Quebec – An Ursuline Epic Part Five

La Mere Marie had a deep, though indirect, influence on the new order of things. All the women of the old order had passed through her school, all the girls of the new were her pupils. Her reputation for sanctity and wisdom extended over people of both sexes and all classes. And she never failed to throw the whole weight of this wider influence into the scale on the side of Laval, in his fights for the missionary system against the parochial one favoured by the Governors, and for Indian prohibition against the indiscriminate brandy traffic favoured by the traders. Laval was the living embodiment of the Church militant, and was inclined to stretch his authority rather far over spheres of public influence which are generally understood to be within the province of the civil power. But his missionary system, worked under his own eye, and through his seminary, undoubtedly met the needs of a new and extending population better than the fixed cures which the Governors vainly tried to establish. Laval wanted his shepherds to keep continual touch with him and each other, while they followed their flocks about the ever-opening pastures. But the Governors preferred to find each individual shepherd sitting ready for inspection inside an isolated fold. As for the brandy trade, it was simply debauching the Indians, body and soul. And when La Mere Marie supported Laval on these two burning questions she proved herself as statesmanlike in the first as she was philanthropic in the second.

Her letters show how many human interests she touched, and with how sure a hand she set each interest in its due relation to her belief and practice. She was an indefatigable writer : in one autumn she sent home over 600 letters. Her correspondents ranged from Royalty down ; but most of her spiritual letters were to her son or the Ursulines. In theology she had some lively passages with the Jansenists, who did their best to persuade her to adopt their views. But she was an everyday and deeply sympathetic eye-witness of the work of the Canadian Jesuits, and that was enough. In religious advice and prayer she was the constant support of an Ursuline of Tours, whom she had initiated before leaving France, and who was aunt to cette touchante ‘Duchesse de la Vallière, dont la destinée sera l’éternel attendrisement de l’histoire. She had special devotions and penances in Canada, on behalf of the errant Duchess, who was, like herself, a native of Tours ; and the celebrated conversion at court was held to be greatly owing to the ardent intercessions at Quebec.

She evidently never thought she had any written message to leave to the world. She let all her spiritual memoirs, destined for her son’s eye alone, be burnt with the convent, rather than run the risk of letting them fall into other hands in the confusion. Perhaps she felt that the divine afflatus would not take literary form in her as it did in St. Theresa. It is certain that she wrote less and less about the inner life, though her reasons for her growing silence are themselves excellently ex-pressed. “Au reste, il y a bien des choses, et je puis dire que presque toutes sont de cette nature qu’il me serait impossible d’écrire entièrement, parce que dans la conduite intérieure que Dieu tient sur moi, il y a des grâces si intimes et des impressions si spirituelles, que cela ne se peut dire. C’est en partie ce qui me donne de la répugnance â traiter de ces matières, quoique ce soient mes délices de ne point trouver de fond dans ce grand abîme, et d’être obligée de perdre toute parole en m’y perdant moi-même. Plus on vieillit, plus on est incapable d’en écrire, parce que la vie spirituelle simplifie l’âme dans un amour consumant, en sorte qu’on ne trouve plus de termes pour s’en expliquer.” Nevertheless, in response to divine orders to comply with her son’s renewed appeals, she rewrote the lost letters, on condition that he promised not to show them to anyone. Dom Martin has a prettily turned simile to express their influence on his life—” ces grandes grâces m’excitent à suivre ses traces, comme l’aigle mère excite ses aiglons. voler après elle.” Though her worldly interests were always strictly subordinated to her spiritual ones she wrote many admirable letters on public affairs. European news is discussed with a good knowledge of its bearings on Church and State. The troubles of the Fronde, the peace of the Pyrenees, the death of Charles I of England, all find their place in her correspondence. But Canada comes first. Indeed, her letters in 1654, 1655 and 1656 form the best documentary history of those troublous years. She notes the natural wealth of the country and the abounding fertility of the population. ” M. Boucher a dit au roi qu’on peut faire au Canada un royaume plus beau et plus grand que celui de la France. C’est la le sentiment de ceux qui disent s’y connaître. Ily a des mines en plusieurs endroits ; les terres y sont fertiles. Il y a surtout un grand nombre d’enfants ce fut un des points sur lequel le roi questionna le plus M. Boucher. Un pauvre homme en aura huit et plus, qui l’hiver vont nu-pieds et nu-tête, avec une petite camisole sur le dos, qui ne vivent que d’anguille et d’un peu de pain ; et, avec tout cela, ils sont gros et gras.” No doubt some of these eels came from the Ursulines’ fishery at the Anse des Mères, just above Cape Diamond. How many little habitants are still to be found in one family, and how many of them still get “gros et gras ” on this very warming winter diet ! Who that knows the story of the French-Canadian will dispute the wisdom of this : “Au fond, tandis que les habitants s’amusent à la traite des castors, ils n’avancent pas tant leurs affaires que s’ils cultivaient le sol et s’attachaient au trafic de la pêche et des huiles de loups-marins et de marsouins.” La Mere Marie knew a good deal more about the future of Canada in the seventeenth century than Voltaire did in the eighteenth with his quelques arpents de neige.

