Marie de l’Incarnation was born in Tours on October 28, 1599, the fourth of eight children of Florent Guyart, a master baker, and Jeanne Michelet, whose family had become nobility in the previous century. Even as a child, Marie frequented the Mass and festivals of the Church. Preachers fascinated her, and she often followed them through the streets. At home she would summarize their words for her family, adding her own thoughts as well. This practice “gave me a certain eloquence,” she later wrote (Sullivan, p. 8).
At fifteen she sought a religious vocation, but her parents felt her vivacious spirit was not suited to the cloister. Rather, when she was seventeen, they married her to Claude Martin, a silk manufacturer. When he died two years later, he left Marie with their year-old son, Claude, and with a business deeply in debt.
After settling her husband’s business affairs, Marie lived in seclusion for a year in her father’s house. Later she worked eight years for her brother-in-law, managing his large transport business. The business prospered under her hand, but inwardly during this time she fled in her heart to her first love, “a continual colloquy with our Lord” (Sullivan, p. 24). On January 25, 1631, Marie took the name Marie de l’Incarnation and entered the Ursuline convent in Tours. Her son, but ten years old, went to the care of her sister and later to the Jesuit school at Rennes (Sullivan, p. 76).
In 1639 Marie forsook the comforts of France, in obedience to visions from God, and pioneered an Ursuline mission in New France. Arriving at Quebec, then just a small trading post, she began her mission in a meager, two-room hut by the river, taking in six Indian girls to teach them reading and arithmetic, the domestic arts, and the knowledge of Christ (Sullivan, p. 125). For the next thirty-three years, she worked among the Indian tribes of New France, administering the mission. Marie mastered the Algonquin, Huron, and Iroquois languages, and she wrote both an Iroquois dictionary and a large