example some who had been careless about religion in France devoted themselves earnestly to it in Canada. So admirable was the order which Champlain established that some years later a missionary wrote:–“Murder, robbery, usury, injustice, and similar crimes are heard of here only once a year, when, on the arrival of the ships from France, a newspaper account of them accidentally finds its way among us.” And, again, “Our churches are too small to contain the congregation; we have the consolation of seeing them filled to overflowing. By the grace of God, virtue walks here with head erect; it is in honour; vice alone in disrepute.” The infant Church of Canada seemed, indeed, to have revived the golden age of the Church of the Apostles. Under the direction of the Governor, the Fort was in some respects not unlike a monastery. The soldiers approached the Sacraments regularly; instructive books were read aloud at meals; duty was punctually discharged, and the well spent day was closed by night prayers said in common, and presided over by the Governor. He it was who introduced the custom, ever since religiously observed, of ringing the Angelus three times a day. He watched so carefully over the public and private interests of both French and Indians, that all looked on him as a father, and although continually appealed to for decisions between rival claimants, his integrity was never called in question. Uniting in his own person the functions and the authority of Governor, Legislator, and Judge, his power was necessarily great, but never was he known to abuse it. It was his maxim that the salvation of one single soul is of more importance than the subjugation of an Empire, and that the only object which kings should have in view in the conquest of idolatrous nations, is to lay them as trophies at the feet of their Saviour Jesus Christ. This maxim is the key-note to his life; its practical influence was manifested in his zeal for the conversion of the Indians, and for the diffusion of a solidly religious spirit among the French population, and assuredly it is not the least of his claims to the gratitude of posterity, that the Canada of his formation has ever clung to her faith with so tenacious a grasp, that still she wears as her crown of highest honour, and proclaims as her proudest boast, the glorious title of Catholic Canada. The writers of his time are unanimous in ascribing to Champlain all the qualifications suited to the founder of a colony, and when, after a connection of thirty-two years with the country, he was summoned to his reward, on the 25th of December, 1635, he was followed to the grave, as well he might be, by the heartfelt regret of the whole colony, who looked on his death as the greatest of all calamities. After his demise, his widow founded the Ursuline Convent at Meaux, and there made her religious profession. During her residence in Canada, she had endeared herself both to French and Indians by her unvarying kindness and affability. Seeing their faces reflected in a small mirror which, according to the fashion of the day, she wore at her girdle, the poor savages were much delighted to find that she carried them all, as they said, in her heart. She learned the Algonquin tongue that she might teach the children their Catechism, and to the end of life retained a lively interest in the Canadian Mission.

Champlain was succeeded in the government of Quebec by Monsieur Charles de Montmagny, a man distinguished alike for courage, ability, piety, and zeal. His first act on landing was to kneel at the foot of a cross erected on the road to the town, and there invoke the blessing and protection of heaven on the colony intrusted to his charge; thence he proceeded to the church to assist at the _Te Deum_. His second act on the same morning was to visit an Indian wigwam, and stand sponsor for an invalid who desired baptism, the greatest honour and sweetest consolation, he said, which he could have desired at his arrival in New France. His great aim from the beginning was to walk in the steps of his predecessor, and thus develop and consolidate the work so happily commenced. He maintained the moral and religious tone of society, by following up Champlain’s plan of excluding disreputable and vicious characters. One of his first concerns was to build a Seminary for the education of the Huron youth, an object which he knew to have been very dear to the heart of the late Governor. He also constructed a stone fort, strengthened the fortifications at Three Rivers, and traced a correct plan of the city, which as yet, it must be owned, existed only among the visions of hope. The Quebec of the Mother of the Incarnation was, indeed, widely different from that for which in after years, England and France contended, and Wolfe and Montcalm bled and died. At the time of which we write, it consisted of little more than a few rudely-constructed huts, and contained scarcely two hundred and fifty inhabitants, but we have dwelt thus long on its origin and early history because of its connection with the life and labours of the Venerable Mother, which give interest to every least detail concerning it. We have now reached the date of its annals when Heaven was pleased to bless it with her presence; but before entering on her biography, a glance at the Indian portion of the population will be necessary to the completion of our little sketch of Canada as it was in her days.

All the tribes dispersed over the territory comprised in the basin of the St. Lawrence, were at this period divided into two groups, the Algonquin and Huron-Iroquois, classified according to their respective languages. To each of these mother tongues belonged dialects more or less numerous, according to the sub-divisions of the tribes who spoke them. The Algonquins were scattered under various names over perhaps more than a half of the territory south of the St. Lawrence and east of the Mississippi. Several branches of the same widely-extended family were also to be found wandering in Canada to the north of the St. Lawrence. The five confederate tribes of the Hurons inhabited the peninsula included between Lakes Huron, Erie, and Ontario. The Iroquois stretched from the borders of Vermont to Western New York, and from the lakes, to the head waters of the Ohio, Susquehanna, and Delaware. They, too, formed a confederation of five tribes, and are commonly known as the Five Nations. The Hurons and the Iroquois are said to have received their names from the French–the former in allusion to the French word _hure_, a head of hair, these savages being distinguished by a singular mode of dressing theirs; the latter from their frequent repetition of the word “_hiro_,” “I have said it,” the ordinary termination of the warriors’ harangues.

When the early missionaries began to study the Indian dialects, they were much astonished to find them characterized by remarkable richness and variety of expression, as well as regularity of construction. Notwithstanding gradual alterations, they still retain much of their traditionary character, being, in fact, less liable to change than written language, because of the ridicule with which the Indian visits any attempt at innovation on the point. One peculiarity of the American tongues is their singular power of extending the primitive signification of words by the addition of new syllables to the original term. Taking the verb for his starting point, the Indian is enabled, by prefixing, inserting, and adding syllables, to form at last some word which will not only express the action in question, but include at once, subject, object, time, place, and modifying circumstances. If he is shown an article with which he is unacquainted, he will ask its use, and then adding word to word at pleasure, he will at last give it a name comprising perhaps an entire definition. For sake of sound, the chain of words is sometimes linked by syllables of no particular significance. Strictly speaking, the Indian tongues consist only of the verb, which may be said to absorb all the other parts of speech. Declensions, articles, and cases are deficient; the adjective has a verbal termination; the idea expressed by the noun takes a verbal form; every thing is conjugated, nothing declined. The conjugation changes with every slight variation in the action spoken of. For instance, the same word will not express two similar actions performed, the one on the water, the other on the land; or two similar actions, the one referring to a living; the other to an inanimate object; there must be a separate conjugation for each. The forms of the verb thus vary to infinity, and hence arose the immense difficulty to the missioners of learning the languages.

A second peculiarity of the Indian dialects, is the abundant use which they allow of figurative language, a result of their total want of terms expressive of abstract, and purely spiritual ideas. To clothe these in words, they must have recourse to figures, chiefly metaphor and allegory, hence arises so much of what an American writer calls “the picturesque brilliancy” of the savage tongues. To express the term “prosperity,” for example, the Indian will employ the image of a bright sun, a cloudless sky, or a calm river. “To make peace,” will be “to smooth the forest path, to level the mountain,” or “to bury the tomahawk.” “To console the bereaved by the offering of presents,” will be “to cover the graves of the departed.” Unconsciously, the Indian habitually speaks poetry. He knows nothing of written characters, so his method of writing is by hieroglyphics, or rude pictures traced on a stone or a piece of bark. In the Huron and Iroquois, the words are almost entirely composed of vowels, both languages being deficient in consonants, and totally wanting in labials. The Algonquin is also deficient in several letters, among others the consonants _f, l, v, x, z_. In the Indian tongues, many of the sounds are merely guttural, and produced without any movement of the lips. _Ou_, as sounded in _you_, is of this description; to distinguish it from the articulated sounds, the early missioners marked it by the figure 8.

