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Saint Bernadette Soubirous

Feastday: April 16

The declaration of the canonization of Bernadette reads: "To the honour of the most Holy and Undivided Trinity, for the glory of the Catholic Faith, and the increase in the Christian Faith, by the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ...we declare and define Saint, the Blessed Marie-Bernard Soubirous, and we inscribe her in the Litany of the Saints, stating that her memory be piously celebrated in the Universal Church on 16th April each year, the day of her heavenly birth. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Sprit."

At the end of the Solemn Canonization Mass celebrated by Pope Pius XI on 8th December 1933, the crowd spontaneously intoned the singing of the "Ave Maria" as it is sung in the Sanctuary of Lourdes.

Since the Blessed Virgin Mary graced the grotto of Lourdes with Her presence in 1858, it has been one of the most popular of the worlds' Marian shrines. Many people have knelt at the famous rock and prayed to Saint Bernadette, who saw the Immaculate Virgin on eighteen occasions. Many pilgrims visit the Convent of Saint Gildard on their return from Lourdes to see the incorrupt body of Bernadette. Some come out of curiosity, perhaps disbelieving that Bernadette's body is indeed perfectly preserved. The air of reverence and silence follows closely on the realisation that this is fact rather than fantasy.

Bernadette's childhood
Bernadette Soubirous was born on Monday January 7th 1844, the first child of Francois and Louise. She was baptised the next day by the Abbe Forgues in the old parish church in Lourdes, being given the name Marie Bernarde. Because of her small stature, she was always referred to by the diminutive form of the name, Bernadette. Six months later, Louise was again expecting a child; because of this, Bernadette was entrusted to the care of a woman in near-by Bartres, Marie Aravant, who had just lost a baby boy. She stayed there for fifteen months.

During the following years six other children were born to her parents, of which three died. From her birth, Bernadette was a weak child, suffering even then from the asthma which would cause her so much suffering that later, in the convent, she would beg the nuns to tear open her chest that she might breathe.

Bernadette was always very close to her parents and siblings. They lived in the mill belonging to Boly. Due to the bad conditions in the mill, the amount and quality of the flour went down, as did the number of customers. Eventually the family were forced to leave the mill and move to a much poorer dwelling. François had to look for work daily, which was usually badly paid. Thus he was unable to take proper care of his family. Louise tried to help out by going to work, whilst her eldest daughter Bernadette looked after the little ones. Bernadette nearly died of cholera when she was ten. When she was thirteen her parents sent her back to Bartres. Shortly after her fourteenth birthday, Bernadette returned to Lourdes and began to prepare for her First Holy Communion.

The Apparations
On February 11th, 1858 Bernadette, her sister Tionette (12) and their little friend Jeanne Abadie (13) went to the woods in search of firewood. At this stage Bernadette was 14 years old. They had walked to Massabielle and saw a grotto in front of which there was a stream. So Bernadette started to take off her shoes and socks to walk through the water. She had hardly got them off when she heard a sound much like a gust of wind. Again she heard the same sound and when she looked at the grotto, she saw in the upper most corner a beautiful lady clad in a white dress with a blue belt and a yellow rose on each of her feet. The lady signalled, with her finger that Bernadette should come nearer. Bernadette was almost frozen to the ground. She spontaneously grabs her rosary kneels down and tries to make the sign of the cross. But she cannot do this until The Lady who is carrying a Rosary with a large shining Crucifix has made the sign of the cross. Whilst Bernadette is praying the rosary she sees that The Lady is also letting her beads slide through her fingers, but without moving her lips.

This 'vision' lasts for about 15 minutes. The other girls saw nothing of this 'vision' but Bernadette told them about it and thus the news is told to mother Soubirous.

Thereafter commenced a series of apparitions, eighteen in all - between 11 February and 16 July in 1858, of the Lady to Bernadette at the Grotto. Word soon spread about the apparitions and more and more people accompanied Bernadette to the Grotto, but only Bernadette could see the Lady. The lady did not speak until the third time she appeared to Bernadette. She asked Bernadette if she would like to meet her there every day for a fortnight, Bernadette said she would. She told Bernadette to tell the priests to have a chapel built there.

