Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 11, 2005
Pilgrims worship, venerate saint
Bernadette of Lourds lived her life as a Sister of Charity at the Convent of St. Gildard
St. Bernadette — Feast Day — April 16
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Most are familiar with the story of Bernadette, the peasant girl of Lourdes and her encounters with the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1858. Millions have journeyed to the sites of the appearances since then, and hundreds of cures resulting from visits to the miraculous grotto of Massabielle are on record.
Bernadette is honoured by several statues on the grounds of the shrine at Lourdes and in 1988, a large new church dedicated to her, was constructed across the River Gave from the grotto.
In the ensuing 147 years, replicas of the Lourdes grotto and shrines to Our Lady of Lourdes have become popular and many churches and schools bear the name of the French town where the apparitions took place. But what became of the uneducated teenager who was graced with the supernatural visits?
Following the last apparition on July 16, Bernadette vanished from the public eye. Her later life, though unextraordi-nary, provides lessons to the faithful. It can be investigated in the quiet surroundings of a shrine to the girl who was elevated to become St. Mary-Bernarda Soubirous by Pope Pius XI in 1933.
Born in 1844, she departed this world 35 years later at the Convent of St. Gildard in the central French Loire River city of Nevers. This had been her home since her acceptance by the Sisters of Charity there in 1866, and is today a popular pilgrimage destination.
Visitors tend to loiter in the restfully landscaped convent grounds for the opportunity to get a feeling for the saint's life there. She is said to have particularly enjoyed spending free time at the statue of Our Lady of the Waters, half-shaded in a leafy bower.
Today, all are free to kneel, pray or meditate at the spot where Bernadette said, "It is she who reminds me most of the Virgin I saw."
Isolated St. Joseph's Chapel, restored following bomb damage in 1944, is another place where she enjoyed praying. Noteworthy is a stained glass window, an idealized portrayal of Our Lady, rosary in her hands, with a halo announcing Je Suis L'immacul‚e Conception.
After a life time of ill health and 13 years of self discipline, humility and service, Sister Marie-Bernard, as she was called at St. Gildard's, finally succumbed to tuberculosis on April 16, 1879. Her body was first interred beneath the floor of tiny St. Joseph's chapel, but was moved in 1925 to its present place in the convent.
Constructed five years after her death, another place on the grounds that attracts attention is a small-scale replica of the Grotto of Massabielle at Lourdes with a marble sculpture of a kneeling St. Bernadette. It's arranged to accommodate groups for recitation of the rosary or to attend Mass at a tiny altar.
Entering the convent chapel, pilgrims pass another memorial, a statue of the saint in the habit of the congregation, looking heavenwards, rosary in her hands.
The chapel is austere, illuminated in part by polychrome Roman windows. A wooden altar table, backed by a large crucifix, occupies the five-sided apse. The objective of all who come here is to attend Mass and to venerate the perfectly preserved body of the saint in a small side-chapel where she reposes in eternal serenity in a simple glass case.
Before leaving, many choose to devote some of their time at Nevers to relax again in the stillness of the convent grounds to meditate on what it takes to join the ranks of officially designated saints and perhaps to pray to St. Mary Bernarda Soubirous for guidance in their own lives.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.