The religion of the native tribes of North America was a species of pantheism. They believed that in every visible object dwelt good or evil spirits, who exercised a certain influence over human events, and they tried to propitiate them by sacrifices and prayers. Faith in dreams constituted the foundation of almost all their superstitions. The dream was to them an irrevocable decree which it was never allowable to slight. It, therefore, formed the starting point of their deliberations, and the basis of their decisions. Rather than reject the warning of a dream, they would have consigned to the flames or the waves the produce of a successful hunting or fishing expedition, or of a rich harvest. The most intelligent held as a theory that dreams are the speech of the soul, which through them manifests her innate desires, these desires remaining for ever unknown, unless thus revealed. To carry out the dream was, therefore, to satisfy the soul’s cravings; to slight it was to excite her desires afresh.

They believed that after death the soul wandered for a time in the vicinity of the body which it had quitted, and then departed on a long journey to a village in the direction of the setting sun. The country of the dead differed but little in their imagination, from the land of the living, and accordingly, looking on death merely as a passage from one region to another nearly similar, they met the summons with indifference. The deceased warrior was placed outside his wigwam in a sitting posture, to show that although life was over, the principle of existence still survived, and in that position he was buried, together with his pipe, manitou, tomahawk, quiver, and bent bow, and a supply of maize and venison for his travels to the paradise of his ancestors. The mourning for near relatives lasted two years.

Among the Huron-Iroquois and Algonquins, liberty was uncontrolled. Each hamlet was independent; so was the head of each family in the hamlet; so was each child in the family. This mass of independent wills could be ruled only by persuasion and promises of reward, and of these the chief was lavish. Sometimes there were many. rulers, or “captains,” as they were called, in one hamlet, especially the larger ones; sometimes the government of the village was committed to a single chief. Among the principal tribes, the latter office was in general hereditary, though occasionally conferred by election. Public affairs were discussed in council with great formality, and votes taken by straws or small reeds, the majority theoretically deciding the question, but the conclusion was not carried out unless all agreed. The rebellious were generally won over by presents or flattery.

The savage tribes were divided into several great familes, each distinguished by the name of some animal chosen by the chief as his _totum_ or distinctive mark. Among the Iroquois, for instance, the highest family was that of the Tortoise; the second of the Beaver, and the third of the Wolf. In battle, the _totum_ was borne as the standard. The criminal code was not elaborate, yet it sufficed to maintain order in the small republics. Murder, robbery treason and sorcery were the crimes understood to entail its penalties. Instead of being punished by death, murder was expiated by a very large number of presents, to provide which, not only the assassin, but every family in the village was laid under contribution. The punishment of the criminal was thus multiplied by the reproaches and sarcasms of all the unwilling sharers in the atonement. Among the Algonquins, stealing was of rare occurrence; the Hurons, on the contrary, prided themselves on their feats in that line. They stole for the mere pleasure of stealing, and so accomplished were they in the art, that they could purloin an article under the very eye of the owner, using the foot for the purpose, quite as dexterously as the hand. If the thief could be identified, the person robbed might despoil him of everything he possessed, supposing always he was not strong enough to defend himself. If he belonged to another village, goods to the value of those lost might be taken from any one in his village, and kept until the robber had made restitution. Traitors and sorcerers, as objects of special dread, were always liable to heavy penalties.

According to the savage code of honour, war was the only road to glory; it was in consequence frequent, and once begun, lasted for years, national hatred descending as a legacy from generation to generation. Stealth and cunning entered largely into the tactics of the Indians; to lie in ambush was their delight; to surprise the enemy, their grand triumph. The assailants advanced in single file, the last carefully strewing leaves on the footprints of those who had preceded. When they had discovered the enemy, they crept on all-fours until near enough for the attack, then suddenly bounding up, and yelling fearfully, they rushed forward to the onslaught. If the enemy were on his guard, they withdrew noiselessly; if retreat were impossible, they fought with desperation. The number of foes overcome, was marked by that of the scalps hanging as trophies of bloody triumph from the girdles of the savage victors. Their arms were a species of javelin, a bow and arrow, the latter tipped with a sharp bone or flint, and the dreaded tomahawk or head-breaker. But more important to the warrior than all besides was his manitou, or the symbol of his familiar spirit,–some fantastic object represented in a dream, or selected according to his peculiar taste; a bird’s head, it might have been, a beaver’s tooth, or the knot of a tree; whatever, it was, the warrior would as little have thought of going to battle without arms, as without it. They treated their prisoners with great cruelty, partly it is said from the superstitious belief that the manes of their fallen companions were soothed by the sufferings of the captives. The prisoners who were not sacrificed, were adopted into the tribes in place of the slain, and treated thenceforth as members of the family.

The savages of North America were well formed and finely proportioned. They considered painting the face and tattooing the person, so great an addition to their personal charms, that jealous of the adornment, they denied it to the women. The skins of beasts formed their ordinary attire; their shoes were of the same material, but prepared for the purpose by a particular process. The women were likewise clad in skins, which on festive occasions they ornamented elaborately. They often displayed much taste and skill in embroidering ornamental works on bark or skin.

The dwelling was the wigwam, easily constructed and easily removed. Long poles fixed in the ground and bent inwards at the upper end, were covered outside with bark, and inside with mats; a loose skin was attached for the door, an opening left at the top for the chimney, and the house was built. In the larger hamlets, such as that of Hochelaga, described by Cartier, the dwellings ran along a sort of gallery, sometimes nearly two hundred feet long and thirty wide; in these several families could be accommodated. A raised platform was introduced into some, as a kind of upper story, serving for sleeping apartments.

Before the arrival of the Europeans, the savages were subject to but few maladies, and these they cured by natural remedies, the indigenous medicinal plants, abstemious diet, and vapour baths of their own invention forming the basis of all prescriptions. Of persons skilled in the medical art, there was no scarcity, every cabin generally containing several. But not always satisfied with natural remedies, the patients had frequent recourse to the juggler or “medicine man,” to discover the magical source of their illness, and avert evil consequences. The medicine man was likewise consulted on the issue of future events, and his mysterious predictions were received as so many oracles, his wondrous spells looked on as so many talismans.

The husband’s duty was to hunt and fish, leaving his venison at the cabin door, and his fish at the water’s edge, to be thence removed by his wife. He had also to construct and repair the canoe, and provide wood and bark for building the hut,–that was all. Most of his time was passed in listless lounging, or in games of hazard at which he often staked his whole possessions. His wife was mistress of the wigwam, and on her it devolved to draw the water, hew the wood, dress the food, prepare the ground to receive the grain, sow and gather in the harvest, weave the mats, make the rude garments of the family, and in their frequent journeys, to bear the house on her shoulders, not figuratively, but very literally. Her lord was supposed to carry nothing but his arms; if particularly condescending, he might of his own accord deviate from the rule without compromise of dignity.

Among the North American Indians in general, woman was considered a being of an inferior order, created only to obey the caprices of man, yet by a strange contradiction, the children belonged to the mother, and recognising only her authority, looked on their father merely in the light of a guest permitted to occupy a place in the cabin. In return, the squaw loved her offspring with passionate fondness, not manifested perhaps by demonstrative caresses, but not on that account the less tender, vigilant, or enduring. At home or abroad, she never parted from her nursling. When she travelled, she lifted her black-eyed babe to her shoulders, gaily-decked cradle and all, and so they journeyed on happily together, her great love divesting the burden of all weight. When she worked in the fields, she laid it at her feet among the sweet wild flowers, or she swung it from the bough of some pleasant shady tree close by, but never under any circumstances did she entrust it to other care than her own. Parental love indeed often degenerated into weakness among the Indians, and proved one of the great obstacles to the formation of schools by the missionaries. Unable to bear separation from their little ones, the parents soon recalled them home. As the children grew, they were left to do pretty much as they pleased. They received no moral instruction, but in order to excite their emulation, they were duly initiated in the illustrious deeds of their ancestors, in whose footsteps they were supposed to follow. For the correction of their faults, the mother employed prayers and tears, but never threats or punishment; these, their independent spirits would not have brooked. The severest chastisement ever inflicted was a dash of cold water in the face. The naturally unexcitable temperament of the Indians served as an antidote to the defects of their rearing. Reason early taught them the necessity of self-control, and so it happened, that at the age when the character is formed, they presented a strange combination of good and bad qualities.

