St. Bernadette Soubirous, commonly known as St. Bernadette of Lourdes, is an inspirational figure for our times.  She faced a great deal of criticism over her visions of the Beautiful Lady and suffered greatly by the constant flow of those who wished to know more of the apparitions.  In fact, Bernadette said, “The Beautiful Lady has said that she does not promise that I will be happy in this world, but that I shall be in the next.”1

The eldest child of Francois and Louise Soubious, she was more accustomed to hunger than health.  Due to her family’s poverty, Bernadette was loaned for a time to her relatives and spent a good deal of time as a shepherdess.  Never of great health, Bernadette suffered from asthma which only added to her small, meek stature.  She was, in fact, mistaken in age by the local priest which led to her being overlooked for First Communion catechesis.  She, of her own initiative, had to actively pursue formation for First Communion from the Sisters of Charity and Christian Instruction.

It was during these months of preparation that she, while gathering wood, stopped at the grotto of Massabielle.  On the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, February 11th, 1848, the Beautiful Lady first appeared to Bernadette.  Hearing a strange sound in the grotto, Bernadette saw the Beautiful Lady and, in her own words,

“Without thinking of what I was doing, I took my rosary in my hands and went on my knees.  That Lady made a sign of approval with her head and herself took into her hands a rosary which hung on her right arm.  When I attempted to begin the rosary and tried to life my hand to my forehead, my arm remained paralysed, and it was only after the Lady had signed herself that I could do the same.  The Lady left me to pray all alone; she passed the beads of her rosary between her fingers but she said nothing; only at the end of each decade did she say the ‘Gloria’ with me.”2

After the rosary, the Lady disappeared.  Telling her family of the event, she was scolded and told that “These are illusions…you must drive these ideas out of your head and especially not go back again to Massabielle.”3 After much pleading and the intercession of her sister, her mother finally granted her permission to return to the grotto.

Upon her third visit, she promised the Lady that she would return to the Grotto for the next fifteen days.  Bernadette’s visions of the Beautiful Lady had, at this point, caused quite a bit of a stir in the local town.  As she visited the Lady day after day, many sought to dissuade her – she was even threatened by the Commissioner that he would have her put in prison!

Much of the conflict was focused around the name of the Beautiful Lady for she had asked for a chapel to be built at Massabielle and for people to go there in processions.4 For example, the local priest, Abbe Peyramale had the following to say,

“Tell her that with the Cure of Lourdes she muse speak clearly and concisely. She wants a chapel, she wants a procession. What title has she to these honours which she claims? Who is she? Where does she come from and what has she done to deserve our homage?”5

It was not until well after the allotted fifteen days – which came and went with much fanfare – that the Beautiful Lady finally revealed her name.  On the Feast of the Annunciation, Bernadette visited the grotto and implored the Lady to reveal her name.  On the third request, the Lady revealed, “Que soy era Immaculada Conception.Bernadette, in her utter humility and simplicity, did not even know what it meant.

“She could not even pronounce the word correctly. She had heard it used before, vaguely, in connection with the Mother of God. But no one had ever told her what it meant and she had never asked. At that time…the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception had only recently (1854) been defined by Pius IX as an article of Faith. Bernadette’s joy was mingled with perplexity. She turned to her trusted friends for enlightenment.”7

There is much more to her story and I would recommend reading Bernadette of Lourdes by Frances Parkinson Keyes as what I have said here is a mere taste of this great Saint’s life and the miracles of Lourdes.   This particular book was originally written in 1941 so it is likely there is a more modern book on St. Bernadette available as well.

St. Bernadette’s feast day is April 16th and she lies incorrupt to this very day.

St. Bernadette of Lourdes, Pray for us!

 

1 Keyes, Frances Parkinson. Bernadette of Lourdes: Shepherdess, Sister and Saint. (England: Anthony Clarke,1988) p.58
2 Keyes. Bernadette of Lourdes. p.50
3 Keyes. Bernadette of Lourdes. p.51
4 Keyes. Bernadette of Lourdes. p.73
5 Ibid
6 Keyes. Bernadette of Lourdes. p.78
7 Ibid