Anyone who has seen the classic movie “Song of Bernadette,” will remember the dramatic conflict when church authorities did not believe the poor peasant girl was seeing the Blessed Mother.
In some ways, we can see why. Why would the Blessed Mother choose a sickly, barely literate girl in the French countryside to reveal herself to? Then, again, maybe we should ask ourselves, why not?
Marie-Bernadette Soubirous was the eldest of nine children, born on Jan. 7, 1844 to François Soubirous a miller, and Louise, a laundress. The family lived in extreme poverty, and Bernadette was stricken with cholera as a toddler. The disease stunted her growth, and caused her to suffer from asthma all of her life. Despite schooling, Bernadette could hardly read or write because her chronic illness meant that she missed many days at school.
In February of 1858, Bernadette was gathering firewood with her sister and another friend. They came upon a stream that Bernadette was reluctant to cross. The other girls went ahead, and she noticed a sound in the bushes near a cave or grotto. Bernadette saw a beautiful woman, dressed all in white, with a blue sash and roses on her feet. The woman made the sign of the cross with a beautiful rosary, and Bernadette immediately took out her own rosary and began to pray.
When her friends returned, they couldn’t see the woman. Bernadette returned again a few days later, and saw her again. The woman asked Bernadette to continue to come back to that spot for a “holy fortnight.”
When Bernadette told her family what she had seen, they were angry and embarrassed and insisted she not return to the grotto. Bernadette went back anyway, where the woman appeared to her every day. On one visit, the woman told Bernadette to drink the water from the spring. The next day, the previously muddy spring was suddenly running clear. The woman also told Bernadette that it was her wish that a chapel be built there. Bernadette repeatedly asked the woman whom she was, but was only answered with a smile. Finally, on the 16th visit, the woman told Bernadette, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
Met with skepticism and anger by her family, her neighbors, and church and civil authorities, Bernadette still held fast to her accounts of the woman at the grotto. Finally, after an intense investigation, the authorities realized she was being truthful and the Marian apparitions were acknowledged by the church.
Bernadette’s life changed after that, and she had trouble maintaining a normal life because she was sought out by many people. She wished to live a more private life and entered the Sisters of Charity School in Nevers as a postulant. There she was able to advance her literacy skills. She also worked in the infirmary, as a sacristan, and embroidered altar cloths and vestments.
Not long after she entered the convent, Bernadette came down with tuberculosis. Previous damage to her lungs from her lifetime of illness led to her dying from the disease on April 15, 1879 at the age of 35. Her final words were, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for me, a poor sinner, a poor sinner.”
The simple cave, or grotto, where Bernadette saw the Blessed Virgin has become one of the most visited holy sites in the world. Millions of pilgrims visit every year seeking spiritual and physical healing from the spring near the grotto. The Lourdes Medical Bureau has recorded 69 unexplained medical healings connected to the shrine at Lourdes.
St. Bernadette is the patron saint of Lourdes, France; shepherds and shepherdesses; poverty; and people ridiculed for their faith. She stands as an example of how someone who is poor but pure of heart can be chosen to do the work of God, just as she was chosen by Mary to bring a healing site to a grotto in France.
St. Bernadette was canonized in 1933.
Read more about St. Bernadette here:
Read more about the Shrine at Lourdes here:
See the trailer for the 1943 movie “Song of Bernadette” here:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Song_of_Bernadette_(film) and read about the making of the movie here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Song_of_Bernadette_(film) The film is also available to rent or buy from video outlets such as Amazon and YouTube. Jennifer Jones, who portrayed the saint, received an Academy Award for her performance.
Because of the COVID-19 virus, the shrine at Lourdes is temporarily closed. Read the story from Vatican News here: https://www.vaticannews.va/en/church/news/2020-03/coronavirus-lourdes-shrine-closes-temporarily.html