Our Patron Saint was born January 7, 1844 and baptized Marie Bernarde Soubirous. The oldest of six children, born to devout but poor parents, she was known by the pet name Bernadette. Bernadette was a sensitive, sickly child, plagued by chronic asthma. She was a notably good girl with a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin.
On February 11, 1858, Bernadette, her sister and her sister’s friend went to gather wood on the bank of the Gave river in the French Pyrennes. To reach the gathering site, the three girls had to cross a small millstream. While the two younger girls went on ahead, Bernadette stopped to remove her shoes and stockings. Just then she heard a rustling sound which caused her to look up toward a small cave. There, in the opening of this little grotto, she saw “a girl in white, no taller than I, who greeted me with a light bow of the head.” The vision was very beautiful, clad in white with a blue girdle, whilst a long rosary hung over the arm. She seemed to invite the child to pray, and when Bernadette took her rosary from her pocket and began to say it, the vision also took her rosary into her hand and passed the beads through her fingers, although the lips did not move. When the five decades were finished, the vision smiled and disappeared. This was the first of 18 visions of the Blessed Virgin given to this humble peasant girl. The last one took place July 16th of the same year.
The story of Lourdes is well known. Millions of people have visited this remote spot where Our Blessed Mother appeared to Bernadette almost one hundred and fifty years ago. Bernadette remained a shy, sensitive child of God, shunning the attention of the world that the apparitions afforded. She delivered the message of Our Blessed Mother only to the proper authorities of the Church and left the outcome to God. Finally, in 1866, at the age of 22, she filled one of her heart’s desires when she was accepted into the convent of the Sisters of Notre-Dame de Nevers.
Her work at Lourdes was done. The shrine to the Mother of God that Mary had requested was being visited by ever increasing numbers. Mary’s message of prayer and penance had been delivered to the world. God had blessed the work with miracles. Gladly, Bernadette faded from the picture. She likened herself to Our Lady’s Broom: “Our Lady used me, they have put me back in my corner,” was her way of expressing it. But her work for souls was not done. Our Blessed Mother had asked for penance at Lourdes. While many were cured of their afflictions in the waters at Lourdes, the heavy cross of illness still lay on Bernadette’s shoulders and she suffered this penance throughout her life.
On April 16th 1879, in her 36th year, she died peacefully in the arms of her sisters in religion at the convent of Nevers. Her life of suffering was over. In 1933, just 54 years after her death, Pope Pius XI added the name of this humble peasant girl to the canon of the Saints. For all time in the official records of the Church, she will be known as Saint Marie Bernarda, but in the hearts and on the lips of faithful she will always be St. Bernadette, little Bernard.
May Bernadette, our glorious patroness, remember us, and with her prayers intercede for us at the throne of God, and may she direct toward us the mercy and kindness of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus who, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns for ever and ever.