First among the virtues of the savages was fortitude. Fitted by their stern nature and their early habits to support privation and pain, they would exhibit the very stoicism of endurance under the extreme of both. Without a word of complaint they would bear the pangs of hunger for ten or fifteen days, sometimes in compliance with a superstition, but very frequently from necessity too. They would glory in dying without a groan amidst inconceivable agonies. They seemed insensible to cold, heat, fatigue, sickness, and every other species of physical suffering. To inure themselves early to the torture of fire, boys and girls of ten and twelve would place a live coal on their joined arms, the palm of courage being, of course, for the one who bore the pain longest without letting the coal fall.

Hospitality they exercised in the style of the patriarchs. By day and by night, the guest, whether stranger or friend, was welcome to the best place in the wigwam, and to the choicest portion of the family stores. If a stranger, he was visited by all the notabilities of the village, and at the subsequent entertainments given in his honour, was treated with marked distinction. The Indians were ever ready to divide their possessions with those in greater need, and especially prompt to relieve the widow and the orphan. “Their life is so void of care,” remarked an old writer, “and they are so loving also, that they make use of those things which they enjoy as common goods, and are therein so compassionate, that rather than one should starve, all would starve.” With a courtesy of which they might have been supposed incapable, they paid visits of condolence, as a matter of course, to all in affliction. When they offered their sympathy on the occasion of death, the departed was never named, lest so direct an allusion might wound the sensitive feelings of the bereaved; he was spoken of only as “the one who has left us.” They were remarkable for their reverence for the sepulchres of their kindred, and would travel miles to visit some tomb in the woods, where, according to their traditions, the bones of their ancestors had been deposited. When the graves were within reach, it was a practice of some of the tribes to keep them in the neatest order, the grass closely mown, and the weeds and brambles carefully removed. The Hurons honoured their dead by a special festival, celebrated every ten or twelve years at some hamlet decided on in general council. On this occasion, each family brought to the place appointed the bones of the relatives who had died since the last celebration. These remains of mortality had been previously washed, then wrapped in beaver skins ornamented with shell work or embroidery. A common grave was ready to receive them, and on its preparation, no pains had been spared. It was lined throughout with rich furs, and partially filled with various presents, including articles both of ornament and of use. The venerated remains were respectfully laid on these; then followed, layer after layer, another supply of presents, a store of provisions, and finally, a covering of bark, the whole surmounted by a mound of earth. Over all a roof was raised, to protect the precious deposit from the cold and snow of winter, and the rain and heat of summer.

So greatly did the Indians prize domestic peace and harmony, that to maintain it in their little communities, they often carried forbearance and self-control to the last extreme.

So many good qualities combined assuredly prove the accuracy of the remark of Washington Irving that “although there seems but little soil in the Indian’s heart for the growth of the kindly virtues, if we would penetrate through the proud stoicism and habitual taciturnity which hide his character from casual observers, we should find him linked to his fellow-men of civilized life by more of those sympathies and affections than are usually ascribed to him.” Much in the same spirit, Father Smet writes–“The Indians are in general little known in the civilized world. People judge by those whom they see on the frontiers, the mere wrecks and remnants of once powerful tribes. Among these the ‘fire-water’ and the degrading vices of the whites have wrought sad ruin. The farther one penetrates into the desert, the better he finds the aborigines, and the more worthy and desirous to receive religious instruction.”

Among the evil impulses of the Red Man’s nature, pride and revenge were predominant. Fostered and strengthened by indulgence, as well as by the peculiar nature of early training, these passions finally acquired so great a dominion, that to gratify either, the savages would have sacrificed all they held most dear. They were fond of praise too, and although they declared themselves indifferent to general opinion, their constant fear of provoking an unfavourable one, rendered them, in truth, its slaves. In their dealings with the whites, they were often found false, treacherous, and regardless of promises and treaties, although in domestic intercourse they were not in general deceitful. In extenuation, it must be remembered that from their earliest years, they were not only initiated in stratagem by the necessity of self-defence, but taught to look on every exhibition of craft and cunning as a triumph of skill and a worthy subject of admiration. And again, it is but too true that the example of the more enlightened Europeans was not always calculated to inspire them with respect for truth. Another ground of accusation against the Indians was their barbarity to the vanquished. This originated partly in policy and superstition, but from the era of European aggression, savage cruelty needed no other stimulus than the desire of revenge.

In the long journeys of the Indians, whether for war or the chase, the sun, moon, and stars answered the purpose of time-piece and compass. Distant periods they calculated by the solar year, but for short intervals they reckoned by lunations. They had observed and even given names to the principal constellations. Among the Iroquois, the Pleiades were called the “Dancers;” the Milky Way, “the Path of Souls;” the Great Bear had a name corresponding with that which we give it; the Polar Star was designated as “the star that never sets;” it served to guide them in their long marches through the forests and across the great prairies of the west. When the sky was clouded, they were led through the woods by certain infallible signs–indeed by a species of instinct–besides which, their memory of places was so wonderful that, after once visiting any locality, they ever after retained a perfectly distinct recollection of it. They preferred water to land travelling, possessing thorough command of their light bark canoe, which they could direct with ease and security amidst the most formidable rapids. If they came to an absolutely impassable spot, they raised the slight vessel on their shoulders and carried it until they reached the next navigable point.

Christianity produced a wonderful change in these wild children of the woods, developing all that was good in their nature, correcting what was evil, and softening down much of what was harsh, but when the Mother of the Incarnation arrived in Canada, it had made but little progress. As early as 1615, it is true, Père Caron, a Recollet, had penetrated to the Huron land, and, during the succeeding years, he and his religious brethren had laboured at intervals for the conversion of its inhabitants, but although their zeal was ardent, their success had been only very partial. Unlike the tribes of whom Jacques Cartier speaks, these manifested so strong an opposition to the dogmas of the Catholic faith, that it was evident many years must elapse before they would be disposed to embrace it. Although the most intelligent of all the North American tribes, and the most susceptible of ordinary instruction, the Hurons appeared absolutely inaccessible to religious teaching.

The plan of the missioners in the northern continent was to try and gain access to some Indian village, and, this point attained, to build a cabin and as soon as opportunity offered, announce the Word of God to all who would receive it. Gradually a little congregation was formed around them, but the tie between the converts and their heathen relatives was not severed, both continuing to associate; neither was the original name of the village changed; it merely received in addition that of the particularly saint who had been chosen as its patron. In South America, on the contrary, it was the practice of the missioners to prepare settlements, or “reductions,” as they were called, to which they attracted their neophytes, whom they induced to live in community.

