About St. Bernadette
If the people of Lourdes had been told that the Queen of Heaven would visit one of them, they certainly would have never guessed that it would be little Bernadette Soubirous. Poor and uneducated, she fell beneath the notice of most. But “not as man sees does God see” and the God who chose to be born in a stable chose to exalt the humble and poor Bernadette.
St. Bernadette was born to Francois and Louise Soubirous in 1844. Her father was a miller, but having fallen on hard times, the family lost their mill and they were forced to move. They eventually ended up in the only place they could afford: an old, one-room jail, referred to as “the dungeon.” Working as day laborers, the Soubirous barely made ends meet and were often desperately hungry. Yet in spite of their hardships, the Soubirous were a happy family.
However, on February 11, 1858, St. Bernadette’s poor, but happy family life was disrupted forever. While on her way to gather firewood at the grotto in Massabielle, St. Bernadette saw a lady “so lovely that, when you have seen her once, you would willingly die to see her again!” The Blessed Virgin was dressed in white with a blue sash and in her right arm hung a rosary. She smiled at St. Bernadette and requested that she come to the grotto for fifteen days, promising to make Bernadette happy, “not in this world, but in the next.”
St. Bernadette came daily to the grotto, as did growing crowds of the faithful and curious onlookers. Local officials became increasingly alarmed and began to harass St. Bernadette. She was taken to the police commissioner Dominique Jacomet, who interrogated her for hours, trying to make her contradict herself. She was ridiculed in the newspapers, which freely misrepresented her story. Yet St. Bernadette bore all the contempt and public ridicule without a complaint and she faithfully kept her promise to go to the grotto.
At one of the most famous apparitions, St. Bernadette was told to drink and wash in the spring. With no spring in sight, St. Bernadette hesitated and then drank from the muddy water on the ground. The Blessed Virgin had asked her to do this as penance for the conversion of sinners. The crowds laughed at her, but later that day, clear water began to pour from the ground precisely where St. Bernadette had drunk. The water was soon shown to be the source of many miraculous cures and to this date, there have been over 7,000 unexplained cures, 69 of which have been officially declared miracles by the Church.
After the apparitions were approved, Lourdes became an increasingly popular pilgrimage site. Eventually, St. Bernadette removed from Lourdes to avoid publicity and in 1866 she entered the Sisters of Charity at Nevers. Fearing that St. Bernadette would become vain on account of the apparitions, the Mother Superior frequently exercised her in humility. After St. Bernadette professed her vows, the Bishop asked where she would be assigned. The Mother Superior unsympathetically replied, “O Bishop, we do not know what to do. She is good for nothing. If you desire, Bishop, we can try to use her as a helper in the infirmary.”
Although St. Bernadette spent much of her time in the infirmary as a nurse, she also spent much of her time there as a patient. As such, she was once accused of being lazy, to which St. Bernadette simply replied, “Why, I’m doing my job! My job is to be ill.” St. Bernadette never wasted an illness and continually offered her suffering for the conversion of sinners. She eventually succumbed to tuberculosis of the lungs and a painful tubercular tumor in her right knee. St. Bernadette Soubirous died on April 16, 1879, at the age of 35, with the words “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners…sinners…” on her lips.
Thirty years after her death, St. Bernadette’s coffin was opened as a standard step of the beatification process. A table had been set up for her bones to be placed on, but to the wonder of all, when the tomb was opened, her body was discovered perfectly incorrupt. Although her rosary had rusted, there was no sign of decay in St. Bernadette; she looked as if she had merely fallen asleep. Her incorrupt body can be seen today, at the chapel of St. Gildard in Nevers, France.
More About St. Bernadette
When St. Bernadette’s name comes to mind, thoughts of her visions of Our Lady in Lourdes, France are usually next to follow. At the age of fourteen, St. Bernadette was chosen by God to receive visions of Our Lady which would continue to inspire faith and hope for years to come.
St. Bernadette Soubirous was born on January 7, 1844 in Lourdes, France. She was the first child to be born into the family. Her parents later had 8 more children, only three living beyond the age of 10. When St. Bernadette was young, her family was lived a prosperous life; however, when difficult times fell upon them, they became impoverished. They took up residence in an unused prison cell which had been deemed too unsanitary for the prisoners. At age 10, St. Bernadette contracted cholera from the epidemic in the area. This illness brought her close to death; yet, she did recover, only to be left with asthma and heart palpitations. The following year a famine hit and the family almost starved. St. Bernadette spent most of her life in ill health.
