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The Catholic Defender: Saint Bernadette Soubirous




Bernadette is the patron saint of bodily illness, Lourdes, against poverty, shepherds and shepherdesses, and people ridiculed for their faith.


Bernadette Soubirous was born in 1844, the first child of an extremely poor miller in the town of Lourdes in southern France. The family was living in the basement of a dilapidated building when on February 11, 1858, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette in a cave above the banks of the Gave River near Lourdes. Bernadette, 14 years old, was known as a virtuous girl though a dull student who had not even made her first Holy Communion. In poor health, she had suffered from asthma from an early age.


There were 18 appearances in all, the final one occurring on the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, July 16. Although Bernadette’s initial reports provoked skepticism, her daily visions of “the Lady” brought great crowds of the curious. The Lady, Bernadette explained, 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.


According to Bernadette, the Lady of her visions was a girl of 16 or 17 who wore a white robe with a blue sash. Yellow roses covered her feet, a large rosary was on her right arm. In the vision on March 25 she told Bernadette, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” It was only when the words were explained to her that Bernadette came to realize who the Lady was.


Few visions have ever undergone the scrutiny that these appearances of the Immaculate Virgin were subject to. 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. After thorough investigation, Church authorities confirmed the authenticity of the apparitions in 1862.


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 of Nevers. After a period of illness she was able to make the journey from Lourdes and enter the novitiate. 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 35. Bernadette Soubirous was canonized in 1933.


On her deathbed, as she suffered from severe pain and in keeping with the Virgin Mary's admonition of "Penance, Penance, Penance," Bernadette proclaimed that "all this is good for Heaven!" Her final words were, "Blessed Mary, Mother of God, Pray for me". Soubirous' body was laid to rest in the Saint Gildard Convent.


She was canonized as a Saint of the Church by Pope Pius XI on December 8, 1933, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. In her messages to Saint Bernadette, Our Lady emphasized prayer and penance for the sins of mankind. The visions also call to mind the love that Our Lady has for God's people.


Lourdes has become a major place of Roman Catholic pilgrimage and of miraculous healings.


Bernadette, 14 years old, was known as a virtuous girl though a dull student who had not even made her first Holy Communion. In poor health, she had suffered from asthma from an early age. There were 18 appearances in all, the final one occurring on the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, July 16.


On the feast of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary on March 25th, the Lady at last proclaimed her identity. Speaking to Bernadette in the local Lourdes patois, she said 'I am the Immaculate Conception'. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception had been proclaimed only a few years before, in 1854.


The message of Lourdes is the Good News of the Gospel message of prayer, penance and poverty. After four years of investigations, the Catholic Church proclaimed the apparitions at Lourdes in 1858 as valid and pronounced this site a place worthy of pilgrimage.


Our Lady of Lourdes teaches – and Bernadette understood clearly – three lessons for the sick: presence, healing, and sacrifice.

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