At one of these apparitions the Lady told Bernadette to "Pray to God for sinners!" Bernadette, as instructed by the Lady, also kissed the ground several times to do penance for sinners. At one of the apparitions Bernadette, following instructions of the Lady, scratched at the muddy earth and began to drink and wash from an unknown stream. Only later was the stream discovered to have miraculous healing powers.

The village Curé (priest) had asked Bernadette to inquire of the Lady who she was. On March 25, the feast of the Annunciation, the Lady told Bernadette her name. She said, "I am the Immaculate Conception." Only a few years ago the Holy Father, Pius IX, had declared ex cathedra as dogma of the Faith that the Blessed Virgin Mary had been conceived without the stain of original sin. When asked by the priest if she knew what that meant, Bernadette did not. The phrase had only been applied to Mary four years before and would only be known amongst the clergy, so it was very improbable that an illiterate poor French girl would have heard it. This declaration of the Blessed Mother to Bernadette has deeply and profoundly moved many souls over the years, including St. Maximilian Kolbe. He was especially affected by the fact that Our Lady did not say that she was immaculately conceived but declared: "I AM THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION." This is her name and suggests the profound mystery of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mary's soul.

Miracles still flow from the miraculous waters of Lourdes - but many more of the miracles occur during the blessing of the sick with the Most Holy Eucharist in the monstrance. This phenomenon underscores a profound truth of the spiritual life: Mary leads her children to her Divine Son, especially to His Eucharistic Heart.

Bernadette in Nevers
Seven years later in 1865, Bernadette enters the convent of sisters of Nevers, in Lourdes has a Novice where she lives with the nuns. Before she leaves her beloved Lourdes and her family, she went to the Grotto on the 14th of July 1866. Bernadette lived with the nuns in Nevers under name given to her at her baptism. Soeur Marie-Bernarde. At the beginning of her noviciate Bernadette told the entire congregation of the nuns her full story about the apparitions, after which she was never again allowed to mention them.

Some of her Mother Superiors, very eagerly, put her to work at humble and menial tasks to keep her meek and mild. She did suffer under these humiliations, but she accepted the situation and remained very cheerful. On the day she took her final vows, the Bishop told her 'that it is her work to pray'.

She was given work in the convents hospital room, where she became a good and efficient nurse.

She herself was sick with asthma, she developed tuberculosis, calcium lose from her bones and open wounds, these things gave her a lot of suffering which together with her mental suffering reminded her daily of what Our lady had asked in Lourdes, "Do penance and pray for sinners", "I promise to make you happy not in this world, but in the next"

She died on Wednesday 16th of April 1879 aged 35. On her deathbed she once more reinforced, at the request of Pope Pius IX and the Bishop of Lourdes, under oath, her statements about the happenings at Massabielle. Following a long and strict process, as ordered by church law, Bernadette was declared a Saint by Pope Pius XI on the 8th of December 1933, feast of the Immaculate Conception. Her body remains intact in a glass Shrine in the chapel of the convent in Nevers.

The Message of Lourdes
The message of Our Lady of Lourdes is about the healing Mercy of God. But Lourdes is also about the need for prayer and penance. St. Bernadette testified to this call of Our Lady of Lourdes by living the rest of her life in humble prayer and suffering in a convent in France.

Millions of pilgrims venture every year to Lourdes. Some are miraculously healed. But many more are not healed of their affliction but receive the great and precious grace of lovingly embracing and carrying the cross Our Lord has given them.

Our Lady of Lourdes, ora pro nobis (pray for us).

Other Links:

Untouched by death - Saint Bernadette click here.

Details of the Apparations at Lourdes click here.

WebCam at the Grotto of Lourdes click here.

List of uncorrupt bodies of Saints click here.