Soubirous, Bernadette, St.
SOUBIROUS, BERNADETTE, ST.
B. Lourdes, southwestern France, Jan. 7, 1844; d. Nevers, France, April 16, 1879. Bernadette was the eldest of nine children of the miller Françoise and Louise (Castérot) Soubirous. Because of her family's poverty and her own poor health, she was not sent to school. Delay in her instruction meant that she was unable to receive her First Communion until June 3, 1858. Bernadette is reputed to have had 18 visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary between Feb. 11 and July 16, 1858. While collecting firewood close to a grotto called Massabielle, by the River Gave near lourdes, she saw a young girl dressed in white and holding a rosary. Her account of her vision met with disbelief from her pastor, M. Peyramale. She also suffered much misunderstanding from her family and the townsfolk. In subsequent apparitions she first called the young girl "the lady," but during the 16th apparition, on the feast of the Annunciation, the visitor identified herself in the dialect of Lourdes as the immacu late conception. The doctrine of Mary's conception without the stain of original sin had been formally defined by Pius IX shortly before this (Dec. 8, 1854). On the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (July 16), the final apparition occurred.
After the apparitions Bernadette was educated as a day and boarding student with the Sisters of Charity and Christian Instruction of Nevers at Lourdes (see charity, sisters of). In 1866 she joined the congregation at the
motherhouse in Nevers. In religion she kept her baptismal name, Marie Bernarde. Even after the bishop of Tarbes rendered a favorable judgment on the authenticity of the apparitions, Bernadette continued to experience much misunderstanding. Tuberculosis of the bone kept her always in weak health in the convent, where she performed the duties of assistant in the sacristy and infirmary. Bernadette was beatified on June 14, 1925, and canonized on Dec. 8, 1933. The immense popularity of Lourdes as a pilgrimage center has helped make her one of the most popular of modern saints (see visions).
Feast: Feb. 18.
Bibliography: h. petitot, The True Story of Saint Bernadette, tr. a Benedictine of Stanbrook Abbey (Westminster, Md.1950). r. cranston, The Miracle of Lourdes (New York 1955), popular. l. von matt and f. trochu, St. Bernadette: A Pictorial Biography, tr. h. rees (Chicago 1957).
[t. f. casey]