On that fateful morning of February 11, 1858, little Bernadette Soubirous had no idea that her life would be changed forever. She accompanied her sister, Toinette, and her friend, Jeanne Abadie, nicknamed “Baloum,” to gather firewood at a dump. They went in search of it while Bernadette stayed behind. There she encountered a beautiful lady of about sixteen years old who held a large rosary in her hands, standing in the midst of the field of Massabielle. Overcome with awe, Bernadette knelt and grasped the rosary beads from her pocket and began to pray. After the recitation, the young woman disappeared.
Toinette and Baloum were angry that Bernadette had not helped them carry the firewood. But Bernadette had her mind on something else. She asked her chums if they had seen anything out of the ordinary, but they had not. Bernadette told Toinette, and later Baloum, and then the word was out that the young girl had seen a vision. Mrs. Soubirous thought it was all in her daughter’s imagination and forbade her to return to the grotto.
Her mother relented, as did her father, and Bernadette returned with her companions, armed with a flask of holy water which Bernadette sprinkled on the lady to see if she was from God. The lady smiled. Her friends could not see the lady, but they prayed the rosary along with Bernadette.
The lady returned for sixteen appearances in the months to come.
The humble, poverty-stricken 14-year-old-girl who was asthmatic during her life shows that Our Lady, in following her Son’s footsteps, chooses the weak and lowly to bestow her favors upon. She includes them in evangelizing members of the Church and the world for the conversion of sinners.
It was on March 25th, 1858, the feast of the Annunciation of the Lord, that the Blessed Virgin, who had up to that time concealed her identity, revealed herself as the “Immaculate Conception.” Bernadette did not understand the meaning of the words but revealed them to her pastor, Dean Peyramale, who had initially not believed in the apparitions.
He told Bernadette that if she did not give her name, “there would be no chapel or processions,” which the lady had requested. Bernadette was most concerned that she convey the message to her priest because she wanted to fulfill the beautiful lady’s request. Bernadette had grown to love her so very much.
She prayed the rosary with Our Lady and made acts of penance for the conversion of sinners. Bernadette even dug in the mud, washed her face in it, and swallowed some of the dirt when told to “drink and wash at the spring.” The crowd who had accompanied Bernadette on her visits to the grotto thought that she was mentally ill and mocked her.
But a short time later, a spring bubbled up which caused healings among the inhabitants of Lourdes, and the town believed Our Lady had appeared in their sleepy town. It is the same source of waters to which thousands of pilgrims flock each year for physical cures and spiritual conversions.
Bernadette had to suffer standing by her reports of the apparitions of Our Lady. She was questioned and threatened by the civil authorities with jail. Three doctors examined her to see if Bernadette was of sound mind. Initially, even her family did not believe her. Yet Bernadette stood firm in her resolve that what had happened was real. She was courageous and unflinching in her testimony. We should imitate her example when moments of standing up for morals and our Catholic faith present themselves to us.
The anonymity which Bernadette so craved was denied her. She could not find it in Lourdes. The young woman moved away from her beloved family and village and became a religious of the Sisters of Nevers. There, too, she underwent trials partly because of her lack of education and her fame as the seer of Lourdes. However, her studies in academics improved and she found friends who loved her sense of humor and unassuming ways.
Bernadette worked as an infirmarian, but she also suffered from illness. She experienced the peace of soul that comes when we do the will of God. Bernadette remembered the words of the Virgin, “I cannot promise to make you happy in this life, but in the next.”
“Bernadette, The Only Witness” by Rev. John W. Lynch was used as a source of reference for this article.