In the year 1634, the three Jesuit Fathers, Bréboeuf, Daniel, and Davost, succeeded in establishing themselves in the village of Ihonhatiria, in the land of the Hurons, and there, in a very poor little chapel dedicated to St. Joseph, they planted the seed of that interesting portion of the early Canadian Church, the Huron Mission. In a year after, they were joined by Père Jogues. When the Venerable Mother arrived, five years had passed over that precious seed, and it had given scarcely a sign of life, nor did it for long afterwards. The efforts of the Fathers were everywhere thwarted–prejudice, superstition, ignorance, and vice all rose in arms against them. They were accounted sorcerers; the breaking out of the dreaded small-pox was attributed to their magic arts, and they once owed their escape from a sentence of death only to the intervention of a friendly Indian. But the blood of a martyr was to fertilize the seed of Christianity in the New World, as in primitive times it had so often done in the Old. Père Jogues was seized by the Iroquois, and after enduring torments which only the ingenuity of savage barbarity could have invented, he wonderfully escaped alive from their hands. In 1646 he was sent to found a mission in the heart of the Iroquois land itself–a mission which was to be dedicated to, and appropriately named after, the holy Martyrs. “I shall go,” he said, on receiving the order; “I shall go, but I shall not return.” The words were prophetic; his own blood was the first to water the mission of the holy martyrs, and, as might have been anticipated, its eloquent voice pierced the heavens. It had scarcely sent up its pleadings, when the work of conversion among the Hurons began in earnest. Missionary stations multiplied rapidly. The Christianized villages of St. Joseph, St. Louis, St. Ignatius, and St. John smiled in the desert like green spots amidst the barren sands. At the central station of St. Mary’s alone, three thousand Indians received hospitality in the course of one year. Undeterred by the certainty of privation and suffering, new missioners continued to swell the ranks and aid the work. With indefatigable zeal and unwearied patience, they catechised, exhorted, consoled, encouraged. The morning hours, from four until eight, were reserved for their private devotions; the remainder of the day belonged to the neophytes. Like St. Francis Xavier, Père Bréboeuf would walk through the villages and their environs, ringing a bell to summon the warriors to a conference. Seated round the good Father under the pleasant shade of their own ancient forest trees, they would drink in his words and joyfully accept his doctrines. “When I escaped some particular danger,” a brave would remark, “I said to myself, ‘A powerful spirit watches over me.’ Now I know that my Protector was the great God of whom you tell us.” The first desire and aim of the converts was to bring as many of their nation as possible to the faith; and so wondrously rapid was its diffusion, that within two years after the martyrdom of Père Jogues, the whole Huron nation was converted.

The harvest had taken long to ripen, but in compensation it was so rich, that only the golden garners seemed fit to receive it, and to these, accordingly, the Almighty Master of the vineyard was pleased speedily to transfer it. The Iroquois had long maintained a deadly enmity to the Hurons, and frequent bloodshed had necessarily been its consequence; but, no longer satisfied with partial vengeance, they resolved in the year 1648 on carrying on a war of absolute extermination into the Huron territory itself. They chose for their incursion the season when all the Huron warriors were absent on the chase, and no one left in the hamlets but women, children, and aged men. The village of St. Joseph, with its venerable pastor, Father Daniel, at once fell a prey to their terrible fury. The following year the villages of St. Louis and St. Ignatius shared the same fate, and all the inhabitants, men, women, and children, were slain. Fathers Bréboeuf and Lalemant were included in the general massacre, but their deaths were marked by an exceptional refinement of barbarity. In explanation of the bitter hatred of the Iroquois to the French, we learn that about a year after his arrival in Canada, Champlain had provoked their hostility by entering into an alliance with the Algonquins and Hurons, their traditional foes. The step was taken in choice of the lesser of two evils, for unless conciliated, it seemed but natural to expect that the Algonquins, as the nearest neighbours, would prove the most dangerous enemies. Wise as may have been the motive, the act led to disastrous results.

After the almost total annihilation of their nation, a part of the surviving Hurons descended the St. Lawrence to Quebec, in the environs of which their posterity is still to be seen; another portion was adopted into the nation of the conquerors on equal terms, and the rest dispersed. Many of those admitted into the enemy’s tribe were Christians, and not only did they preserve their faith in exile, but they were the happy means of drawing to it many of their new allies. Several years after, missioners were amazed and charmed at finding a little band of fervent Christians in the very centre of heathen vice and barbarism. The exiled Hurons who sought an asylum in Quebec were located in the Isle of Orleans, to which they gave the name of St. Mary’s, in memory of their old and still dearly-cherished home. Our limits do not permit us to dwell on the heroism of the missioners in the daily, hourly sacrifices of their crucified lives, ending for very many among them in death by a cruel martyrdom. The record fills one among the many beautiful pages in the annals of the sons of St. Ignatius. Commenting on their glorious work, the historian, Bancroft, remarks that “the history of their labours is connected with the origin of every celebrated town within the limits of French Canada. Not a cape was turned,” he says, “not a river entered, but a Jesuit led the way.” This, however, is but secondary merit; their true glory is in having led the way to heaven for innumerable souls who will for ever bless their charity, and sing praise to Him who inspired it.

Before the arrival of the Venerable Mother Mary of the Incarnation, missions for the converted Indians had sprung up under their direction in and about Quebec and along the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The most remarkable of the former was that called St. Joseph of Sillery, in honour of the patron of Canada, to whom it was dedicated, and of Monsieur de Sillery, [Footnote: After having been Ambassador for France at the Spanish and Papal Courts, Monsieur de Sillery was appointed Prime Minister of Louis XIII. He finally renounced the world, and embraced the ecclesiastical state.] its munificent founder. A few savage families lived happily in this peaceful hamlet, fervently discharging their duty as Christians, and insensibly falling into the spirit and usages of civilized life. These converts were chiefly from among the Algonquins proper, and the kindred tribe of the Montagnais. As the desire for the conversion of the Indians strengthened, so did the conviction that the work must begin with the systematic religious training of the children. Thanks to the zeal and charity of the lamented Champlain, a step had been taken in this direction for the benefit of the Indian boys;–that a similar advantage might be extended to the girls, had long been the prayer of all who sighed for the coming of the Kingdom of God among the heathens of Canada. And God heard the prayer, and in his own time He sent His mercy and His blessing to the heathen land in the person of the Venerable Mother Mary of the Incarnation, whose wondrous call, and faithful co-operation will engage our attention in the following pages, a tribute of filial love and reverence to her saintly memory.


FIRST PERIOD, 1599-1631.




The world of nature is no doubt very beautiful in itself, and very wonderful in its works, yet infinitely surpassing it, both in intrinsic loveliness and in magnificence of production, is the world of grace. It is in that world that the saints are formed, and compared with the grandeur of the work of grace in the sanctification of a soul, all the splendours of this material universe fade to nothing. When grace forms a saint, it restores the beauty, and renews the purity which were the dowry of the soul before the fall. For this end, it has to transform man from a terrestrial into a heavenly being, elevating what is low in his fallen nature, correcting what is evil, spiritualizing what is earthly, improving what is good;–re-forming, re-moulding, and in a manner re- creating.

Considering the subjects on which divine grace has to act, and the opposition which it has to encounter, this, its work in the saints, may well be called the most wonderful of all works, and its triumph the grandest of all triumphs. Unseen and unheeded though it may be, that divine work is ever silently but surely and steadily progressing in the spiritual world over which grace rules. We can see it in its development, if not in its actual operation, and if so minded, can estimate its magnitude by examining its results in the annals of the saints.

Those annals are of a singularly diversified character. They comprise the history of once rebellious souls won by the sweet attractions of grace from every part of the empire of Satan, and by a strange contrast, they at the same time record that of faithful souls, who, upheld by its strength, never swerved from their allegiance to God. They tell of saintly penitents, dating their first correspondence with its inspirations from the eleventh hour, and of docile hearts, obedient from earliest childhood to its voice. They show us, side by side, profaned temples re-consecrated, and holy sanctuaries never sullied; scentless flowers restored to fragrance, and garlands of purity from which not a blossom or even a leaf had ever fallen. In different ways both manifest the magnificence of the riches of divine grace. In different ways, both prove that whether grace changes a sinner into a saint, or preserves a saint from sin, it is pre-eminently the worker of wonders. If the catalogue of holy penitents forms a dazzling page in its record, so does that of the privileged few who never lost their baptismal innocence. While the one is traced in characters of mercy, the other is written in letters of light. While the one reveals the grandeur, and the other the sweetness of the work of grace, both concur in proclaiming the triumph of its omnipotence.

In obdurate wills subdued, the conquests of grace are often hard to win. In the docile souls of the early sanctified, its task is easy. Into these, its inspirations sink as the soft dew into good soil; and with the same result. Finding in them no impediment to its action, no check to its liberality, it is free to pour out the wealth of its exhaustless treasury, and so it leads them from virtue to virtue, from height to height, even to the sublimity of perfection and the consummation of divine union, when, resplendent with heavenly light, and dazzling with interior beauty, they excite the admiration, nay, perhaps even the wonder of the angels.

