Born in Lourdes, France, on January 7, 1844, Bernadette was the first child of Francois and Louise Soubirous, a poor peasant family. A severe asthma sufferer, Bernadette was such a poor student that she was unable to make her First Holy Communion until she was 14. She had many trials to contend with as a child -- poverty, health problems, which caused her to be behind in school, many responsibilities as the oldest child of six siblings, moving from one poor place to another, and a father who escaped from his financial problems by drowning them in alcohol.
Her education was entrusted to the Sisters of Charity and Christian Instruction. - a teaching and nursing order whose mother-house is at Nevers, in central France. The Sisters soon discovered that although Bernadette had a quiet, modest demeanor, she had a lively sense of humor and a pleasing personality.
It was to this simple 14-year-old girl that Our Lady chose to appear in what is known as the apparitions at Lourdes. Between February 11 and July 16, 1858, the Blessed Mother appeared to Bernadette 18 times in the hollow of the rock at Lourdes, called “de Massabielle”.
On March 25, the feast of the Immaculate Conception in 1858, she said to the little shepherdess who was only fourteen years of age: "I am the Immaculate Conception." Because the dogma of the Immaculate Conception had been officially proclaimed less than four years earlier, and Bernadette could not have even known of its existence, when Bernadette repeated the words, it gave credibility to her apparitions. It was confirmation from heaven that the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was indeed true.
At age 22, Bernadette entered the convent of the Sisters of Charity in Nevers. Although she had many trials there, she happily performed the menial tasks assigned to her, working initially in the kitchen, then later as an assistant in the infirmary. In September, 1878, at the age of 34, Bernadette made her perpetual vows. After suffering heroically and secretly for years from tuberculosis of the bone in the right knee, which caused excrucixiating pain, she died a holy death on April 15, 1879.
St. Bernadette is the patron of: the poor, the sick, people ridiculed for their piety, and Lourdes, France.
~ © 2010 Jean M. Heimann
"Whatever trials the Lord sends you, whatever sacrifices He asks of you, whatever duties He imposes on you, always have this response of love and faithfulness on your lips and in your heart: 'Hear is your servant, O my God, ready to undertake all, to give all, to sacrifice all, as long as Your will may be accomplished in me and on all the the earth'."
~ St. Bernadette Soubirous, From the private notes of St. Bernadette of Lourdes, A Holy Life, by Patricia A. McEachern, Ph.D.
For more information about St. Bernadette, see the following:
A Biography of St. Bernadette - by Dan Paulos
The Apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes
Official Site of Lourdes
Apparitions of St. Bernadette Soubirous, My Name is Bernadette.