On February 11, 1858, St. Bernadette, her sister, and a friend went to gather firewood. As St. Bernadette stopped to remove her shoes and socks before crossing the river, she heard a sound like a storm. When she looked up she saw everything was still, except a rosebush swaying in the wind. The rosebush was near a grotto, and while looking at it, she saw a golden cloud form around a lady dressed in a white dress, with a blue sash and yellow roses on her toes. She held a rosary of white beads on a gold chain. The day was cold, but her bare feet with the yellow roses shone with the warmth and light of the sun. St. Bernadette took out her own rosary and prayed it along with the woman, who silently passed her fingers over the beads as St. Bernadette prayed the words. After this, the woman disappeared.
St. Bernadette told her family of the lady, and asked permission to return to the grotto. Her father granted her permission, believing that a lady with a rosary would not be dangerous. As the lady came out of the grotto, St. Bernadette sprinkled holy water, saying “If you come from God, please stay. If you do not, please go away.” The lady smiled more and more with each sprinkle of the holy water. The next time St. Bernadette returned, the lady asked her to visit her for fifteen days. Then the lady told her she could not make her happy in this life, but would in the next. She then asked St. Bernadette to ask the parish priests to build a chapel in the location of the grotto.
For days St. Bernadette returned to the grotto to meet with the lady. Each time she went, more and more townspeople would accompany her, hoping to catch a glimpse of the lady. On one occasion, the lady appeared sad, and when St. Bernadette asked her about it, she simply stated “Pray for sinners.” After this vision, the police commissioner took St. Bernadette into the police station, convinced she was making all of this up. He asked her questions and wrote down her answers; however, after reading her responses back to her, she told him that he had twisted all of her words into lies. This angered the policeman, and his condemnation of St. Bernadette spread throughout the community. As she went to the grotto that day, a policeman followed her, making comments about rude comments about silly religion in the face of advancing modern science. St. Bernadette returned to the grotto for several days in a row, each time seeing the lady. On one of those days, the lady told St. Bernadette three secrets which she was not supposed to share with anyone. She never did. Another day the lady spoke in a way that was audible for everyone in the crowd. She said only one word, over and over: “Repentance.”
On Thursday, February 25th, when the lady appeared to St. Bernadette, she told her to “go drink at the spring and wash in it.” St. Bernadette could not find the spring the lady was speaking of, so the lady directed her to a moist spot on the ground. St. Bernadette dug, but the ground was only wet. She tried to wash in it, but only got mud on her face. Everyone in attendance that day made fun of her. However, St. Bernadette returned later that day to find that the wet spot on the ground had indeed turned into a spring, and that pure water was flowing from it. People from the town who were ill or dying washed in it and were cured. The police were furious with St. Bernadette’s actions, stating she was a lunatic. She remained calm and continued to do as the lady said.
When St. Bernadette asked the parish priest to build a chapel at the grotto, as the lady had asked, he told her to ask the lady what her name was. If she was in fact the Virgin Mary, he would do anything she asked. St. Bernadette asked the lady what her name was, and she replied “I am the Immaculate Conception.” St. Bernadette did not know what this meant, but reported it back to the priest. He asked her if she knew what that meant, and she stated she did not. It had only been four years since Pope Pius IX had applied that title to the Virgin Mary, and St. Bernadette was unaware of this. The priest knew at that time that she was not making these visions up, and that the Virgin Mary had really been appearing to this young girl. The last time the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Bernadette was July 19th.
In January 1862, the Bishop’s commission stated that the visions had been from the Virgin Mary, and made plans to build the chapel that Our Lady has requested. In April 1862, St. Bernadette collapsed and was anointed. The doctor prescribed medicine, but St. Bernadette only wanted water from the grotto. She drank it and was healed. The doctor stated she was not as sick as he had thought, because water alone should not have been able to heal what he believed ailed her.
St. Bernadette entered the Convent of Nevers in France. She took her vows on October 30, 1867. The superiors of the convent were unsure what to assign St. Bernadette to, as she had very little schooling or skills. She was a humble sister who many of the other nuns took little notice of. As time passed, St. Bernadette’s health began to fail again. When asked why she did not ask Our Lady to heal her, she stated that Our Lady had told her she would not live a long life. She wanted only to offer prayers and sacrifice to Our Lord.