To this bright page of the annals of the work of grace belongs the name of the Mother Mary of the Incarnation, whose history is about to engage us.

As we follow the progress of the great work of God in her soul, noting, on the one hand, the rich abundance of heavenly inspiration, and, on the other, the perfection of her fidelity, let us not be satisfied with simply admiring the one, but let us set ourselves in earnest to imitate the other, according to our measure and degree.

She was born in the historic city of Tours on the 28th of October 1599. With the very gift of life itself, she received an accompanying protecting grace in the blessing of good, religious parents. Her father, Florence Guyart, was noted among his fellow-citizens for piety, integrity, and uprightness, but although richly endowed with the treasures of virtue, he was but indifferently provided with those of fortune, his business as a silk-mercer supplying him barely with a competency. Her mother, Jeanne Michelet, was of the noble house of Babou de la Bourdaisière, to which France was once indebted for some of her eminent ecclesiastics and statesmen, but at the period of the birth of her holy child, she ranked–like the royally descended Virgin of Juda at the birth of Christ–only among other obscure individuals of the middle class.

The predestined infant received baptism on the day after her birth, in the church of St. Saturninus, and with it the name of Mary, a happy presage, as one of her biographers remarks, of her life-long, most tender devotion to the Blessed Virgin, as well as of the singular favours which that generous Mother reserved for her well-loved child. It was her happiness to be surrounded from earliest infancy with none but holy influences, and to breathe from her very cradle an atmosphere of purity. The first words which she heard, the first she tried to lisp, were the sweet names of Jesus and Mary. The first bent she received was an inclination to virtue; the first and only examples she witnessed were examples of piety. Thus passed the years preceding the dawn of reason, her beautiful soul expanding under the combined action of the baptismal grace, and of favourable external influences, like a bud of rich promise in the bright spring sunshine; then the clouds of infancy cleared away, and the light of reason shone. Her good mother seized the all-important moment to direct the child’s opening mind to the knowledge of God, and her fresh, pure heart to His love, a grace for which the Venerable Mother returned Him very earnest thanks in after life, remarking that early impressions of religion are a most precious favour, and a strong predisposition to future sanctity. Truly it was a picture to delight the angels, that Christian mother so carefully directing the first feeble steps of her little child along the road that leads to God, and that docile child eagerly watching the guardian hand, and steadily treading the path to which it pointed,–the sure and blessed path of holiness, from which throughout life’s long journey, she was never even once to swerve.

The crowning grace of this privileged infancy was, however, yet to come. Our Lord, whose Spirit breatheth where He will, had chosen that little child to be in an especial manner all His own, and He desired to secure possession of her soul while yet it looked so lovely, all glistening with the baptismal dew in the morning light of its young purity. But as the gift of the heart, to be acceptable, must be voluntary, her concurrence in His designs of mercy had to be asked. Neither, however, to visible or invisible guardian angel would He intrust the invitation, which, to crown His infinite condescension, was to come from Himself in person. She has left us a touchingly simple description of the extraordinary favour referred to, which she always looked on as the first link in the chain of her vocation to the mystic life, and prized accordingly.

“I was only about seven years old,” she says, “when one night in sleep, I seemed to myself to be in the courtyard of a country school with one of my young companions. My eyes were fixed on the heavens, when suddenly I saw them opened, and our Lord Jesus Christ descending towards me through the air. As His most adorable Majesty drew near, I felt my heart all on fire with His love, and eagerly stretched out my arms to Him. The most lovely above the sons of men, beautiful and attractive beyond description, lovingly embraced me, and then He asked, ‘Wilt thou be mine?’ I answered, ‘yes,’ and having thus received my consent, He re- ascended in our sight to heaven. When I awoke, my soul was so ravished with joy at this unspeakable favour, that in my childish simplicity, I detailed the wonderful particulars to all who would listen to me. The sweet words of our Blessed Lord remained ever indelibly engraven on my memory, and so completely did they absorb my attention, that although I saw His sacred Humanity, I afterwards retained no distinct impression concerning it.”

It was an important crisis in the child’s spiritual life, that heavenly vision, for on its results depended the bent and colouring of her future career. By her ready compliance with the invitation of divine grace, she subjected her whole will unreservedly and for ever to the dominion of her Lord, and thus left Him free to carry out His yet unrevealed designs for her personal sanctification, and the salvation of innumerable souls bound up with hers. Henceforth, His divine inspirations would find no impediment to their action in the docile heart of that little child.

According to St. Bernard, the embrace of God means His Holy Spirit. To embrace a soul, and to give her His Spirit, are then in God identical acts. By the embrace noted in the vision, the Holy Ghost took possession of the heart of His chosen Spouse in quality of her Director, and although unacquainted as yet with the secrets, and even the name of the interior life, she found herself guided along its paths by that divine Master, as steadily and securely as if she had been led by a visible hand. In her doubts, she consulted Him with great simplicity, and never failed to receive the light which she needed for her practical direction; light so clear and vivid, that it sometimes carried with it the force almost of demonstration. This supernatural guidance, commenced thus early, and continued through life, may be ranked among the most eminent of her great spiritual privileges. But although the first, it was not the only favour conferred on her by our Lord at His most gracious visit. Other precious, practical effects of that visit were to disengage her heart from the amusements in general so eagerly sought by children of her age; to confirm her desire of virtue; to develop her love of retirement and prayer; to intensify her hatred of sin, and strengthen her resolution to guard with jealous care the holy treasure of her baptismal innocence. The embrace vouchsafed her by our Lord, so embalmed her soul with sweetness, so inflamed her heart with love, that she ceased not thenceforth to “run after Him in the odour of His perfumes,” and so readily did her thoughts and affections turn to Him, their Centre, that it would seem as if in vanishing from her sight in the vision just referred to, He had taken both back to heaven with Himself. Her delight was to resort to the most solitary places and the least frequented churches, that she might enjoy with less interruption the sweets of communion with Him. Struck by the humble and respectful attitudes of pious persons whom she met in the church, and believing that God must certainly grant the petitions of those who prayed with so much reverence, she at once set about imitating them; and no doubt, even indifferent observers must have been impressed by the sight of a child between nine and ten years of age spending long hours on her knees before the tabernacle, her little hands devoutly joined, her soul absorbed as if in ecstasy, and her very countenance wearing a seraphic expression. She spoke of her childish wants, with simple confidence to our Lord and His Blessed Mother, and every day she asked that dear Mother that she might see her at least before death. From constant association with Him who is the joy of the angels, and the sweetness of the saints, her naturally bright disposition grew the brighter, and her engaging amiability and artless courtesy, the more striking and attractive.

She early manifested a singular reverence and love for religious instruction. Having heard that God speaks through the preachers of His word, she conceived so profound a veneration for their office and their person, that when she met one of them in the street, she would have followed him to kiss the traces of his steps, had she not been restrained by the fear of observation. Without understanding much of what was said in sermons, she still loved to listen to them, and on her return home, would repeat what she had retained, adding her own simple ideas and reflections. As she grew older, and therefore better able to take in their meaning, her heart, she says, seemed to her like a vessel into which the word of God poured in the manner of a liquid into a vase. Like the brimming vase, her soul so overflowed with heavenly emotions, that unable to contain their abundance, she was constrained to give them vent in prayer, or in humble efforts to impart some of her treasures to other souls. This early inclination for receiving and communicating religious instruction, was a pre-disposition for the grand work which the future reserved for her, and when, after the lapse of many years, her destiny had associated her with the generous missionaries who bore the knowledge of the name of Christ to infidel lands, she recalled the aspirations of childhood’s days, in which, as she says, her heart had followed the ministers of the Gospel to the scenes of their labours, and her mind had been more engrossed by their noble deeds, than by the events actually passing around her.

