Roman Catholic Saint. Marie-Bernarde Soubirous, who was called Bernadette, was born January 7, 1844 just outside the town of Lourdes, department of Haute-Pyrenees in the south of France. Bernadette was the oldest of 9 children born to François Soubirous and Louise Castérot. Only 4 of the children survived to adulthood. Bernadette herself had cholera as a child, which left her with asthma and palpitations of the heart. At 14 years of age Bernadette still had not received First Communion due to her illiteracy. She did not speak true French, but only the local patois of Lourdes, which delayed her study of the catechism. Nevertheless, she was a devout child and she began having visions of a beautiful Lady in white on February 11, 1858 in the grotto of Massabielle just west of Lourdes. She saw the Lady 17 more times before the middle of July and prayed and spoke with her. During that time she did receive her First Communion. After telling her family and the parish priest of her visions she was accompanied to the grotto by many people on numerous occasions, but the apparition was for her alone. No one else saw the Lady in white or heard her voice. The Lady told Bernadette to drink from the fountain in the grotto and wash in its water. There was no fountain in the grotto, but when Bernadette began to dig with her hands in a damp spot, she found enough water to drink a sip and smear her face with the mud. Later in the day, she returned to the grotto with a friend, Eleanore Perard, and when the girl stirred the muddy water with a stick the spring began to flow. During the period of these visitations at least three people experienced healings, which they attributed to the waters. After Bernadette asked the Lady for her name a number of times, she finally replied with the words "I am the Immaculate Conception". Bernadette did not understand this, but Father Peyramale did. The priest had doubted Bernadette's story, but when she repeated the Lady's exact words, he believed and agreed to build a chapel as the Lady had requested. Eight years later, in 1866, Bernadette entered the convent at Nevers in the order of the Sisters of Charity. After a life devoted to prayer and meditation on her apparitions, Bernadette died of tuberculosis on April 16, 1879 at the age of 35. She was originally interred in a crypt in the little Chapel of St. Joseph at the convent, but her body was exhumed in 1909, 1919 and again in 1925. Her body was in a remarkable state of preservation; a natural mummification. After the third exhumation Bernadette's body was enshrined in a glass coffin. She now rests in the Main Chapel of the Convent of Saint Gildard at Nevers, department of Nièvre. Bernadette was beatified by the Roman Catholic Church in 1925 and canonized in 1933. The Grotto of Lourdes, where Bernadette had her visions of the Virgin Mary has become the greatest pilgrimage site in France, if not the world. The waters of the spring, which Bernadette uncovered with her own hands, are said to be responsible for more than 4000 spontaneous healings, through the intercession of the beautiful Lady in white, Our Lady of Lourdes.
Bio by: Paul A. Laguerre