Nothing useful is too small for her attention, nothing great too difficult for her judgment. She sends home to Tours ” une certaine bourre qui ressemble au coton, afin de tenter en plusieurs façons ce qu’on en pourrait faire.” There spoke Marie Guyard and Madame Martin. And here, again : ” C’est une chose merveilleuse d’entendre parler de la beauté et de la bonté de ce payslà les épis ont une grande coudée, et chaque épi donne plus de quatre cents grains.” ” Sa Majesté nous a donné deux belles cavales et un cheval, tant pour la charrue que pour le transport.” Talon’s introduction of new industries—weaving, tanning and others—excites her warm approval, and she rightly concludes that ” le pays est plus fait et les affaires ont plus avancé depuis que M. Talon est ici comme intendant, que depuis que les Français y habitent.

The Marquis de Tracy is equally praised for excellence of another kind. u Nous allons perdre M. de Tracy . . . Cette nouvelle Eglise, et le Canada en général, perd plus en lui qu’il n’est possible de dire ; car il a mené â bonne fin des expéditions qu’on n’aurait jamais osé entreprendre ni espérer.” Marie was emphatically a woman of light and leading, both in Church and State.

With the Indians she was, of course, thoroughly at home ; and the wisdom of many Blue-books is concentrated into her pithy comments on the grand-paternal royal edict which ordered them to be immediately “civilized” as well as christianized. “They must see the woods and follow their parents to the chase. It is the nature of the Indian. He cannot submit to constraint. Loss of liberty makes him sad, and sadness makes him sick. We have more experience on this head than anyone else, and we freely confess that we have not civilized one in a hundred. Nevertheless, if it be the will of our Sovereign, we shall attempt the task.” On the other hand, she can find no words too strong to explain how successful the nuns were in converting them. u Quatre d’entre elles communièrent A Pâques ; elles s’y prèparérent avec tant de désir de s’unir à Notre-Seigneur, que, dans l’attente de le recevoir, elles s’écriaient : ‘ Ah ! quand sera-ce que Jésus nous viendra baiser au coeur ‘ ” u Thérèse la Hurone ” was faithful through three years of captivity with the implacable Iroquois, during which she openly confessed to her fellow-prisoner, Father Jogues, though she saw him tortured in a way that might have shaken many a stout heart. These five were Indian girls who had been a considerable time under convent influences. But the full-grown braves and squaws, once converted, were quite as staunch. The baptismal rite appealed to them with peculiar force, as the conditions under which its liturgy originally reached full growth in the fourth and fifth centuries were being reproduced in Canada. The Indians, like most early converts, came straight from ingrained adult: Paganism. And so their initiation was very different from the short and simplified ceremony through which the infant heir of Christian ages is taken to-day. The Ursulines often gave the first instruction to the audientes. Afterwards came the immediate preparation of the competentes : a lenten education in the new supernatural, in which great emphasis was laid on exorcising the demons of the old. The command daemonia ejicite was never forgotten. And no sooner were the heathen demons cast out by many ritual solemnities than the Jesuits warned the catechumen against the myrmidons of Satan, who took the warpath against unwary Christians. The good Fathers believed in object-lessons, and several times sent urgent messages to France for pictures of still more terrifying devils. Finally, the brave was baptized, during the regenerating joys of Easter, and sent forth with the armour of Christ fast girt upon him by all the symbols of the Church.

