A betrothal took place; all was harmony, and for a time no more was said of disinheriting Madame de la Peltrie, or putting her in wardship.
Previously in The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century.
Our special project presenting the definitive account of France in Canada by Francis Parkman, one of America’s greatest historians.
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.  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. 
[“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).]
[2 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 Alençon, 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 mésalliance.  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 fętes 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.
[3 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 Québec, I. 348.]
Meanwhile her relatives, or those of her husband, had confirmed her pious purposes by attempting to thwart them. They pronounced her a romantic visionary, incompetent to the charge of her property. Her father, too, whose fondness for her increased with his advancing age, entreated her to remain with him while he lived, and to defer the execution of her plans till he should be laid in his grave. From entreaties he passed to commands, and at length threatened to disinherit her, if she persisted. The virtue of obedience, for which she is extolled by her clerical biographers, however abundantly exhibited in respect to those who held charge of her conscience, was singularly wanting towards the parent who, in the way of Nature, had the best claim to its exercise; and Madame de la Peltrie was more than ever resolved to go to Canada. Her father, on his part, was urgent that she should marry again. On this she took counsel of a Jesuit,  who, “having seriously reflected before God,” suggested a device, which to the heretical mind is a little startling, but which commended itself to Madame de la Peltrie as fitted at once to soothe the troubled spirit of her father, and to save her from the sin involved in the abandonment of her pious designs.
[4 “Partagée ainsi entre l’amour filial et la religion, en proie aux plus poignantes angoisses, elle s’adressa ŕ un religieux de la Compagnie de Jésus, dont elle connaissait la prudence consommée, et le supplia de l’éclairer de ses lumičres. Ce religieux, aprčs y avoir sérieusement réfléchi devant Dieu, lui répondit qu’il croyait avoir trouvé un moyen de tout concilier.” — Casgrain, Vie de Marie de l’Incarnation, 243.]
Among her acquaintance was M. de Berničres, a gentleman of high rank, great wealth, and zealous devotion. She wrote to him, explained the situation, and requested him to feign a marriage with her. His sense of honor recoiled: moreover, in the fulness of his zeal, he had made a vow of chastity, and an apparent breach of it would cause scandal. He consulted his spiritual director and a few intimate friends. All agreed that the glory of God was concerned, and that it behooved him to accept the somewhat singular overtures of the young widow,  and request her hand from her father. M. de Chauvigny, who greatly esteemed Berničres, was delighted; and his delight was raised to transport at the dutiful and modest acquiescence of his daughter.  A betrothal took place; all was harmony, and for a time no more was said of disinheriting Madame de la Peltrie, or putting her in wardship.
[5 “Enfin aprčs avoir longtemps imploré les lumičres du ciel, il remit toute l’affaire entre les mains de son directeur et de quelques amis intimes. Tous, d’un commun accord, lui déclarčrent que la gloire de Dieu y était interessée, et qu’il devait accepter.” — Ibid., 244.]
[6 “The prudent young widow answered him with much respect and modesty, that, as she knew M. de Berničres to be a favorite with him, she also preferred him to all others.”
The above is from a letter of Marie de l’Incarnation, translated by Mother St. Thomas, of the Ursuline convent of Quebec, in her Life of Madame de la Peltrie, 41. Compare Les Ursulines de Québec, 10, and the “Notice Biographique” in the same volume.]
Berničres’s scruples returned. Divided between honor and conscience, he postponed the marriage, until at length M. de Chauvigny conceived misgivings, and again began to speak of disinheriting his daughter, unless the engagement was fulfilled.  Berničres yielded, and went with Madame de la Peltrie to consult “the most eminent divines.”  A sham marriage took place, and she and her accomplice appeared in public as man and wife. Her relatives, however, had already renewed their attempts to deprive her of the control of her property. A suit, of what nature does not appear, had been decided against her at Caen, and she had appealed to the Parliament of Normandy. Her lawyers were in despair; but, as her biographer justly observes, “the saints have resources which others have not.” A vow to St. Joseph secured his intercession and gained her case. Another thought now filled her with agitation. Her plans were laid, and the time of action drew near. How could she endure the distress of her father, when he learned that she had deluded him with a false marriage, and that she and all that was hers were bound for the wilderness of Canada? Happily for him, he fell ill, and died in ignorance of the deceit that had been practised upon him. 
