Colonialism and Christianity

Document 2: Marie de l’Incarnation: Letter 32: To one of the Good Brothers

Source: Lettres de la Reverende Mere Marie de l’Incarnation, Abbe Richaudeau, ed.,(Paris: Vve H. Casterman, 1876), 89-92. [Thomas Peace, trans.]


My very dear brother,

Blessed by the king of heaven and earth, who, by his goodness, has allowed the ships to arrive in port despite the risks from our enemy’s navy. They were saved by an escort of forty vessels, sent by Monseigneur, the Cardinal Richelieu, upon prayer from Madame, the Duchess of Aiguillon! We have gratefully received what you sent us from France, for which we are quite grateful and extend to you our very humble thanks. We continue in our work to serve the girls, both Indigenous and French, since we are at the end of the world, apart from the external women who are often among us. To accomplish our goals we study the Algonquin language by precepts and methods which are quite difficult. Our Lord has blessed me, however, with understanding, which has provided me with considerable consolation. Some people believe that Canada is a horrible place. They tell us that it is like the neighbourhoods of Hell and that there is not a worse place on earth. Our experience suggests the opposite. We have found here a paradise, in which for me – in particular – I feel unworthy to inhabit. There are Indigenous [sauvage] girls who are not at all barbarous. They lose everything that makes them wild [sauvage] as soon as they are washed by baptismal waters whereas before they would run through the forest like beasts, now they are delighted and cry for joy, soft like ewes, as they approach the holy table to receive the true Lamb of God. One would hardly believe that they would remain locked in the cloister, but they stay their without difficulty, and do not at all leave without a pass.

I can hardly speak of the comfort we have in seeing the progress of these new Christians who have become sedentary. We have seen sorcerers become apostles, hardily preaching the Gospel to their compatriots. You will have to read the Relation, because the mail arrived too late and I have not had the free time to elaborate. As you are a protector of God’s glory among the nations, your heart will be full of joy to learn that twelve hundred people have been baptized. This is the effect of an all powerful arm who, by the work of his life and his passion, has acquired all of these people; we have also discovered new ones for whose conversion we are still working. We yearn for our holy faith, and the reverend fathers of the company [Jesuits], for their part, spare neither life nor health to win them entirely over to Jesus Christ. From our perspective, we contribute to their efforts as much as possible. It seems to me that when we hold a feast for about sixty or eighty, we only use  about one bushel of black prunes, four six pound loaves of bread, Four measures of pea or corn flour, a dozen candles made of melted tallow, two or three pounds of bacon with a lot of fat (because that is what they like). It seems to me, I say, that they deplore the excesses of the world, because these poor people are happy with very little and delighted with ease. Among them, however, there are captains who, from their perspective, pass as princes and people of quality. And in this feast that I have just described, that they are served food and drink, is one of their most magnificent meals. This is how we win them and, through this material bait, we draw them into the grace of Jesus Christ. Pray to our divine saviour for them and for me. I am your…

Quebec, 4 September 1640