La Mère Marie often encouraged the braves to give their own views on Christianity : ” et lorsque j’entends parler le bon Charles Pigarouich, Noël Négabamat ou Trigalin je ne quitterais pas la place pour entendre le premier prédicateur de l’Europe” No legitimate means of conversion were neglected. She nursed the sick, quite in the spirit of Luke, the beloved physician. And though there probably were some “blanket Christians” in that as in other ages, yet she never had cause to regret her continual hospitality. ” Comme la faim est l’horloge qui leur fait juger de l’heure du repas, il nous faut songer à ceux qui peuvent survenir, et tenir de la sagamité toujours prête.” On the contrary, she found a genuine aid to conversion even in the serio-comedy of a regular festin de gala. ” Pour traiter splendidement soixante ou quatre-vingts de nos sauvages on y emploie environ un boisseau de pruneaux noirs, quatre pains de six livres pièce, quatre mesures de farine de pois ou de blé d’Inde, une douzaine de chandelles de suif, deux ou trois livres de gros lard, afin que tout soit bien gras, car c’est ce qu’ils aiment. Voilà ces pauvres gens conents et ravis d’aise, bien qu’il y ait parmi eux des capitaines qui, à leur égard, passent pour des princes et des personnes de qualité. Ce festin, qui leur sert tout ensemble de boire et de manger, est un de leurs plus magnifiques repas ; c’est ainsi qu’an les gagne, et qu’à la faveur d’un attrait matériel, on les attire à la grâce de Jésus-Christ.”

The arrival of the Marquis de Tracy inaugurated a more sheltered life for the inhabitants of Quebec. But La Mère Marie was beginning to sink under the strain of the terrible years that went before.

Gradually she was forced to give up her activities, one by one. But what she could do she did with a will. She could no longer teach the Indians under the old tree in the garden ; so she had them brought indoors. She wrote a sacred history and a glossary in Algonquin, and a catechism for her old fierce enemies, the Iroquois. Her relations with these last bloodthirsty braves had gone through every phase. She had received their ambassadors with all due honour, and made an attempt to convert them. She had stood guard against them when they threatened Quebec. And now, having rightly drawn the sword at the proper time, she was again trying the persuasive arguments of the Church.

In 1671 she received a great shock in the death of her life-long friend. Madame de la Peltrie was suddenly struck down with pleurisy early in November. She took the news that it was fatal with perfect calmness ; called in the Intendant Talon to witness her will, and thanked him with as much grace as if he had been paying her a visit of state. M. de Bernières, nephew of her old protector in France, gave her the last rites ; and, on the evening of the i 9th, as the Angelus was sounding across the square from the parish church, she died, murmuring the words so often on her Iips during her illness-Lœtatus sum in his quæ dicta sunt mibi ; in domum Domini ibimus—I was glad when they said, we will go into the house of the Lord.

The following Easter, the year Frontenac first came out to Canada, La Mère Marie was in the throes of a mortal malady herself. She had all the girls in the convent called into the infirmary to receive her last benediction, which she gave to each one separately as they knelt beside her. She entrusted her last message for her son to Mère St. Athanase-dites-lui que je l’emporte en mon coeur dans le paradis. Nor was public duty forgotten. One of her last acts was to dictate a letter to an influential personage in France, urging the completion of her well-considered scheme for the re-union of all branches of the Ursuline Order throughout the world. To the great regret of everyone Bishop Laval was then absent from Quebec. But the veteran Père Lallemant, who had served in every post of danger since the time of Champlain, gave her the last consolations of the faith. For some hours on the day of her death she neither spoke nor heard—rapt in ecstasy between two worlds. The evening Angelus was sounding, as it had for her fellow-labourer five months before, when she opened her eyes for one final look at the Ursulines kneeling round her, and then gently closed them again for ever. All who were present saw a ray of celestial light rest on her face as her soul took flight for Heaven, and believed it to signify her con-summated union with her Lord. The Ursulines commemorate this to the present day, by singing a special Te Deum on the last night of each recurring April. Pere Lallemant preached the funeral sermon, pronounced the benediction, and the congregation dispersed. Then the Governor and In tendant, with the clergy and nuns, approaching the bier, were so struck by her expression that they sent for an artist to perpetuate it. The original of this portrait was burnt in the second fire ; but a contemporary copy sent to France was afterwards returned to Canada, and is now in the convent. The portrait taken, the coffin was closed and this inscription placed upon it : Ci-gît la Révérende Mère Marie Guyart de l’Incarnation, première supérieure de ce monastère, décédée le dernier jour d’avril, 1672, âgée de 72 ans et 6 mois. Religieuse professe, venue de Tours. Priez pour son âme.

