Saint Marie-Bernarde Soubirous (January 7, 1844-April 16, 1879) was a miller’s daughter born in Lourdes, France. Bernadette is best known for her visions of a small young lady who asked for a chapel to be built at a cave-grotto in France where the apparitions of Mary occurred between February 11 - July 16, 1858.
Bernadette’s mother had given birth to nine children but only four survived infancy. Bernadette was the oldest of the four children. Hard times had fallen on France and the family lived in extreme poverty. By the time of the events of the grotto, her family’s financial and social status had declined to the point where they lived in a one-room basement. On February 14, Bernadette, then aged 14, went to gather firewood. She came to a cave near a flowing river. Her friends played and sang. But Bernadette stood still, her eyes wide with wonder. She described the lady as wearing a white veil, a blue sash and with a yellow rose on each foot compatible with “a description of any statue of the Virgin in a village church”. This was Bernadette’s first vision. Bernadette told her parents and friends. At first they did not believe her. Her mother was embarrassed and tried to forbid her to go. The local police commissioner called her into his office and threatened to arrest her but there was no evidence of wrong doing so there was little they could do. Bernadette remained stubbornly calm and consistent during her interrogations, never wavering from her story or her attitude and never claiming any knowledge beyond what the lady had told her in her visions. This period of almost daily visions became known as ‘holy fortnight’. Bernadette never claimed it to be Mary but consistently using the word ‘aquero’ which means extreme reverence for a sacred reality. Bernadette asked the lady what her name was many times during her apparitions. The lady finally told her “I am the Immaculate Conception” Bernadette saw the lovely Lady again and again. The lovely Lady ordered her to dig a hole at the spot. A fresh, cool spring came bubbling up out of the ground.
Sick people who bathed in it grew well. Many of the blind could see again. “Build here,” said the lovely Lady, “a great church. And tell people to pray and do penance and walk in processions.” They did all this. Soon the wonderful Shrine of Lourdes was built where miracles happen even to this day.
Disliking all the attention she was attracting, Bernadette went to the hospice school run by the Sisters of Charity of Nevers where she learned to read and write. She then joined the Sisters at the age of 22. She spent the rest of her short life there, working as an assistant in the infirmary, doing embroidery work for altar cloths and vestments. She later contracted tuberculosis of the bone in her right knee. She eventually died at the age of 35 from her long term illness. St. Bernadette’s Feast Day is April 16th.