St. Bernadette Soubirous
Patroness of body illness, poverty, people ridiculed for their faith, and Lourdes, France
Feast Day – April 16
In Lourdes, France, a small town at the foot of the Pyrenees Mountains, Marie-Bernarde Soubirous was born on January 7, 1844. Her father was a miller and her mother a laundress. He became sick from the dust of the flour mill and had to rely on small jobs. The loss of money forced them to live in a long-closed, unhealthy, damp prison called Le Chacot. This affected the 4’ 7” Bernadette because of her asthma.
On February 11, 1858, she went out with one of her sisters and a friend near the grotto of Massabielle. The others crossed the River Gave, but Bernadette stayed behind. From the niche in the rock “came a dazzling light and a white figure.” Transfixed, this was to be the first of 18 visions Bernadette would experience. On February 18, The Lady asked her to come to the grotto every day for two weeks. Bernadette’s parents were embarrassed and forbade her to go, but she did not heed them. Some civil and religious authorities thought she was mad, and she was questioned by the police, her priest, the dean and the bishop. Others believed her visions because they were simple and asked for prayer and penance.
On February 25, The Lady told her to drink the water of the spring, wash in it and eat the herb that grew there as an act of penance. Although there had been no spring before, the next day the water was clear and flowed freely. In March, The Lady said, “Tell the priests to come here in procession [pilgrimage] and build a chapel here.” On March 25, the 17th visit, Bernadette asked The Lady her name. She replied, “Que soy era immaculada councepcion” (I am the Immaculate Conception).
Because of her growing notoriety Bernadette joined the Sisters of Charity of Nevers as Sister Marie Bernarde. She spent the rest of her life in the Motherhouse in various capacities. Her asthma resulted in tuberculosis of the lung and bone. In 1862, the Church confirmed the authenticity of her visions. Bernadette died on April 16, 1879, while praying the Rosary. She was 35. Her final words were, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for me, a poor sinner, a poor sinner.” Bernadette was canonized by Pope Pius XI on December 8, 1933. When her body was exhumed in 1909, she was found to be incorrupt. After the third exhumation, her body was covered in wax and lies in view at the Chapel of St. Bernadette at the Motherhouse in Nevers, France.
Author’s Note: I was blessed to make a Holy Year pilgrimage in 1975 to I,taly and France. In Lourdes, I was in Le Chacot, at the mill and the Grotto. As I walked there in early evening I was in awe of the flickering candles, the sound of the water flowing from the spring and the River Gave and the beautiful statue of the Blessed Mother softly lit in the grotto niche, all of which transported me to the time of Bernadette who was actually in the presence of Holy Mary. My parents were on the pilgrimage and my mother and I drew water from the spring Even after 45 years the water she had combined with mine still remains, although I have given some away and brought it to my church on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes to have the congregation blessed. I will never forget this experience.
(Compiled by Angela M. Orsini)
Saint Spotlight – St. Bernadette Soubirous
St. Bernadette Soubirous
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