The marriage of FrancoisSoubirous and Louise Casterot produced six children. The eldest of these was Bernadette.
She was born of 7th January 1844, and was baptised the next day by the Abbe Forgues in the old parish church, being given the name Marie Bernarde. Because of her small stature, she was always referred to by the diminutive form of the name, Bernadette.
Six months later, Louise was again expexting a child; because of this, Bernadette was entrusted to the care of a woman in near-by Bartres, Marie Aravant, who had just lost a baby boy. She stayed there for fifteen months.
From her birth,
Bernadette was a weak child, suffering even then from the asthma which would
cause her so much suffering that later, in the convent, she would beg the nuns
to tear open her chest that she might breathe. Because of her delicate
constitution, her parents would endeavour to give her little morsels of food not
available to the other children, such as white bread instead of black.
Invariably, the young girl would share these treats with her siblings – often
missing out herself on the sumptuous feast.
When she was ten, Bernadette was again seperated from her beloved family; the winter of 1855 was exceptionally cold and there was little work for the poor miller. Louise’s sister, Bernarde, offered to take Bernadette for a while to relieve the pressure on the family and to minimise the effects of the cold on Bernadettes’ health. She stayed with her aunt Bernarde for seven months, until the weather improved sufficiently and there was more work available for Francois, enabling him to feed his family properly.
Bernadette left Lourdes one more time – in summer of 1857, she returned to stay with Marie Aravant for a few months, working for her as a shephardesst. There was also a great affection between the two. Bernadette celebrated her fourteenth birthday here in Bartres, but still there had been no mention of her making her First Holy Communion; Marie Aravant tried to teach Bernadette about the Faith – but described her as being thick-headed;
“It was useless to for me to repeat my lessons; I always had to begin again. Sometimes I was overcome by impatience and I would throw my book aside and say to her, ‘Go along, you will never be anything but a little fool'”.
Marie asked the priest for advice – he said Bernadette should return to Lourdes to begin her Catechism classes. And so, in the early days of 1858, Bernadette returned to the Rue des Petits Fosses.
And return, she did.
She visited a local grotto,
Later in life she became a Sister of Charity of Nevers, and was besieged by many faithful and religious.
Bernadette (in religion, Sister Marie-Bernarde) spent the latter part of her life at the convent, saying that she had come to hide herself. She sought God in the silence of the cloister, serving Him in humility and under the vows of her profession as a Sister of Charity of Nevers. She lived in the convent for thirteen years, spending a large portion of this time ill in the infirmary – when a fellow sister accused her of being a ‘lazybones’, she said that her ‘job’ was “to be ill”.
Bernadette died on 16th April 1879.
The Lady of Lourdes had kept the promise She made to Bernadette in 1858 – “I do not promise to make you happy in this world, but in the next”.
Although the apparitions of Our Lady at
Lourdes were over for Bernadette (at least in this life), their message and
mission were never to be forgotten. Bernadette silently offered all of her
sufferings, internal and external, for the benefit of “poor sinners”