SAINT BERNADETTE SOUBIROUS OF LOURDES (1844-1879), virgin and religious – Patroness of the poor and sick
Today, the Church honors Saint Bernadette Soubirous, a young woman chosen by God to be entrusted with a wondrous gift – apparitions and messages from the Blessed Virgin Mary, all designed to bring our Blessed Mother’s spiritual children closer to her Divine Son, Jesus.
Born on January 7, 1844, Marie Bernarde (Bernadette) Soubirous was the eldest child of a poor family living in the basement of a dilapidated, rundown building in the town of Lourdes in southern France. She was known as a virtuous girl, though a slow student. She was also in poor health, as she had suffered from asthma from an early age.
On February 11, 1858, at the age of fourteen, the Blessed Virgin Mary first appeared to Bernadette in a cave above the banks of the Gave River near Lourdes. There were 18 appearances in all, the final one occurring on the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on July 16.
Although Bernadette’s initial reports provoked skepticism, her continued visions of “the Lady” brought great crowds of the curious. Bernadette explained that “the Lady” had instructed her to have a chapel built on the spot of the visions. There the people were to come to wash in and drink of the water of the spring that had welled up from the very spot where Bernadette had been instructed to dig.
In the vision on March 25th, she told Bernadette, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” It was only when these words were explained to her that Bernadette came to realize who “the Lady” was. Some of these happenings took place in the presence of many people, but no one besides Bernadette claimed to see or hear the Blessed Mother.
Few visions have ever undergone the scrutiny that these appearances of the Immaculate Virgin were subjected to. After a thorough investigation, Church authorities confirmed the authenticity of the apparitions in 1862. As a result, Lourdes became one of the most popular Marian shrines in the world, attracting millions of visitors. Miracles were reported at the shrine and in the waters of the spring.
During her life, Bernadette suffered much. She was hounded by the public as well as by civic officials until, at last, she was protected in a convent of nuns. Five years later, she petitioned to enter the Sisters of Notre Dame. After a period of illness, she was able to make the journey from Lourdes and enter the novitiate in Nevers, France. But, within four months of her arrival, she was given the Last Rites of the Church and allowed to profess her vows.
She recovered enough to become infirmarian and then sacristan, but chronic health problems persisted. She died on April 16, 1879 at the age of thirty-five. She was canonized a saint by Pope Pius XI in 1933.
Her remains lie in a bronze and crystal coffin in the chapel at the convent in Nevers, France; and, to this day, 140 years later, and due to a special grace given by God, her remains are still in a perfect and incorrupt state.
We commemorate her feastday on April 16.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, catholicculture.org and ewtn.com/library)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Commons for Virgins)
“Lord, hear the prayers of those who recall the devoted life of the virgin Saint Bernadette, who endured ridicule and suffering out of love for You. Guide us on our way and help us to grow in love and devotion, imitating her example as long as we live.
“We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”