A decade ago, my husband Ed and I drove our three little ones 3,000 miles round trip on a two-week trek into Canada, along the St. Lawrence Seaway. What an inspiring, worldview-widening voyage! Favorite memories? Staying in a family room in a youth hostel in Montreal to fit our budget. Meeting a young French couple at a bed and breakfast, who exclaimed, “Formidable” when we shared our children’s ancestries as Americans — French, German, Irish, Scottish, Italian — a surprising mix to this 100% French couple.
Other top memories: relying on my college French to confess my sins in Quebec City; visiting Blessed André Bessette’s magnificent St. Joseph’s Oratorio in Montreal and seeing scads of crutches and canes on the walls from pilgrim’s healings; having Rosaries blessed by a 90-something-year-old priest way north, at the Shrine of St. Anne de Baupré. He joyfully announced to us, I’ve been a priest for…well, I don’t remember now how many years it was, but his enthusiasm and beaming smile were contagious.That trip, we also learned about another great traveler, pilgrim, missionary and foundress, Saint Marie de l’Incarnation. Born in Tours, France in 1599, this young widow-turned nun traveled to the New World to found an order of Ursuline nuns in today’s Quebec City. At the time of her arrival, just six houses stood at the site of this now-historic city. Saint Marie founded the first school for girls in North America. She instructed settlers’ children, but also learned to teach in the local Indian dialects of Huron, Algonkian, Montagnais, and Iroquois. She served these Native Americans, whom she called “children of the woods,” dishes of cornmeal and beef. She joined in their sufferings and joys, as a loving and respectful neighbor.
The Ursuline monastary Saint Marie founded in Quebec is now on the list of historic places in Canada and is well worth a visit, with its museum of artifacts from the early days of settlement. Saint John Paul the Great beatified Marie in the 1980s, and just last year, Pope Francis waived the requirement of a second miracle for this courageous foundress, canonizing her a saint on June 22.
I had never heard of Saint Marie de l’Incarnation before our travels to Quebec, and now I feel a real connection to this courageous nun. In her early 30’s, she left the comforts of her homeland in France, for the wilds of the New World. From her marriage, she actually left behind a son, who later became a Benedictine monk. The separation, while her son was raised by Marie’s family back in France, was a trial for both. She developed kidney disease in her new home, and yet founded a convent, school and taught hundreds of young ladies of many different ethnicities. She is now honored as a foundress of Quebec City.
Marie took that voyage across the ocean against the advice of friends and family, but God’s call was so strong, she couldn’t ignore it. If we pray and listen, God will lead our steps in our own unique voyage. Sometimes, he might lead us out of our comfort zone, but the rewards are great. Saint Marie’s letters to her son and others in France, featured lively stories about the “children of the woods.” Her life was full of meaning and purpose.
God, grant that we may follow Your call and live with courage each moment.
© 2015 Marianna Bartholomew
Adapted from Marianna’s Missionary Moment from Deacon Tom & Dee Fox’s June 21, 2015 Catholic Vitamins Podcast “V-For Voyage.”
Art: Anonymous (Self-photographed, Jeangagnon) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons