By Kelly Wise Valdes

This month we are learning some interesting history about Our Lady of Lourdes, who was born in Lourdes, France in January 1844 as Bernadette Soubirous. Bernadette was a sickly child of poor parents.

A series of events, which began in 1854, changed their lives. After her father lost his job, the family ended up living in a one-room dwelling that was formerly used as a jail. During this same period, Bernadette contracted cholera. The high fevers caused her to suffer physically the rest of her life.

People often shunned her because of her poor family. Her physical illnesses prevented her from going to school. At age 14 she was unable to read or write. She went to Mass, but she was not allowed to receive Holy Communion. Later, a priest prepared Bernadette for First Holy Communion. There was something about the young girl that moved the Hosts of Heavenly Hearts. Shortly after, she was blessed with 18 divine apparitions said to be the Virgin Mary.

The first apparition appeared on February 11, 1858. Bernadette and her sister went to the river to gather wood. They had to cross small canal, but because of her sickness, Bernadette stayed on the bank of the canal to wait for her sister to return with wood. While waiting, Bernadette heard a loud noise like a storm, but nothing was moving. She looked toward the nearby grotto and saw a rosebush in an opening of a large rock. The bush was moving as if it were very windy. Then a golden-colored cloud came out of the grotto, and a young and beautiful lady appeared. The lady immediately smiled and signaled Bernadette to advance. Bernadette took out her rosary and knelt before the lady, who also had a rosary on her right arm. Bernadette prayed the rosary and the lady passed the beads of her rosary between her fingers, but remained silent. When the recitation of the rosary was finished, the lady disappeared.

When Bernadette told her mother her encounter, her mother told her that these were illusions, and forbid her to return to the grotto. But, Bernadette did return to the grotto where the apparition appeared to her 17 more times. When word spread, thousands of people followed her to the holy site.

Ultimately, Bernadette joined the order of the Sisters of Charity. Throughout her life she remained sickly and eventually she died a holy death on April 16, 1879. She was 34-years-old.

Her body was exhumed 30 years later in 1909 where body was found in perfect condition. A second exhumation took place 10 years later and was found in the same state of preservation. Her body was placed in a coffin of gold and glass and can be viewed to this very day in the Chapel of Saint Bernadette in Nevers, France.

Stay tuned next month while we explore the life of St. Francis de Sales.