Daily more intent on excluding from the solitude of her soul every distracting thought and care thus the better to dispose it for the permanent abode of the divine Guest who will have the heart to Himself, she withdrew more and more from all intercourse with creatures, except that required by charity and courtesy. Seeing in the recreative reading provided for her by her parents, an obstacle to recollection and a waste of time, she totally laid it aside, substituting for books of mere amusement, those which treated of spiritual subjects.

As she advanced in years, the love of God which inflamed her soul sought a vent not only in her almost uninterrupted communications with the divine Object of her affections, but in exterior active works of charity towards her neighbour. The tabernacle and the poor were the two magnets that attracted her heart, and next to the hours spent before the altar, none yielded her such pure delight as those passed among the lowly, suffering members of her dear Saviour. She found no company so congenial as theirs; no occupation so agreeable as the humble services which their desolate condition required. She fed, clothed and consoled them, and even sometimes partook of their poor fare, reserving for her own share their remnants and refuse. She would have been glad to suffer in their stead, and says, that but for the uprightness of her intention, she might sometimes have erred by excess of liberality towards them.

Going one day, as usual, on a mission of charity, she inadvertently passed too near a cart which some workmen were in the act of loading. Not seeing her, they raised the vehicle so suddenly, that her sleeve was caught in the shaft, and after being lifted into the air, she was dashed back violently to the ground. The terrified spectators concluded that she must have been killed, but she had not received the least injury, a favour for which, as the Almighty revealed to her, she was indebted to her love for the poor.

After some years, we hear of the first notable imperfection of her childhood and youth, and nothing perhaps gives a more accurate idea of her innocence, than the gravity which that imperfection assumed in her estimation. The singular degree of supernatural light vouchsafed her, the sublimity of interior purity to which she was called, and the height of the virtue to which she had already attained, explain the reproaches of the Holy Spirit, and her own keen remorse for an infidelity which appears trivial to us because of our want of enlightenment in the ways of God.

In her childish recreations, it had been her favourite amusement to copy the devotional practices which she had witnessed at Church; to kneel, to prostrate, to clasp her hands, to raise her eyes to heaven, to strike her breast; in short, to repeat as a pastime what she had seen done at prayer. In ordinary children, a fancy for such diversions is often considered a happy presage of a future vocation to the ecclesiastical or religious state, but in her enlightened eyes, these childish follies seemed inconsistent with the gravity and reserve becoming one so favoured as she had been. Viewed in this aspect, they appeared to her, not as sins certainly, but as imperfections; light vapours, it is true, but vapours still, and therefore capable of intercepting to some extent the rays of the eternal Sun of justice. It was not until her sixteenth year that her early pastimes struck her as reprehensible, and then, with the new light, there came a second to the effect, that although deliberate sin alone forms necessary matter for confession, an imperfection like that recorded might lawfully find a place in the self-accusations of one, destined as she was, for an exceptional degree of purity of soul. No positive duty however, required the sacrifice of natural feeling involved in the latter course, therefore she hesitated for awhile to adopt it, thus for the first time balancing the repugnances of nature against the inspirations of grace. But the Spouse of souls will admit no reservation in those whom He has chosen to be all His own, and we learn from herself, that by this infidelity, she interrupted for a time the fulness of the flow of divine liberality in her regard, and checked the freedom and rapidity of her progress to God. To all but herself, however, that progress was very apparent, furnishing matter of wonder and admiration, no less than of edification.

Only two convents existed at that period in the city of Tours; one of Carmelites, quite recently founded; the other of Benedictines, governed just then by a near relative of her mother’s. This latter monastery she frequently visited, and as might have been expected, the oftener she breathed its atmosphere of peace and prayer, the more she longed to make it the place of her rest for ever. Her inclination for the religious life gradually settled into a desire so strong and irrepressible, that even before she had reached her sixteenth year, with its renewed call to perfection, she had confided her wishes to her mother. While rejoicing at the intelligence, and giving the project every reasonable encouragement, that good mother suggested, that although the step was undeniably a holy and a happy one, it was very important too, consequently, that it would he better to delay it until time and reflection had more fully manifested its wisdom. Had the youthful Mary been at that time under regular spiritual direction, there can be no doubt that she would have been advised to follow her attraction for the cloister, but she knew nothing whatever about direction, imagining that spiritual communications even to a confessor were limited to the accusation of sins at confession. Being very timid, she did not venture to press the matter, so her mother, hearing nothing more of it, naturally concluded that her inclination for religion had been the result of some passing fit of fervour, or perhaps only a childish fancy, forgotten as soon as formed, an idea apparently so much the more reasonable, as her natural gaiety of character seemed to dispose her rather for the world than for a convent. The seeming mistake was in reality a step to the development of the particular designs of God over His faithful servant, for although His general design is alike in all the saints, the especial destiny of each varies, and while the great outline of sanctity is universally the same, there are minute shades of difference in the characteristic virtues of individuals. The saints form the beautiful garden of the Church, redolent of every variety of sweetest fragrance, and enamelled with every shade of fairest tinting. The day was to come, when the Mother of the Incarnation would be bound to her Lord by the vows of religion, but before becoming a guide for His consecrated Spouses, she was to pass through married life and widowhood, that she might first furnish an example of perfection in both conditions, and thus serve as a model for woman in every state. Her ultimate destiny involved a species of apostolate among the savages of Canada, and for this, the novitiate awaiting her in the world would prove a more effectual preparation, than would the novitiate of the cloister. There she would have ample opportunities of practically learning the lesson of the cross, and at the same time of consolidating the virtues which were to be the distinguishing characteristics of her sanctity. Her zeal and charity would find a wider field, and her gentle patience reap a richer harvest, her union with God would be strengthened, while tested, by exposure to the distracting cares of life, and her purity of soul would shine out with brighter lustre amidst hitherto unknown difficulties and dangers. And so, when in after years, the voice of the Spouse would bid her arise, and leave her home and country, and follow Him to the distant land which He would show her, she would be prepared to answer, “My heart, O Lord, is ready; my heart is ready and my work is done!”

The first page of the history of her life,-which we are about to close, has not been without its practical teaching. It is the page of the young; happy those who study well the record! They will discover, that “it is good for a man when he hath borne the yoke from his youth.” (Lam. iii. 27). They will learn to admire the heavenly beauty of a pure soul, and fascinated by its unearthly charms, they will resolve to close their own hearts against sin, excluding even the smallest, as a security against the entrance of the greater. They will learn to appreciate the happiness of knowing and loving our Lord, like the blessed child who found her sweetest joy before the altar, and they will surely ask her to beg for them a share in her love of Jesus and her spirit of prayer, courageously checking the propensity for idle talking and still idler reading which, are so great an obstacle to recollection. Studying her love of retirement, they will pray for grace to resist worldly influences, and following her to the miserable homes of the destitute, they will aspire to become, like her, angels of comfort to the desolate and sorrowing. Thus will their childhood and youth be saintly, as, were those of the model now presented to them.



Mary Guyart was just entering on her seventeenth year, when her parents proposed to her a matrimonial alliance apparently calculated to insure her happiness. Such an engagement was utterly repugnant to her inclinations; it was inconsistent with the high hopes she had cherished of consecrating herself wholly to God in religion; its duties and solicitudes seemed a decided obstacle to the cultivation of that spirit of prayer and recollection which had become as her life-breath. Drawn daily more and more forcibly to an interior life in God, she shrank with her whole soul from a position which must necessarily immerse her in he distracting occupations and harassing cares of the world. But accustomed to look on her parents as the representatives of God, and therefore seeing only His will in the impending project, she submitted with the respectful docility habitual to her, and none but the interior witness of. the sacrifice to obedience, could have suspected the cost at which it was offered. She simply assured her mother of her readiness to obey, adding the, almost prophetic promise, that if God should bless her with a son, she would dedicate him to the Divine service, and that if He should ever restore her own liberty, she would consecrate it also to Him alone.