[7 “Our virtuous widow did not lose courage. As she had given her confidence to M. de Berničres, she informed him of all that passed, while she flattered her father each day, telling him that this nobleman was too honorable to fail in keeping his word.” — St. Thomas, Life of Madame de la Peltrie, 42.]
[8 “He” (Berničres) “went to stay at the house of a mutual friend, where they had frequent opportunities of seeing each other, and consulting the most eminent divines on the means of effecting this pretended marriage.” — Ibid., 43.]
[9 It will be of interest to observe the view taken of this pretended marriage by Madame de la Peltrie’s Catholic biographers. Charlevoix tells the story without comment, but with apparent approval. Sainte-Foi, in his Premičres Ursulines de France, says, that, as God had taken her under His guidance, we should not venture to criticize her. Casgrain, in his Vie de Marie de l’Incarnation, remarks: —
“Une telle conduite peut encore aujourd’hui paraître étrange ŕ bien des personnes; mais outre que l’avenir fit bien voir que c’était une inspiration du ciel, nous pouvons répondre, avec un savant et pieux auteur, que nous ne devons point juger ceux que Dieu se charge lui-męme de conduire.” — p. 247.
Mother St. Thomas highly approves the proceeding, and says: —
“Thus ended the pretended engagement of this virtuous lady and gentleman, which caused, at the time, so much inquiry and excitement among the nobility in France, and which, after a lapse of two hundred years, cannot fail exciting feelings of admiration in the heart of every virtuous woman!”
Surprising as it may appear, the book from which the above is taken was written a few years since, in so-called English, for the instruction of the pupils in the Ursuline Convent at Quebec.]
Whatever may be thought of the quality of Madame de la Peltrie’s devotion, there can be no reasonable doubt of its sincerity or its ardor; and yet one can hardly fail to see in her the signs of that restless longing for éclat, which, with some women, is a ruling passion. When, in company with Berničres, she passed from Alençon to Tours, and from Tours to Paris, an object of attention to nuns, priests, and prelates, — when the Queen herself summoned her to an interview, — it may be that the profound contentment of soul ascribed to her had its origin in sources not exclusively of the spirit. At Tours, she repaired to the Ursuline convent. The Superior and all the nuns met her at the entrance of the cloister, and, separating into two rows as she appeared, sang the Veni Creator, while the bell of the monastery sounded its loudest peal. Then they led her in triumph to their church, sang Te Deum, and, while the honored guest knelt before the altar, all the sisterhood knelt around her in a semicircle. Their hearts beat high within them. That day they were to know who of their number were chosen for the new convent of Quebec, of which Madame de la Peltrie was to be the foundress; and when their devotions were over, they flung themselves at her feet, each begging with tears that the lot might fall on her. Aloof from this throng of enthusiastic suppliants stood a young nun, Marie de St. Bernard, too timid and too modest to ask the boon for which her fervent heart was longing. It was granted without asking. This delicate girl was chosen, and chosen wisely.
[Casgrain, Vie de Marie de l’Incarnation, 271-273. There is a long account of Marie de St. Bernard, by Ragueneau, in the Relation of 1652. Here it is said that she showed an unaccountable indifference as to whether she went to Canada or not, which, however, was followed by an ardent desire to go.]
– The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century, Chapter 14 by Francis Parkman
The below is from Francis Parkman’s Introduction.
If, at times, it may seem that range has been allowed to fancy, it is so in appearance only; since the minutest details of narrative or description rest on authentic documents or on personal observation.
Faithfulness to the truth of history involves far more than a research, however patient and scrupulous, into special facts. Such facts may be detailed with the most minute exactness, and yet the narrative, taken as a whole, may be unmeaning or untrue. The narrator must seek to imbue himself with the life and spirit of the time. He must study events in their bearings near and remote; in the character, habits, and manners of those who took part in them, he must himself be, as it were, a sharer or a spectator of the action he describes.
With respect to that special research which, if inadequate, is still in the most emphatic sense indispensable, it has been the writer’s aim to exhaust the existing material of every subject treated. While it would be folly to claim success in such an attempt, he has reason to hope that, so far at least as relates to the present volume, nothing of much importance has escaped him. With respect to the general preparation just alluded to, he has long been too fond of his theme to neglect any means within his reach of making his conception of it distinct and true.