Born Marie Guyart in Tours, France, on October 28, 1599, she was the first superior of the Ursulines of Quebec. The road to her vocation was not straightforward.
Marie’s father was by birth a bourgeois; her mother was connected with the illustrious house of Barbon de la Bourdaisière. Despite this, Marie gave evidence of great piety and detachment from the world at a very early on.
At the age of seventeen, in obedience to her parents, she was married to a silk manufacturer named Claude Martin, and devoted herself completely to the duties of a Christian wife. The union was a source of trials: the only consolation it brought her was the birth of a son. Six months after her son was born, she was left a widow.
Finding herself once again unmarried, Marie entertained the idea of joining the Ursulines. However, being the mother of a young child forced her to delay this project until her son was twelve years old
By the time she was finally able to follow her vocation, the Ursuline Order had recently been introduced into France. Madame Martin (as Marie would have been known at that time) took the veil at the Ursuline house in Tours. Two years after her entry into the convent she was made novice mistress.
She always felt intense zeal for saving souls, and at the age of about thirty-four she experienced new impulses of "the apostolic spirit” These impulses “transported her soul even to the ends of the earth"; and filled her with the longing for her own sanctification, and the salvation of so many souls still under the shadows of paganism. It also inspired her with the resolution to go and live in America.
Sister Marie communicated this desire to her confessor, who, after much hesitation, approved it. A pious woman, Mme de la Peltrie, provided the means for the fulfillment of Sister Marie’s newfound mission.
On April 3, 1639, Sister Marie of the Incarnacion sailed from Dieppe with a few sisters who had begged to be allowed to accompany her. After a perilous three month voyage they arrived at Quebec and were joyfully welcomed by the settlers.
Sister Marie and her companions, who by now acknowledged her as the superior of their small community, occupied a little house in the lower town (Basse-Ville). In the spring of 1641 the foundation-stone was laid for the Ursuline monastery, on the same spot where it stands today.
To be the more useful to the aboriginal community, she had set herself to learn their languages immediately on her arrival. Her piety, her zeal for the conversion and instruction of the young aboriginals, and the wisdom with which she oversaw her community were alike remarkable.
She suffered great tribulations from the Iroquois who were threatening the colony, but she stood firm and was able to comfort the downcast. On December 29, 1650, a terrible fire left the Ursuline monastery in ashes. At first she took shelter with the Hospitalières and then with Mme de la Peltrie. By May 29 of the following year she inaugurated the new monastery. She spent the rest of her life teaching and catechizing the young natives and died April 30, 1672 after forty years of labours, thirty-three of them spent in Canada.
Marie of the Incarnation has left a few works which reveal her piety, and resignation to Divine Providence. "Des Lettres" (Paris, 1677-1681) contains an account of the events which took place in Canada during her time, and constitute one of the sources for the history of the French colony from 1639 to 1671. There are also a "Retraite", with a short exposition of the Canticle of Canticles, and a familiar "Explication" of the mysteries of the Faith — a catechism which she compiled for young religious women.
On April 3, 2014 Pope Francis signed a decree recognizing Marie de L'incarnacion as a saint and inserting her name into the list of saints. The process is known as an "equivalent canonization".
Read more about St. Marie of the Incarnation in Clothed in the Word of God: Canadian Saints, Blesseds and Venerables, from Novalis.