Saints for Today: Blessed Mary of the Incarnation, Religious (1566-1618)


Feast Day: April 18

Born to wealthy parents in Paris, France, Barbe Avrillot was a student in a religious house of the Order of Saint Clare, near Paris, from the age of 11 to 14. She was devout and unworldly, and determined to enter a religious order, but her parents opposed her plan. On her 16th birthday she was married to Pierre Acarie, a wealthy nobleman, and went on to have six children. The beautiful, wealthy, and attractive young wife, however, had no other thought than to love God with her whole heart and to strive to please him—now, of course, by fulfilling her marital duties with the highest possible degree of perfection. She dedicated herself to the children’s spiritual upbringing, and her three daughters all went on to become Carmelites. Her three sons entered the magistracy, the priesthood, and the military.

In the early days of their marriage, Pierre disapproved of Barbe’s taste for romance novels and brought home some pious books instead. Barbe opened one to be polite and the words of Saint Augustine, “He is indeed a miser for whom God is not enough,” captured her attention and deeply touched her. Soon Pierre went from worrying that Barbe was too frivolous to complaining that she spent too much time in church. He had her denounced from the pulpit and temporarily barred from the sacraments.

In 1590 Pierre was caught up in a failed rebellion against the king and went into exile, leaving his financial affairs in chaos and Barbe and her children homeless. She held off their creditors and with no help from Pierre managed to return their family to solvency. She even convinced the king to allow Pierre to return to Paris.

Barbe became well known throughout Paris for her good works. There was a renaissance in religious piety during this period in France, and Barbe became deeply involved in reforms of the religious orders and foundations of new congregations. Inspired by a biography of Saint Teresa of Avila, she founded the first Discalced Carmelite house in France. She helped to found Carmelite convents in Paris (1604), Pontoise (1605), Dijon (1605), and Amiens (1606).

When her husband died in 1613, she entered the Carmelite religious order, taking the name Mary of the Incarnation. She lived in a Carmelite house in Amiens, where her daughter was the superior, and subsequently at Pontoise, taking on the humblest duties, working in the kitchens.

“Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”—Proverbs 31:30

Gallick, Sarah. “The Big Book of Women Saints.” New York, NY: HarperOne, 2007.
Heritage, Andrew, ed. “The Book of Saints: A Day-By-Day Illustrated Encyclopedia.” San Francisco: Weldonowen, 2012.
Holbock, Ferdinand. “Married Saints and Blesseds Through the Centuries.” San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2002.


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