The night she died in Quebec her Ursuline niece in Tours distinctly saw her laid out in a winding sheet, while a voice breathed close by, “Elle est morte.” The other nuns were averse from believing this story next morning ; but the first ship from Canada brought the confirmation of it. The whole Ursuline Order deplored the loss of such a saintly life. The Jesuits and all who knew her bore equally ready witness to her surpassing virtues. While Dom Martin’s filial piety and religious zeal prompted him to publish her life and letters a few years later : “C’est ici un livre de reconnaissance envers Dieu et de piété â l’égard d’une personne à laquelle je dois, après lui, tout ce que je suis, selon la nature et selon la grâce.”

Her cult began forthwith and has grown ever since. Fifty years after, Father Charlevoix hoped to hasten the day of her beatification. by a new account of her merits. In 1752 a Quebec Ursuline writes : “Nous avons eu quelque espérance de voir notre vénérable mère mise sur les rangs pour la béatification , mais la personne qui avait pris la chose à coeur n’est plus. .. .” And so it went on, at intervals, for more than a hundred years. Everyone who examined her life freely admitted that she ought to become Ste. Marie de l’Incarnation ; yet nobody appeared with sufficient influence at Rome to get a place on the calendar for this remote Canadian saint, In 1867, the year of Confederation—so long ago as that—Archbishop Bail largeon of Quebec succeeded in getting her cause definitely begun. Some of the lettres postulatoires sent to Rome on her behalf are rather remarkable documents. The Canadian Zouaves, who went to uphold the Temporal Power in 1870, might perhaps be expected to address Pio Nono thus ” Nous, laïques, aimons â signaler que cette grande servante de Dieu est venue la première arborer sur nos plages le drapeau de l’éducation chrétienne, et que cette éducation, perpetuée par les imitatrices de son zèle, fait les femmes fortes et chrétiennes dont notre jeune pays se glorifie. Très-saint père, c’est au nom des mères chrétiennes qui ont donné leurs fils avec tant d’amour et de générosité pour la défense du saint-siège que nous demandons avec instance la béatification de la Mère Marie de l’In-carnation.” But the following is a curiously telling appeal, coming as it does from the Cabinet Ministers of Her Britannic Majesty for the Province of Quebec : “L’action bienfaisante de son oeuvre se fait encore sentir de nos jours, et est pour toute la province une source de biens incalculables â tous les points de vue. . . . Chargés d’une grande responsabilité dans le gouvernement de cette province qu’habita la Mère Marie de l’Incarnation nous sentons le besoin de nous appuyer sur son inter-cession pour bien remplir les devoirs qui nous incombent.” In 1887 she was pontifically declared ” venerable.” But for twenty years more the process for her beatification—which the Quebec Ursulines longed for even before the British conquest of Canada—has not been ended in her favour. Yet it was known to be in its final stage of all in 1907. No wonder the faithful Ursulines are on the tiptoe of expectation for the latest news from Rome !

The process may have been wearyingly long ; but what French-Canadian, viewing her with the transfiguring eye of faith, could ever have doubted the result ? The impulse towards sanctification has come spontaneously, and from the mass of the people, who still feel the exalting touch of this most effectual mystic. No doubt she had a share of personal faults and human failings. An age like ours would not be lenient in criticizing either. But—unless all tradition, record and corroboration are untrue—even our age cannot deny her a befitting eulogy. Her actions and outlook were certainly bounded by the limitations of her Church. But, within those limits, she gave new lustre to the golden truth that there is more variety in virtue than in vice. And we Canadians of 1908, who are now entering the fourth century of our country’s history, who, like the rest of mankind, prefer amusement to interest and incident to character, and who are now more than ever apt to mistake comfort for civilization :—we, in this twentieth century, can certainly not afford to neglect the example of all the zeal, devotion and self-sacrifice which went to the making of that well-wrought career.