St. Bernadette lived, for a lot of her childhood, in a small town near the Foothills of the Pyrenees, in southern France. This small town was called Lourdes and it had its own strange dialogue; a mixture of French and Spanish. It was a simple town, as was Bernadette the young she-pherdess, obedient to her nurse in Batrns. As a child poor, humble and asthmatic I^ one who struggled to learn the catechism; as a visionary honest, obedient, and straightforward; as a religious sister in Nevers humorous, dutiful, and patient in her sufferings. She was a girl who consciously and generously spent her short life in suffering. Above all, Bernadette is a shining witness to and messenger of Mary Immaculate to men of every period.
Bernadette's mother and father were Frana??qois Soubirous and Louise CastI`rot. She was born on 7th January 1844, at the mill of Boly. A few days later she was christened Marie Bernarde at the parish church of Lourdes, St. Peter's. In November, when Bernadette was about 10 months old her mother had an accident and so could no longer breast-feed her child. Therefore, Bernadette was entrusted to the care of a friend of Louise's, Marie Lagues, in Batrns. Then, in April 1846, when Bernadette was 26 months old, her age of weaning came. So, she was reunited with her parents at the mill of Boly, and remained there until she was about 10. At this time her father, Frana??qois Soubirous, fell into debt.
In the autumn of 1855, when Bernadette was eleven, the plague broke out in Lourdes, and she was affected by it. Her sores were treated in the basic way, that is, they were repeatedly rubbed with rags of straw to expose them and so eliminate the cancerous parts and dress them. Thanks to this very painful, though effective, remedy, Bernadette recovered. However, soon she got asthma, and tubercu-losis of the bones of her legs, things that afflict her for the rest of her life.
In September 1857 Bernadette went back to Batrns to her nurse Marie. The latter needed help and was loo-king for someone who was able to do everything, especially to look after little Jean who was only two years old. Life in Batrns was hard for Bernadette. Because of this atmosphere of difficulty and sacrifice at Batrns, and the wish to prepare herself with more calmness for Holy Communion Bernadette returned to Lourdes in January 1858.
Then on the 11th February 1858, the Thursday before Shrove Tuesday, there was thick, damp fog, typical of those that sometimes descend upon Lourdes, which darkened the day. Bernadette went to the area of Mas-sabielle to get firewood.
" ... I heard a noise like a gust of wind... I raised my eyes towards the grotto and saw a lady dressed in white. She was wearing a white dress, a while veil, a blue girdle and a yellow rose on each foot."
This was the first of the apparitions, and the start of Bernadette?s singular mission. Then in the period from 11th February 1858 to 16th July 1858, the eighteen apparitions took place. On most occasions Our Lady simply prayed with Bernadette and allowed herself to be contemplated. Other times She spoke to her and gave her instructions, thus telling us the message and the spirituality of Lourdes.
One of the most important apparitions was the ninth one, on the 25th February 1858. It was early in the morning, of a cold, miserable day, yet 300 people had gathered to see what would happen. This apparition explained the origin of the spring of water I^ Bernadette describes what happened:
"The vision told me to go and drink from the spring. Since I could not see it I went to the river. She told me it was not there I was to drink and with her finger pointed under the rock. I went there and found only a little brackish water. I put my hand into it but was unable to take any. Then I dug with my hands and so was able to take some water. Three times I threw the water away since it was dirty I^ then, the forth time, I managed to drink. She made me eat some of the grass, which grew around the spring."
Another important apparition was the sixteenth one, on the 25th March 1858. It was once again early in the morning, on the day of the Feast of the Annunciation, and so some people thought something extraordinary would happen; an indeed it did, as Bernadette told us:
"After the fortnight, I asked her again three times one after the other. She went on smiling so I dared ask her once more. This time, however, She raised her eyes to heaven, joined her hands about her breast and said to me in the local dialect: "Que Soy era Immaculada Councepcion" or "I am the Immaculate Conception". These are the last words She addressed to me. Her eyes were blue." Bernadette ran off to tell the priest as soon as she heard, in order to tell him the identity of the apparition. When Bernadette told him this he realised the meaning of this whole thing; he became convinced that the events of Massabielle were of supernatural origin, and that Bernadette was the messenger of the Immaculate Virgin to the world! Then, in June 1858, before the final apparition, Bernadette took her First Communion, at the age of fourteen and a half years.
In July 1860 Bernadette had another asthma attack, and so was taken to the hospice of Lourdes. At this point Bernadette decided to become a religious sister and, she had chosen the Order of the Sisters of Charity in Nevers. However, she would remain in Lourdes until 1866. A few months before her departure in 1866, she attended the formal opening of the crypt at Lourdes. This opening was the first concrete answer to the wish of Our Lady: "I wish a chapel to be built here".
When Bernadette entered the convent of Saint-Gildard she found difficulty in getting used to the place as she met much resistance and humiliation. But, after about a year, Bernadette settled and took her Religious Profession together with 43 other novices. During the ceremony each nun was entrusted a task. Bernadette remains in Nevers, and was entrusted with the task of working in the infirmary of the convent and of helping in the kitchen.
In March 1878 Bernadette was struck by another attack of asthma, and her health declined. She was given many medicines, which in the past had helped her to recover. However, although she did get better, this time she did not fully recover.
On the April 1879 Bernadette lay on her deathbed. The asthma and the tuberculosis of the bones of her legs had wasted her away. She died at 3 p.m. 16th April 1879, aged just over 35.
On 8th December 1933 at the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Pius XI himself proclaimed Bernadette Saint; 16th April was made her feast day. And today, St. Bernadette remains, even though not at Lourdes, clo-se to the sick and the handicapped in the chapel of the convent of Nevers. She remains close to the pilgrim with the evidence of her life and with the message of Our Lady.
So, I would say, that her gift to the world was actually showing us all how to live. But, she herself, probably wrote the best summary of her whole life, her mission and message:
"To obey is to love! To suffer in silence for Christ is joy!
To love sincerely is to give everything, even grief!"
by Cyril Mitkov, Year 8, Presentation College, Bath