Saint Bernadette Soubirous
Lourdes, France (1844–1879)
Patron: those suffering from poverty
Feast day: April 16
The Virgin Mary made 18 visits to a poor, uneducated girl in France at a time when Catholicism was still viewed with suspicion. Although she was born into a prosperous wheat-milling family, Bernadette Soubirous’s fate changed at an early age. Her parents fell on hard times when she was 13 and eventually made their home in a one-room building that was once the town jail but had been deemed unfit for housing prisoners.
Because of her impoverished upbringing as a teen, Bernadette didn’t receive Holy Communion at the appropriate age and was quite a bit older than those with whom she served in preparation. She was often ridiculed for her lack of knowledge and understanding in both the spiritual and secular disciplines.
Bernadette’s first apparition came on a trip to the town dump with her sisters to collect firewood. She didn’t know the woman who came to her until after her first few apparitions, when she came to know the woman dressed in white with a blue sash as “The Immaculate Conception,” a term that meant little to a girl of low intellect living in a remote Pyrenees village. At this time in France there remained a residue of anti-Catholicism from the French Revolution.
Processions, religious devotions, and especially shrines marking apparitions weren’t approved by the extremely secular government. For years, Bernadette underwent examinations, tests, and observations from both government leaders and the Church. Eventually, authorities determined that her apparitions were authentic.
Bernadette entered the Sisters of Notre Dame of Nevers, the same order that staffed her parish. She died from complications due to chronic asthma and tuberculosis of the bone, a horribly painful disease. Bernadette was buried at the motherhouse chapel in Nevers on April 16, 1879. Her body was first exhumed in 1909 in front of doctors, representatives for the cause of her canonization, and the sisters of the order.
Upon exhumation, they found no decay on Bernadette’s body; only the clothing, the wood around the casket, and the rosary she held had perished. The casket was opened again in 1919, and the body of the future saint was found in the same condition as it was in 1909. Today, you can visit the motherhouse of the Sisters of Notre Dame of Nevers and venerate the saint in a beautiful glass retainer located in the chapel.
Last updated: March 21, 2013 at 21:41 pm
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