Bernadette Soubirous was born January 7, 1844 in Lourdes, France. She died April 16, 1879, of natural causes in Nevers, France. Her body remains incorrupt. She was beatified in 1925, and in 1933 she was canonized by Pope Pius XI.
St. Bernadette was the oldest of six children in a very poor family headed by Francois Soubirous and Louise Casterot. Hired out as a servant from age 12 to 14. Shepherdess. On February 11, 1858, around the time of her first Communion, she received a vision of the Virgin; her own account of it is in the Readings section below. She received seventeen more in the next five months, and was led to a spring of healing waters. She moved into a house with the sisters of Nevers at Lourdes where she lived, worked, and learned to read and write. The sisters cared for the sick and indigent, and at age 22 they admitted Bernadette into their order since she was both. Always sick herself, and often mistreated by her superiors, she died with a prayer for Mary's aid. Since the appearances of Mary to young Bernadette in 1858, more than 200 million people have visited the shrine of Lourdes.
I had gone down one day with two other girls to the bank of the river Gave when suddenly I heard a kind of rustling sound. I turned my head toward the field by the side of the river, but the trees seemed quite still and the noise was evidently not from them. Then I looked up and caught sight of the cave where I saw a lady wearing a lovely white dress with a bright belt. On top of each of her feet was a pale yellow rose, the same color as her rosary beads.— from a letter by St. Bernadette
At this I rubbed my eyes, thinking I was seeing things, and I put my hands into the fold of my dress where my rosary was. I wanted to make the sign of the cross, but for the life of me I couldn't manage it, and my hand just fell down. Then the lady made the sign of the cross herself, and at the second attempt I managed to do the same, though my hands were trembling. Then I began to say the rosary. I asked my two companions if they had noticed anything, but they said no. Of course, they wanted to know what I was doing, and I told them that I had seen a lady wearing a nice white dress, though I didn't know who she was. I told them not to say anything about it, and they said I was silly to have anything to do with it. I said they were wrong, and I came back next Sunday, feeling myself drawn to the place....
The third time I went, the lady spoke to me and asked me to come every day for fifteen days. I said I would and then she said that she wanted me to tell the priests to build a chapel there. She also told me to drink from the stream. I went to the Gave, the only stream I could see. Then she made me realize she was not speaking of the Gave, and she indicated a little trickle of water close by. When I got to it I could only find a few drops, mostly mud. I cupped my hands to catch some liquid without success, and then I started to scrape the ground. I managed to find a few drops of water, but only at the fourth attempt was there sufficient for any kind of a drink. The lady then vanished and I went back home.
I went back each day for fifteen days, and each time, except one Monday and one Friday, the lady appeared and told me to look for a stream and wash in it and to see that the priests build a chapel there. I must also pray, she said, for the conversion of sinners. I asked her many times what she meant by that, but she only smiled. Finally, with outstretched arms and eyes looking up to heaven, she told me she was the Immaculate Conception.
During the fifteen days she told me three secrets, but I was not to speak about them to anyone.