Bernadette Soubirous

Marie Bernarde Soubirous was born on January 7, 1844, the oldest of a family of six. She was known to family and neighbors by the name of Bernadette. Bernadette was afflicted with asthma and other illnesses. In addition her family sank into poverty and her education, even her religious education, was sadly neglected. At the age of fourteen, not yet having made her first holy communion and being regarded as a dull pupil, she received her first apparition, on February 11, 1858. The apparitions lasted no more than a few months. During that time Our Lady of Lourdes told Bernadette three secrets. The apparitions and the popular excitement which accompanied them did eventually have some effect in relieving the destitution of the Soubirous family, for people interested themselves to find work for her father, but for Bernadette, apart from the spiritual consolation of these visions, they left a heavy load of embarrassment from the ceaseless and indiscreet questionings which allowed her no peace.

In 1864 she offered herself, under advice, to the sisters of Notre-Dame de Nevers. Attacks of illness postponed her departure from Lourdes, but in 1866 she was allowed to join the novitiate in the motherhouse of the order. Her ill-health continued, so within four months of her arrival she received the last sacraments and by dispensation was permitted to take her first vows.She recovered, however, and had strength enough to act as infirmarian and afterwards as sacristan, but the asthma from which she suffered never lost its hold, and before the end came she suffered grievously from further complications. Characteristic of Bernadette were her simplicity of a truly child-like kind, her peasant sanity and her self-effacement. She likened herself to a broom; "Our Lady used me. They have put me back in my corner. I am happy there." Though her heart was always centered in Lourdes, she had no part in the celebrations connected with the consecration of the basilica in 1876. There are few words more pathetic than the cry of Bernadette from her cell at Nevers: "Oh, if only I could see without being seen!" The conjecture suggests strongly that one of Bernadette's "secrets" must have been this, that she was never of her own free will to do anything which would attract to herself the notice of other people. Bernadette Soubirous died on April 16, 1879. In 1933 she was canonized, and she now appears in the Church's official records as St Mary Bernarda, but in the hearts and on the lips of the faithful she is always St. Bernadette.

--from Butler's Lives of the Saints