Her only object now became to prepare so fervently for the holy sacrament of marriage, that she might receive with it the abundant supply of grace needed for the due fulfilment of the difficult and responsible obligations soon to be hers.

Few indeed have ever brought to it more admirable dispositions than did that reluctant, yet in one sense, willing bride, therefore it followed, that although the absence of pomp and show may have divested the ceremonial of all charm for worldlings, the perfection: of her interior preparation rendered it one of rare beauty in the eyes of heaven. She wore no costly attire, it is true, but in compensation, her soul was arrayed in that fairest of garments, her white baptismal robe, free still from spot or wrinkle, as on the day when it was first assumed. She displayed no sparkling gems, but many a virtue shone instead with a glorious light, before whose lustre that of flashing diamond and gilded coronet fades away, and as she thus stood before the altar in all the freshness of her innocence and the radiance of her spiritual beauty, must she not have won the smiles. of angels? Must she not have attracted the complacency of the angels’ Lord?

The duties of her new state came to her marked with the sign of the cross, nevertheless she set about them with an energy and devotedness which clearly manifested the singleness of her views, the purity of her motives, and the enlightened character of her piety. Knowing that perfection is in the accomplishment of God’s will, and believing that as long as she faithfully complied with the duties of her condition in life, she should walk in the sure, straight path of obedience to that holy will, she took immediate measures for the discharge of its fourfold obligations to God, her husband, her servants and herself. The spirit of prayer conferred on her at the early visit of our Lord, had been ever since developing itself more and more strongly, and her first precaution in arranging her role of life, was that no worldly interests should ever be permitted to interfere with her spiritual exercises, whence alone she could derive strength to fulfil her daily duties and courage to bear her daily crosses. Yet she never allowed them to encroach on domestic arrangements, her well-regulated piety having taught her, that when these latter required the sacrifice of her love of prayer and solitude she was doing God’s will more perfectly in substituting active work for the enjoyment of immediate communion with Himself. Prolonged meditations, holy Mass, the sacraments and the word of God,–these were the four sources whence she drew the waters of grace to refresh and invigorate her soul. The holy Communion was above all, her joy and her life. As she herself tells us, it replenished her with sweetness, enlivened her faith, fortified her inclination for virtue, strengthened her confidence in God, intensified her love of her neighbour, and supported her under the weight of the cross. In one of her letters of after years, she remarks that a single communion well made, is sufficient to sanctify a soul, since it unites, her to the Saint of Saints, adding, that the reason why it does not produce this result, is, that the soul after having given herself to our Lord, in return for His having given Himself to her, too soon revokes the offering in practice, nature shrinking from the total renunciation of self which the divine Sanctifier requires as a preliminary to His action. It was not so, her son remarks, with the holy Mother. Bringing to the heavenly Banquet a disengaged heart, an almost annihilated will, and an entire abandonment to the Spirit of God, she not only co-operated with, but facilitated the operation of the sacramental grace, which meeting in her no obstacle to its freedom of action, bore her with marvellous rapidity along the path of solid virtue. Of such Communions it was, that she says, “The more frequently I received the sacraments, the more ardently I desired to receive them, because the more clearly I saw that they were to me the source of all spiritual blessings.”

The love and reverence for God’s word which she had manifested from earliest childhood, had but gained strength with years. To listen to it was still her delight, as it had been in her young days. She loved it for its own sake, irrespectively of the manner in which it might be announced, looking on every preacher as a herald of the great King, charged with the divine message of salvation. She says that her assiduity in attending sermons was rewarded by a great abundance of light and love, an increase of attraction and facility for prayer, and a renewal of fervour in the practice of the virtues of her state. With the enlarged experience of the spiritual life acquired at a later date, she recognised that He who never tries His creatures beyond their strength, had imparted to her in these benedictions of His sweetness, the particular graces needed to support her under the crosses with which it had been His will to surround her in the troubled days of her married life.

Her veneration for the preachers of God’s word extended to all the ceremonies of Divine worship. Enchanted with their beauty and grandeur, and at the same time supernaturally enlightened to understand their mysterious signification, she was filled with gratitude to her eternal Benefactor for the signal favour of having been born of Catholic parents, and thus made a child of the one true Church long before she could appreciate, or even comprehend the blessing. She was always eager to be among the first to enter the church, that securing a place where no part of the sublime ceremonial could escape her, she might be free to meditate on, and enter into the spirit of all.

The uprightness of her motives, and the holiness of her dispositions in entering the marriage state, ought, we naturally imagine, to have secured her at least the average amount of its happiness. But for the purification of her soul and the perfecting of her virtue, God permitted that her garland of bridal flowers should soon be turned into a wreath of thorns, and thorns all the sharper, that they were pointed by the hand to which she might have expected to look as her shield against trouble. It is difficult to explain this singular phase of her diversified career. Her husband is represented as eminently endowed with the richest gifts of mind and person; he fully appreciated the value of the treasure which he possessed in her, and did ample justice to her admirable qualities, impressed most of all, perhaps, by the calm patience which no annoyance could ruffle; the steady love which no trial could shake; the Christian heroism which gathered new courage from each new shock;–yet it is nevertheless quite certain that the bitter sufferings of her married life originated, though unintentionally, with him. They rendered her duty in his regard all the more arduous, yet it was not on that account the less perfectly fulfilled. In uniting her destiny with his, she believed that she was carrying out an arrangement of the admirable providence of God; hence from the first moment of their union, she looked on him as holding to her the place of God. In thus adopting the supernatural principles of faith as the guide of all her relations towards him, she cut off the thousand sources of trouble and temptation which are sure to arise whenever nature, and not grace, holds rule,–so it happened, that among the sorrows of her wedded life, domestic disunion, at least, never found a place, and it followed too, that her spiritualized affection stood tests, which purely human love would not have borne. She was never known to fail in the respect or obedience due to her husband; her constant study was to promote his comfort; her unceasing aim not only to defer to, but even to anticipate his slightest wishes, and all was done with the winning sweetness and rare prudence which were among her characteristics.

Nature had indeed dealt bountifully with her, and grace developing, refining and spiritualizing the gifts of nature, had produced one of those dispositions, which, to include all praise in a single word, are sometimes termed angelic. Her temper was sweet and gentle, but it was a gentleness as much removed from languid apathy and insensibility, as from impulsive quickness and impetuosity. It was the serenity of a soul which, possessing God, is happy in Him, and has no desire beyond Him, and it excluded neither firmness in decision, nor courage and resolution in difficulty, nor promptitude and energy in action. Her nature was so placid and docile, that we never hear, even in her childhood, of the least of those ebullitions of anger or manifestations of self-will, usual in ordinary children. It was so enduring and forgiving, that while inoffensive herself, she was incapable of taking offence, and absolutely inaccessible to resentment. It was so kind and tender, that sympathy for the troubles of others, especially the poor, was among the very first of the features which her childish disposition revealed, and which, like all her great qualities, strengthened with time. There was nothing rigid in her piety, repulsive in her manner, austere in her ideas, or contracted in her mind. She served the Lord with joy, and so, her interior peace was reflected in an external cheerfulness, tempered ever by a sweet, modest gravity that imparted dignity to her demeanour and commanded universal respect. Her heart’s history might be epitomized in one word,–self- sacrifice,–and truly it was the quality of which she had most need. Her charity has drawn an impenetrable veil over the precise nature, as well as the painful details of the trials which lasted all through her short union with Mr. Martin. Alluding to them in later life, in one of her confidential letters to her son, she says “The only comfort of my married life was that I was able to consecrate you to God before your birth, and that your father, who possessed a good heart, and had the fear of God, not only sanctioned, but even approved of my devotions. Regarding certain occurrences with which you are acquainted, and which are to be imputed to inadvertence, he regretted them most heartily, and often asked my pardon for them with tears,”–tears, she might have added, not only of self- reproach, but of admiration for the meek endurance of the gentle sufferer.

