First Woman Missionary: Marie of the Incarnation
Marie Guyart was born in France in Tours on 28 October 1599, the daughter of Florent Guyart a master baker, and his wife Jeanne Michelet. They were devout Catholics and Marie had a sheltered upbringing, feeling herself close to God and wanting to give her life to Him.
1617-1619 Wife & Mother
When she was 18 however her parents arranged for her to marry Claude Martin, a master silk worker. A son, Claude, was born to them and her husband died in 1619 when she was just twenty.
1631 Widow & Businesswoman
Marie went to live with an older sister whose husband had a prosperous transport business conveying goods by road and river over a wide area – Marie showed herself to be so capable and hard working that she became a key manager in the enterprise.
1631-1639 Ursuline Sister
But she never relinquished her life of prayer and felt God’s call so strongly that at the age of 32 she became an Ursuline sister in the convent at Tours. There she lived a community life of prayer and good works, teach- ing in the school and assisting all who came to her for help.
1633 The Dream
And then one night around Christmas she had a powerful dream of a strange and beautiful land and a voice said – "This is Canada. I want you to go there and build a church". In the dream an unknown lady was also part of the scene.
Six years later a wealthy widow Mme de la Peltrie came to the convent. Marie recognized her at once as the lady of her dream. She offered financial help to make a foundation in Canada. On 4 May 1639 Marie left for Quebec accompanied by two other sisters and Mme de la Peltrie. The voyage was very stormy and took 3 months.
1639 First Woman Missionary to North America
1639 - Marie aged 40
She was beatified in 1980
The French had only begun to settle Canada a few years previously and life was incredibly hard – the winters were bitterly cold, the first buildings very flimsy and the attitudes of the Indians dangerous and unpredictable. Marie learnt four Indian languages and opened a school for Indian girls as well as one for the daughters of the French settlers – the first girls' school in Canada.
Life in Canada
In time Marie built a fine convent and established a flourishing community. She is regarded as one the Founders of Canada and her statue stands in front of the Quebec parliament. In the midst of her busy days she wrote profusely – letters home and detailed accounts of life in a struggling colony. She was revered as a deeply prayerful sister and a strong, kind leader.