Rediscover our patron,
St. Bernadette, in questions and answers compiled by Fr. Regis-Marie de La Teyssonniere, chaplain of the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes.
Q1. Who was Bernadette?
Bernadette Soubirous was the oldest daughter of Francois Soubirous, a miller, and Louise Casterot, a miller’s daughter. She was born at Boly Mill in Lourdes on January 7 1844. She was baptised at her local parish church in Lourdes on January 9 1844 on the day of her parents first wedding anniversary.
Q2. Did Bernadette have a happy childhood?
Bernadette suffered from asthma from an early age. She was mortified when her father, accused of having stolen two bags of flour, was thrown into prison. Nevertheless Bernadette’s childhood was still happy because of her parents’ love. Despite their extreme poverty, love was at the heart of the family who remained united throughout times of hardship. Pride, humility and prayer were perhaps the three pillars of the Soubirous household. This privileged family environment ensured that Bernadette was not just a happy child but it also played a huge part in the rest of her life, creating a very well adjusted individual.
Q3. What were Bernadette’s main characteristics?
Bernadette had a lively, playful temperament. She described herself as “fiery”. She would react instantly, sometimes impulsively. Her spontaneity and marked intelligence made her quite mischievous. But her austerity, willpower and sense of duty made her a determined person, who would not allow herself to be distracted or drawn away from her path.
Q4. How did Bernadette behave towards others?
Bernadette was a likeable person who was close to her own kin but distant with others. She would see the positive side of things and her sense of humour enabled her to cope with all situations with serenity. Deep down in her heart was a joy for life which was both simple and unconstrained. However she also knew how to dodge meetings that she didn’t interest her and to abscond from situations that bored her. The latter revealed as aspect of her personality that was a little wild but it was one of which she was fully aware.father, accused of having stolen two bags of flour, was thrown into prison. Nevertheless Bernadette’s childhood was still happy because of her parents’ love. Despite their extreme poverty, love was at the heart of the family who remained united throughout times of hardship. Pride, humility and prayer were perhaps the three pillars of the Soubirous household. This privileged family environment ensured that Bernadette was not just a happy child but it also played a huge part in the rest of her life, creating a very well adjusted individual.
Q5. Is it true that Bernadette was unable to read or write: if so, why?
Bernadette was already 13 year old when she started to learn French and to read and write. Until then, Bernadette only spoke a local dialect. As the elder sister, she was put in charge of her younger brothers and sisters while her parents worked. Her need to work to support her family coupled with her poor health prevented her from going to school.
Q6. Why do we call her “Saint Bernadette”?
Bernadette didn’t become a saint because she saw the Blessed Virgin but because she lived out the Gospel. Moreover, Bernadette was very conscious that she had to be “worthy of heaven”. This meant that she had to put into practice what she had learnt from the catechism and the Virgin Mary. In fact, Bernadette didn’t even consider herself a saint. Bernadette was canonised on 8 Dec 1933. Her feast day is celebrated each year on Feb 8.
Q7. What did Bernadette say about the “Lourdes water”?
When Bernadette was asked how much Lourdes water should be given to a sick person, she simply replied:” A drop is enough, it’s faith that counts.”
Q8: Is it true that Bernadette’s body is still intact more than a century after her death?
Following several exhumations, medical experts agreed that Bernadette’s body was still intact. It is now on display at a reliquary at the convent in Nevers. It is, without doubt, a sign to reinforce our faith in the resurrection of the body. On April 7 1858 on the Wednesday after Easter, Bernadette’s candle slipped between her hands without burning her. Perhaps this “miracle” heralded the preservation of Bernadette’s body after her death also on a Wednesday after Easter!
Q9. What happened to Bernadette on February 11 1858?
Bernadette described the woman who appeared to her as “a little lady about the same height as me”. She had no idea who this beautiful lady was who was smiling at her. She was scared. She explained that when she made the sign of the cross at the same time as the lady, not only her fear vanish but she also experienced great peace inside.
Q10. What did the Blessed Virgin look like when she appeared to Bernadette?
Bernadette described the Blessed Virgin as a “beautiful woman”, “always smiling”, “about the same height as me”. She explained: “She was wearing a long veil, a white dress with a blue belt. She had a yellow rose on each foot and a rosary in her hand.” When someone asked Bernadette if the “lady” was as beautiful as Madam Pailhasson, a pretty, high profile woman in Lourdes society, Bernadette replied: ”She’s no match”. In other words, a comparison was not possible.
Q11: How would you describe Bernadette’s faith?
Bernadette always put God first in her life. Her whole existence was revolved around God. Her relationship with Him was a sign of great faith and infinite trust. Even during times of adversity, difficulty and suffering, Bernadette remained steadfast, happy to say, “If the Good Lord allows it.”
Q12. Why did the Blessed Virgin choose Bernadette?
In Bernadette’s own words “Mary chose me because I was the most innocent thing. If she had found someone more innocent than me, she would have chosen her instead.”