Originally named Marie-Bernarde Soubirous, Saint Bernadette of Lourdes was born on January 7, 1844 in Lourdes, France. Bernadette grew up with eight younger siblings, and their father worked in a grain mill. At just ten years old, she started suffering from Cholera in the Epidemic of 1854. Bernadette would continue to face more health issues, such as asthma and other illnesses in her life. Years later, it would be the visions that Bernadette got from the Virgin Mary that would transform her life and those in her country.
One day in February of 1858, Bernadette was along with her younger sister and friend to get firewood. Legend says a lovely young lady emerged over a rose bush in a cave named Massabielle. Despite her sister and friend’s skeptical opinions, Bernadette claimed the woman smiled at her and made the sign of the cross, using a rosary of ivory and gold. Bernadette knelt before her and began to pray using her own rosary. Bernadette’s description of her was “uo petito damizelo,” or “a small young lady.” Bernadette would start to make more visits to the young lady and the visits became designated as “la Quinzaine sacrée,” meaning “holy fortnight.”
The trips to the cave where Bernadette would see the Virgin Mary started to affect her family. Her parents asked her to stop, because the stories Bernadette told others started to create a rift in the town. Bernadette’s family was unsuccessful in trying to persuade her to stop visiting the cave, and Bernadette continued to have life-altering moments from the Virgin Mary. In early March of 1858, Bernadette said the young woman from her visions told her “a chapel should be built, and a procession formed.” Three weeks later, during her sixteenth vision, Bernadette asked the young woman what her name was several times, and the woman replied “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
Authorities from the Church and the French Government conducted intense investigations and interviews of Bernadette and her visions. In 1862, it was confirmed that Bernadette had been telling the truth. One of her most important experiences with Mary led to Bernadette turning the Massabielle Cave’s turbid waters into clean water. Nearly seventy cures by the clean water were confirmed by the Medical Bureau of Lourdes, after the Church stated that “extremely rigorous scientific and medical examinations,” were done. Bernadette concluded that the sick were healed from faith and prayer.
At Bernadette’s request, the local priest built a chapel at the location where the visions took place and now the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes is one of the most widely known Catholic Pilgrimage Sites in the world. Bernadette decided that the attention she was getting from her miracles was not what she wanted, so she joined the hospice school run by the Sisters of Charity of Nevers, where Bernadette learned how to read and write. Sadly, Bernadette’s health issues became more serious, and she was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Bernadette died on April 16, 1879 at age 35, while taking part in something she loved, praying the rosary.
Saint Bernadette is the perfect example of someone who could not be dissuaded from her faith. Saint Bernadette is now the patroness of illness, piety, poverty, and Lourdes, France. Bernadette wasn’t declared an official Saint until December of 1933 by Pope Pius XI. It was Saint Bernadette’s belief that it was her mission to spread the Christian faith and the messages of the Virgin Mary that influenced so many in her community and people around the world today.