St Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes (Feast – April 19)

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St Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes (Feast – April 19)
© José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro - via Wikimedia Commons

By Michael McKenna, Director, Office of Liturgy

According to the Marianum Pontifical Institute for the Study of Mariology in Rome, of the 295 reported apparitions studied by the Holy See through the centuries there are just 12 approved. The most recent to be approved in May 2008 was the 17th- and 18th-century apparitions of Our Lady of Laus. In short, the Holy See has officially confirmed the apparitions at Guadalupe, Saint-Etienne-le-Laus, Paris (Rue du Bac, Miraculous Medal), La Salette, Lourdes, Fatima, Portugal, Pontmain, Beauraing, and Banneux. While this year commemorates the 100th anniversary of Our Lady’s monthly apparitions to three shepherd children in Portugal in May 1917, her apparitions in Lourdes are the subject of this reflection.

First of nine children, born into a very poor Catholic family St Bernadette lived in the French town of Lourdes. As one might expect, she had only minimal schooling compounded by her having missed lessons due to ill health or domestic responsibilities helping care for her siblings. Ironically, the Sister preparing her for her First Holy Communion found her to be a technically abysmal Catechism student. While we may lament these days the state of modern catechesis, St Bernadette was equally the subject of similarly poor, or at least minimal catechesis. However, the strength of Bernadette’s faith lay in that she was the product of a strong “domestic Church”.

In her lifetime Bernadette contracted cholera, suffered acute asthma and later tuberculous of the bone. She suffered greatly in the final years of her life but with silent good nature and holding fast to Our Lady’s promise of happiness not  “in this world, but in the next.”  Indeed, despite her agony, Bernadette declined the opportunity to revisit Lourdes in search for a miraculous cure. She died age 35 while praying the holy rosary.

Pope St John Paul II made three pilgrimages to Lourdes, proclaiming February 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, as World Day of the Sick. Curiously, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who was born on St Bernadette’s feast day of April 16 in 1927, culminated his years as Pope, serving with what he described as “inner joy and generous commitment” on 11 February 2013 when he took the almost unprecedented step of renouncing the papacy.

St Bernadette is frequently depicted in prayer with a rosary or appealing to the Blessed Virgin. Canonised by Pope Pius XI in December 1933 she is the patroness of illness, people ridiculed for their piety, poverty, shepherds, shepherdesses, and Lourdes, France. She has much to commend.