Sisters of the French Canadian Church
Portrait de la Mere Marie de l'Incarnation
Marie de l'Incarnation (1599-1672) came to Canada in 1639 as with the Ursulines, beginning a school for the girls of all ages in the new colony. She had a son, which at first delayed her decision to join the organization, but once he turned twelve, she devoted herself to her vocation "unhesitatingly" (Fournet). She became the First Superior of the Ursuline monastery when it was built in Quebec. She learned the language of the aborigines, to aid her in her conversion. She spent much of her life teaching and catechizing young Indians, with remarkable piety and zeal. Described as a stately, masculine figure, and with an "earnestness which command[ed] respect and admiration", Marie de l'Incarnation was known for her rare gifts, and a penchant for business (Parkman). She struggled throughout her life with the dual callings of motherhood and missionary duties, spending some of her time in darkness and misery. At times she felt estranged from God, and at other times enamored with her "divine spouse", believing God to be a "living presence" (Parkman). Ultimately, her faith carried her through her difficulties, she was loved as a mother by her pupils and Catholics extol her as a saint.
Pommiers' Portrait de la Mere Marie de l'Incarnation (1672) showcases Marie in her piety, embracing an enourmous wooden cross to her chest. The cross stands out, illuminated by the bright white of her habit. As is common in religious portraits, she sits alone in a dark room, books, presumably religious, visible over her right shoulder. The books, symbolic of wisdom and learning, reflect her role in the monastery as a teacher of girls and Natives. Her hands are delicate around the cross, Pommier giving individual attention to each finger. The delicacy of her embrace reflects a mothering nature, a sense of maternity, she embraces it the way a mother would a baby. This perhaps stems from her own experience as a mother and wife before joining the Ursulines. She has a solemn face, in keeping with her reputation as a hard worker and business-minded woman. At the same time, the warmth and passion she feels towards her religion is evident in her dreamy eyes, as they gaze downwards, half-closed.
Fournet, Pierre Auguste. "Ven. Marie de l'Incarnation." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 27 Oct. 2008
Macdougall, A. J.. "Classical Studies in Seventeenth-Century Quebec." Classical Association of Canada Vol 6. No 1. Spring, 1952. 6-21. 26 Oct 2008 < http://www.jstor.org/stable/1086962>.
Parkman, Francis. The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century. Winnipeg: Bison Books, 1997.
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