Born: Jan. 7th, 1844
Died: Apr. 16th, 1879
FEast: Apr. 16th
Shepherds, illness, Lourdes, people ridiculed for their faith, poverty, asthma
Bernadette was born into a family living in poverty in Lourdes, France. Her mother was a laundry worker and her father was a miller. The parents and nine children lived in the basement of a collapsing building owned by a cousin that used to be a jail and that likely was not safe from the elements and decay. Because of this, Bernadette was very short and very sick when she was young with asthma, cholera, and other illnesses. She was sent to school, but often had to miss class and did not take her First Communion because of her illnesses.
When she was 14, she, a friend, and her younger sister went to gather firewood near a cave called Massabielle. As they were leaving, the other girls ran across the water while Bernadette hung back to find a place to cross where she wouldn't get her socks wet and add further to her illnesses. She had given up and sat down to take off her socks when she heard wind but saw nothing move but a small rose in the cave. She then saw, above the rose, a bright light illuminating the cave and a figure in white and blue.
She saw that the figure was a young, teenage woman who was small and short and had yellow roses at her feet and a rosary on her right arm. Bernadette took out her own rosary and knelt down to pray.
When she and the other girls returned to the spot 3 days later, Bernadette could see the woman again and began to pray. The other girls could not, and threw both water and rock at the spot, ending the vision for Bernadette.
She returned alone for 20 days, however, since the woman in the vision had asked her to. On the 17th visit, she told Bernadette "I am the Immaculate Conception". Someone had to explain to Bernadette what that meant, but even after, she still simply referred to her as a lady rather than St. Mary.
Her family was so embarrassed about Bernadette's trips and tried to keep her from going. Word was spreading about it around their town and people were demanding Bernadette be sent to an asylum for being mentally ill. Some believed her, and others thought it meant she needed to pray for forgiveness for something she had done!
In one of the visions, the lady had asked her to drink and wash in the water there, and the next day, the filthy water ran clear. The vision after asked her to build a chapel in that spot.
Bernadette was interrogated by Church authorities about the visions. Despite being known as rather unintelligent, she told the same story every time. In 1862, it was finally declared that she had been telling the truth. She asked a local priest to build chapel there, where people could come and wash in the water. Since then, there have been 70 cases of people miraculously cured after doing so, which cannot be explained by other methods.
Because of all the attention she had received after this, Bernadette decided she wanted to escape the spotlight and tend to her health by joining a religious order. She had obstacles to overcome in doing this, especially since some of the sisters assumed she would be too much work for them to take care of because she was so sick. However, she was accepted and she learned to read and write while there and worked as a nurse assistant and created embroidered pieces for the church.
She eventually contracted tuberculosis as well, and on top of her other diseases, she was unable to work for the last several months of her life. She passed away at only 35 years old.
30 years later, it was claimed that when Bernadette's body was checked up on, the materials she was buried with had decomposed but her body had not. Doctors confirmed that it was miraculous that this had happened, and could not explain why it had stayed so well-preserved. Wax molds were made of her face and hands so that her body could be put on view in the chapel dedicated to her in Nevers, France. She was canonized in 1933.
Since then, about 5 million people visit Lourdes each year to wash in the water at the cave and pray in the spot of Bernadette's visions.
People Never hear the voices of the poor, the sick, & the marginalized as loudly as they can hear the voices of those with power. You know how it felt to be disbelieved, written off, laughed at. You suffered greatly. But it is because of these things that Mary chose you. Please pray that those overlooked by society will not be overlooked by God.
One of the references for this portrait was a roommate of mine who had chosen Bernadette as her confirmation saint. I wanted her eyes to convey the other-worldly things she had seen. I also wanted her expression to be confident in herself despite pressure - something in which my roommate also excelled.