To the perfect fulfilment of her duty to her husband, she added the exact discharge of her obligations to her household. Mr. Martin was at the head of a silk manufactory which gave employment to a number of workmen, and these at once became the objects of the zeal and charity of their good mistress. Her first aim was to secure influence over them, that she might gain their hearts, and then bring their hearts so won, to God. For this end, she attended to their wants as carefully as if they had been her own children, devoting her chief solicitude to the concerns of the soul. Dreading beyond all evils, an offence against the God whom she loved supremely, she induced them to go regularly to confession, that its protecting grace might be their preservative from sin. To animate them to virtue, she gave them occasional exhortations, repeating the instructions which she had heard in sermons, and adding her own reflections; but prudent in her zeal, she took care not to intrude her lessons at unseasonable times, generally selecting for them the hours of meals, and by this means at once feeding the souls of her hearers with the word of God, and cutting off frivolous, or perhaps sinful topics.

A living model of the virtues which she inculcated, she encouraged her dependents even more by example than by precept, to love and serve God faithfully. Always calm and self-possessed, affable and kind, she practically illustrated the beauty of peace and union. Patient and self- controlled, she taught the heroism of Christian endurance. As solicitous for the interests and as intent on the happiness of others, as if her own heart had not been wrung with anguish, and oppressed with care, she exemplified the unselfishness of true charity. Enlightened and judicious in her views, orderly and systematic in her arrangements, active and energetic in the practical details of business, she taught by her conduct, more forcibly than by any words, that “piety is good for all things.” It need not be added that she won the love of her domestics, who looking on her more as a gentle mother than as a mistress, sympathized in her sorrows as if they had been personal, and manifested on all occasions their compassion for her afflictions, their admiration of her fortitude, and their reverence for her person. Knowing that well-ordered charity begins at home, she took care never to devote herself so entirely to the salvation of others, as to neglect her own soul. In order to secure time for the requirements of both, she avoided unnecessary visits and idle amusements, and having fully complied with her domestic duties, she retired to her oratory, there to find in prayer and spiritual reading repose from past fatigues, and courage for new labours.

Thus passed her first probation in the world. The death of her husband brought it to a close at the end of only two years, but they were years so rich in every virtue of her condition, that the married woman who would lead a sanctified and useful life, is sure of attaining the holy end by following her example. She was indeed the model of a faultless wife; so assiduous in prayer, that it would seem as if she considered prayer her only obligation; so devoted at the same time to the interests of all connected with her, that it would appear as if her domestic responsibilities were her absorbing concern, and through all, so utterly forgetful of self, that chance observers could never have suspected how those cheerfully discharged duties involved the living sacrifice of her bleeding heart.

In this second page of the life of the Venerable Mother Mary of the Incarnation, we read a continuance of the work of grace in her soul. We meet the same virtues with which the opening page has made us familiar, but now expanded on a wider sphere, and strengthened by severer conflicts, and still, at every step, we note for our own instruction the action of the Spirit of God, and her docile correspondence, the two necessary and inseparable agents in the sanctification of man. In the biography which he has left us of his saintly mother, her son particularly directs attention to the solidity of the foundation which she prepared for the edifice of her future holiness. Guided by the Divine Director, who since early childhood had undertaken the formation of her soul, she adopted as the four fundamental principles of her spiritual life, fidelity to the duty of prayer, careful avoidance of every deliberate sin, the frequent reception of the holy sacraments, and punctual attendance at divine service, as well as at sermons, and all public observances and ceremonies of the Church. By thus steadying the foundation, she ensured the permanent stability of the building, and by similar means only will any one else secure the same end. Prayer and the sacraments purify the soul; purity of soul prepares for union with God; union with the Church at once forms and cements the bonds of union with God. Sanctity, as so often observed, is primarily the work of grace, but grace will come to us only through the appointed channels. If we cut off the channel, we cut off also the supply, deprived of which, far from advancing in the ways of God, we shall but languish and lose ground. “Unless the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.” (Ps. cxxvi. 1).



The young wife was but nineteen when a new scene in life’s great drama was opened before her by the death of her husband. Although, through God’s permission, he had caused her very bitter sorrows, her naturally warm heart was not the less grieved at the separation. She had fully appreciated his good qualities; had found excuses in her charity for his shortcomings, and had loved him with sincere affection, but as she had seen and accepted an arrangement of the divine will in the formation of the marriage tie, so did she recognise and adore a dispensation of the same Almighty will in the. breaking of the bond, and this one consideration sufficed to reconcile her to the trial, and to give rest to her soul. At the period of her widowhood, her prospects were no doubt cheerless enough. Her pecuniary affairs had been left in a state of great embarrassment; she had an infant of six months old to provide for, and as she remarks, her comparative youth and inexperience seemed to unfit her for a struggle with the difficulties of her position, but here, as ever, her beautiful trust in God supported her, and with a firm, filial reliance on His promise to be with those who are in tribulation, she took up her new crosses with resignation and abandonment so perfect, that neither loss of fortune, nor anticipation of absolute poverty, nor anxiety for the fate of her little child could disturb her serenity or shake her confidence.

The virtue and amiability which she had evinced during her first matrimonial engagement, soon procured her new and far more advantageous offers, while the capacity and integrity which had marked her business transactions, led to very promising proposals for re-embarking in commerce. Prudence seemed in favour of acceptance; natural inclination was opposed to it. In weighing the question, however, it was not to natural inclination that she appealed for a decision; this never had been her guide, nor should it now. If it were, the remembrance of the miseries of her married life would have been quite sufficient reason to deter her from risking a repetition of them, but faith had taught her to see in those past crosses, only valuable opportunities of practising virtue and acquiring merit, therefore she gave the apprehension of their renewal no place in her deliberations. The interior attraction which sweetly but irresistibly urged her to devote herself all to God,–this it was which determined her to embrace a life of entire seclusion in the world, as soon as her affairs should be arranged. In forming her plans, she can scarcely have refrained from casting a wistful glance at the attractive solitude of the cloister, but knowing that its entrance was for the present closed to her by her duty to her child, she resigned herself to wait for the promised land, until she should first have crossed the intervening desert. Referring to this period in one of her after letters to her son, she speaks of the transports of her gratitude at finding herself free to follow her call to solitude, where without distraction or division she could think of and love her Lord, while she watched over the babe whom He had committed to her keeping. The death of her mother-in- law, in about a month after that of her husband, removed the last obstacle to the accomplishment of her project.

Connected with the early months of her widowhood, is a wondrous supernatural favour, granted her as if to confirm her late determination, and mark it with a sensible sign of heaven’s approval. We shall record it in the words best suited to so sublime a subject,–her own. “On the eve,” she says, “of the feast of the Incarnation, 1620, I was on my way to business, which I recommended to God by my ordinary aspiration, ‘In thee, O Lord, I have hoped; let me never be confounded!’–when suddenly, my progress was unaccountably arrested, and while I stood motionless in body, the action of my mind was equally suspended, all recollection of the affairs I was engaged in vanishing instantaneously from my memory. Then the eyes of my soul were wondrously opened in one moment, and all the sins, faults and imperfections of my life revealed to me in general and in particular, with indescribable distinctness. At the same time, I saw myself plunged in a bath of blood, and I knew that it was the blood of the Son of God which had been shed for the very sins now so clearly represented to me. If the Almighty in His great goodness had not sustained me, I think I should have died of terror, so horrible did even the smallest sin appear. Oh! what words can express the emotion of the soul at seeing the Lord of infinite goodness and incomprehensible sanctity insulted by a worm of the earth, and a Man-God shedding His most adorable blood to reconcile sinners to His Father! Above all, who can describe her feelings at finding herself personally stained with sin, and recognising that the Incarnate God would have done for the expiation of her individual guilt, what He has done for the atonement of the transgressions of all men in general! At that moment, my heart seemed wholly changed into love for Him who had shown me this signal mercy, and it was filled at the same time with indescribable, and even unimaginable