St. Bernadette Soubirous died on Easter Wednesday – April 16th, 1879, at age 35. When being considered for canonization thirty years later, her coffin was exhumed. Inside they found her rosary had rusted and her habit had frayed, but her body was completely incorrupt. She looked as though she had just fallen asleep. On December 8th, 1933, Pope Pius XI declared Bernadette Soubirous a saint. The miraculous spring still flows near the grotto in Lourdes, France. Every year around 6 million people come from all over the world to visit this miraculous location and bathe in the healing waters. St. Bernadette’s feast day is February 11th.
Patronage of St. Bernadette
St. Bernadette is the patron saint of the poor, those ridiculed for their faith, the sick, and shepherds.
St. Bernadette in Art
St. Bernadette is portrayed in art in three different ways: as a young woman, at the grotto with Our Lady, and as a nun. When she is portrayed as a young woman, she is dressed in clothing reminiscent of the time in which she lived – a simple dress and headcovering. When she is shown at the grotto with Our Lady, the grotto and spring of water are often in view, as well as the beautiful image of Our Lady of Lourdes in the grotto. St. Bernadette is often on her knees in prayer, gazing up at the Virgin Mary. And, when she is pictured as a nun, which depicts her later life, she wears the black and white habit of a religious nun, and is sometimes pictured with flowers. Many times the flowers she is shown with are lilies, which symbolize her purity.
Prayers of St. Bernadette
Prayer by St. Bernadette in Times of Affliction
O my God, I beg You, by Your loneliness, not that You may spare me affliction, but that You may not abandon me in it. When I encounter affliction, teach me to see You in it as my sole Comforter. Let affliction strengthen my faith, fortify my hope, and purify my love. Grant me the grace to see Your Hand in my affliction, and to desire no other comforter but You. Amen.
Prayer to St. Bernadette
O God, protector and lover of the humble, You bestowed on your servant, Bernadette, the favor of the vision of Our Lady, the Immaculate Virgin Mary, and of speech with Her. Grant that we may deserve to behold You in Heaven.
Saint Bernadette through your intercession give me the grace of praying in the occasions of sin. Grant me a holy recollection, the grace of being aware of Mary’s holy presence, and the virtue of silence. Grant me from God the holy virtue of spiritual and bodily purity; as well as purity of conscience through humble, frequent, and sincere confession, for the greater glory of God. Obtain for me a heroic faith along with a loving-filled confidence in the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
God our Father, you give joy to the world by the resurrection of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Through the prayers of His Mother, the Virgin Mary, bring us to the happiness of eternal life. We ask this through Saint Bernadette and with the intercession of the Twin Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Amen.
Prayer to St. Bernadette
O Saint Bernadette, who, as a meek and pure child, did eighteen times at Lourdes contemplate the beauty of the Immaculate Mother of God and received her messages, and who afterwards wished to hide yourself from the world in the convent of Nevers, and to offer thyself there as a victim for the conversion of sinners, obtain for us the grace of purity, simplicity and mortification that we also may attain to the vision of God and of Mary in Heaven. Amen.
Saint Bernadette – Teach us to Serve and Pray
In Lourdes You experienced the joys and trials of family life
You saw Mary eighteen times at the rock
You called the sinners to penance
The priests to edify the Church of God
The pilgrims to come in procession
You reported the name of Mary, the Immaculate Conception
You desired ardently to receive the Body of the Lord, and to live of it
You knew shame and suspicion, mockery and humiliation
You bore witness to what you saw and believed with such determination
You answered the call of the Lord.
With you Bernadette, WE go to the Grotto, to contemplate Mary, full of grace, to hear her say ‘Do whatever he tells you’.
With you Bernadette, WE reply I promise, I will. Saint Bernadette teach us to receive the good news.
With you Bernadette, WE wish to hear the call of penance, to walk in the path of conversion, to live in humility
With you Bernadette, WE take up our Cross, we say ‘Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners
With you Bernadette, WE go and wash at the springs of mercy
With you Bernadette, WE say Yes to the will of God, by becoming servants of the little ones, the poor and the sick
With you Bernadette, WE look on the other as a person, Saint Bernadette, teach us to love and to serve
With you Bernadette, WE go to meet the Lord in the Eucharist. WE go to drink at the Spring of the Living Water of the Word of God. WE go in procession, together as a Church in the footsteps of Christ.
With you Bernadette, WE shall go and repeat the Name of the Lady to the World, ‘I am the Immaculate Conception’.
Saint Bernadette, teach us to pray to Mary each day, Mother of God and our Mother: ‘Hail Mary, full of Grace’.
O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you
Our Lady of Lourdes, Pray for us. Saint Bernadette Pray for us. Amen.