Bernadette Soubirous | Our Lady of Lourdes


Canonization Of Saint Bernadette of Lourdes

On December 8, 1933, during the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Bernadette was declared a Saint by Pope Pius XI. Present for this ceremony were the Reverend Mother General and one hundred and sixty of the Sisters of Nevers, Bernadette's sister in law, and two of her nephews. With them, there were ten thousand French pilgrims. In all, the crowd exceeded forty thousand. Bishop Patrice Flynn, the Irish Bishop of Nevers, and Bishop Gerlier of Lourdes and Tarbes, were also present.

The Holy Father addressed the assembled multitude:

"To the honour of the Most Holy and Indivisible Trinity, for the exaltation of the Catholic Faith and for the spread of the Christian religion, by the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul and by Our own, after mature deliberation and having often implored the Divine Assistance, on the advice of our venerable brethren the Cardinals of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, the Patriarchs, Archbishops and Bishops, We define and declare the Blessed Marie Bernarde Soubirous a Saint, and We enrol her in the Catalogue of Saints, ordaining that her memory shall be piously celebrated in the Universal Church on April 16th each year, the day of her birth in Heaven. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

The body of Saint Bernadette remains in the main chapel of the Convent of Saint Gildard in the city of Nevers, France. To this day, she remains entirely incorrupt. Less than four feet away, a constant stream of pilgrims kneel, seeking her powerful assistance in Heaven. At her shrine, flowers and candles keep the little one company.

Around her shrine are inscribed the words of the great promise made to her at Lourdes by the Most Blessed Virgin, and fulfilled by Her:

"I do not promise that you will be happy in this world, only in the next."

Who Were Bernadette Soubirous?

The marriage of Francois Soubirous and Louise Casterot produced six children. The eldest of these was Bernadette.

She was born of 7th January 1844, and was baptised the next day by the Abbe Forgues in the old parish church, being given the name Marie Bernarde. Because of her small stature, she was always referred to by the diminutive form of the name, Bernadette.

Six months later, Louise was again expecting a child; because of this, Bernadette was entrusted to the care of a woman in near-by Bartres, Marie Aravant, who had just lost a baby boy. She stayed there for fifteen months.

From her birth, Bernadette was a weak child, suffering even then from the asthma which would cause her so much suffering that later, in the convent, she would beg the nuns to tear open her chest that she might breathe. Because of her delicate constitution, her parents would endeavour to give her little morsels of food not available to the other children, such as white bread instead of black. Invariably, the young girl would share these treats with her siblings - often missing out herself on the sumptuous feast.

When she was ten, Bernadette was again separated from her beloved family; the winter of 1855 was exceptionally cold and there was little work for the poor miller. Louise's sister, Bernarde, offered to take Bernadette for a while to relieve the pressure on the family and to minimise the effects of the cold on Bernadette’s' health. She stayed with her aunt Bernarde for seven months, until the weather improved sufficiently and there was more work available for Francois, enabling him to feed his family properly.

Bernadette left Lourdes one more time - in summer of 1857, she returned to stay with Marie Aravant for a few months, working for her as a shepherdess. There was also a great affection between the two. Bernadette celebrated her fourteenth birthday here in Bartres, but still there had been no mention of her making her First Holy Communion; Marie Aravant tried to teach Bernadette about the Faith - but described her as being thick-headed;

"It was useless to for me to repeat my lessons; I always had to begin again. Sometimes I was overcome by impatience and I would throw my book aside and say to her, 'Go along, you will never be anything but a little fool'".

Marie asked the priest for advice - he said Bernadette should return to Lourdes to begin her Catechism classes. And so, in the early days of 1858, Bernadette returned to the Rue des Petits Fosses.

Bernadette Soubirous at Grotto in Lourdes

Bernadette Soubirous at Grotto in Lourdes

Soon after Bernadette Soubirous returned to Lourdes it did happen that she went to the riverside, together with her sister and neighbouring kids, and at the grotto near the river she suddenly had a vision of Our Lady Mary.

There were 18 apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes, in presence of large crowds of people and later they were confirmed by Catholic Church.  

Later in life she became a Sister of Charity of Nevers, and was besieged by many faithful and religious.

Bernadette (in religion, Sister Marie-Bernarde) spent the latter part of her life at the convent, saying that she had come to hide herself. She sought God in the silence of the cloister, serving Him in humility and under the vows of her profession as a Sister of Charity of Nevers. She lived in the convent for thirteen years, spending a large portion of this time ill in the infirmary - when a fellow sister accused her of being a 'lazybones', she said that her 'job' was "to be ill".

Bernadette died on 16th April 1879.

The Lady of Lourdes had kept the promise She made to Bernadette in 1858 -

"I do not promise to make you happy in this world, but in the next".

Although the apparitions of Our Lady at Lourdes were over for Bernadette (at least in this life), their message and mission were never to be forgotten. Bernadette silently offered all of her sufferings, internal and external, for the benefit of "poor sinners".