CHAPTER XIV. 1636-1652. DEVOTEES AND NUNS.
THE HURON SEMINARY. - MADAME DE LA PELTRIE. - HER PIOUS SCHEMES. -
HER SHAM MARRIAGE. - SHE VISITS THE URSULINES OF TOURS. -
MARIE DE SAINT BERNARD. - MARIE DE L'INCARNATION. - HER ENTHUSIASM. -
HER MYSTICAL MARRIAGE. - HER DEJECTION. - HER MENTAL CONFLICTS. -
HER VISION. - MADE SUPERIOR OF THE URSULINES. - THE HOTEL-DIEU. -
THE VOYAGE TO CANADA. - SILLERY. - LABORS AND SUFFERINGS OF THE NUNS. -
CHARACTER OF MARIE DE L'INCARNATION. - OF MADAME DE LA PELTRIE.
Quebec, as we have seen, had a seminary, a hospital, and a convent, before it had a population. It will be well to observe the origin of these institutions.
The Jesuits from the first had cherished the plan of a seminary for Huron boys at Quebec. The Governor and the Company favored the design; since not only would it be an efficient means of spreading the Faith and attaching the tribe to the French interest, but the children would be pledges for the good behavior of the parents, and hostages for the safety of missionaries and traders in the Indian towns. [ "M. de Montmagny cognoit bien l'importance de ce Seminaire pour la gloire de Nostre Seigneur, et pour le commerce de ces Messieurs" - Relation, 1637, 209 (Cramoisy). ] In the summer of 1636, Father Daniel, descending from the Huron country, worn, emaciated, his cassock patched and tattered, and his shirt in rags, brought with him a boy, to whom two others were soon added; and through the influence of the interpreter, Nicollet, the number was afterwards increased by several more. One of them ran away, two ate themselves to death, a fourth was carried home by his father, while three of those remaining stole a canoe, loaded it with all they could lay their hands upon, and escaped in triumph with their plunder. [ Le Jeune, Relation, 1637, 55-59. Ibid., Relation, 1638, 23. ]
The beginning was not hopeful; but the Jesuits persevered, and at length established their seminary on a firm basis. The Marquis de Gamache had given the Society six thousand crowns for founding a college at Quebec. In 1637, a year before the building of Harvard College, the Jesuits began a wooden structure in the rear of the fort; and here, within one inclosure, was the Huron seminary and the college for French boys.
Meanwhile the female children of both races were without instructors; but a remedy was at hand. At Alencon, in 1603, was born Marie Madeleine de Chauvigny, a scion of the haute noblesse of Normandy. Seventeen years later she was a young lady, abundantly wilful and superabundantly enthusiastic, - one who, in other circumstances, might perhaps have made a romantic elopement and a mesalliance. [ 1 ] But her impressible and ardent nature was absorbed in other objects. Religion and its ministers possessed her wholly, and all her enthusiasm was spent on works of charity and devotion. Her father, passionately fond of her, resisted her inclination for the cloister, and sought to wean her back to the world; but she escaped from the chateau to a neighboring convent, where she resolved to remain. Her father followed, carried her home, and engaged her in a round of fetes and hunting parties, in the midst of which she found herself surprised into a betrothal to M. de la Peltrie, a young gentleman of rank and character. The marriage proved a happy one, and Madame de la Peltrie, with an excellent grace, bore her part in the world she had wished to renounce. After a union of five years, her husband died, and she was left a widow and childless at the age of twenty-two. She returned to the religious ardors of her girlhood, again gave all her thoughts to devotion and charity, and again resolved to be a nun. She had heard of Canada; and when Le Jeune's first Relations appeared, she read them with avidity. "Alas!" wrote the Father, "is there no charitable and virtuous lady who will come to this country to gather up the blood of Christ, by teaching His word to the little Indian girls?" His appeal found a prompt and vehement response from the breast of Madame de la Peltrie. Thenceforth she thought of nothing but Canada. In the midst of her zeal, a fever seized her. The physicians despaired; but, at the height of the disease, the patient made a vow to St. Joseph, that, should God restore her to health, she would build a house in honor of Him in Canada, and give her life and her wealth to the instruction of Indian girls. On the following morning, say her biographers, the fever had left her.
[ 1 There is a portrait of her, taken at a later period, of which a photograph is before me. She has a semi-religious dress, hands clasped in prayer, large dark eyes, a smiling and mischievous mouth, and a face somewhat pretty and very coquettish. An engraving from the portrait is prefixed to the "Notice Biographique de Madame de la Peltrie" in Les Ursulines de Quebec, I. 348. ]