Thursday, February 11, 2010

St. Bernadette (Jan. 7, 1844 to April 16, 1879) and Our Lady of Lourdes

A few days before my mom passed away many years ago, I took a late night drive to St. Anne's Shrine in Fall River, Mass. to light some candles and ask that her suffering end and she die peacefully. It was a familiar place that I went to as a child and I remember, at Christmastime, how much I loved looking at the candles flickering in their green, blue, and red holders.
In the basement of the church (which was modeled after St. Anne de Beaupre Cathedral in Quebec, Canada), there were statues of all the popular saints, and lesser known ones like Martin de Porres, and I would listen intently as my mom and grandmother told their stories as we went from one to the other.
But, tonight would be different. I was 26 years older and would just be stopping at my mom's favorite depiction of St. Bernadette of Lourdes kneeling in a grotto before the Virgin Mary.
"She's French like you are," I could here my mom's voice say as I lit a candle and knelt down. My mom was brought up at a time when Italians and French could not go to the same parish (my mom was Italian and my dad was French) and she always made it a point to remind me of my ethnicity. She would mention time and again how much she adored the movie "The Song of Bernadette" (1943) and its star Jennifer Jones.
I began to pray and, in moments, I felt a sense of relief that it wouldn't be long before my mom would join her brother, parents, everyone else she missed and loved who had gone before her, St. Bernadette, and Our Lady of Lourdes.
St. Bernadette Soubirous, a young peasant girl, was born on Jan. 7, 1844 in Lourdes, France in the Pyrenees. On Feb. 11, 1858, she saw the first of 18 apparitions of a beautiful woman dressed in white with a blue ribbon sash (the Virgin Mary) in a grotto. The last sighting was on July 16 (which happens to be my mom's birthday and the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel) of that year.
One day the apparition told Bernadette to drink from a fountain which she could not see that was at the grotto. The young girl touched the ground and water burst forth from a spring. Another day the woman in white told her to tell the priests to build a chapel there. One priest said to Bernadette that he would not believe her unless the mysterious apparition gave her its name.
On March 25 (the Feast of the Annunciation), Bernadette asked the Virgin Mary her name and she said "I am the Immaculate Conception." The fourteen-year-old did not know what that meant and the priest explained that in 1854, the Pope declared the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Four years after Bernadette saw the Virgin Mary the bishop of the diocese declared Our Lady a reality. A basilica was built and in 1873 the pilgrimages began.
St. Bernadette died on April 16, 1879 in Nevers, France. Her body was exhumed three times (1909, 1919, and 1925) and was not decomposed which is a miracle to support canonization. Hers took place on Dec. 8, (Feast of the Immaculate Conception) 1933. The Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes is Feb. 11. St. Bernadette's Feast Day is celebrated on Feb. 18 and April 16.
A few months before my mom died, I learned of the passing of a young genealogist I knew from my days of employment at the Rhode Island Historical Society Library. Bob, who was just a few years older than me, was a auto mechanic who spent his spare time at the library researching family histories. He even wrote a genealogy guide.
Bob was the type of person that you could go months without seeing and then he'd show up out of nowhere and brighten your day. He'd fill me in on his adventures, ask me about mine, and then go to a table and do his research. One day he told me he wasn't feeling well but he didn't say how sick he really was with cancer.
I remember the last time I saw Bob which was a little more than a year before he died. He said that a miracle had happened. I was so excited thinking that he meant the cancer was gone. He told me that he still had it but just returned from a special trip to Lourdes, France where he visited the shrine and got some water from the Holy spring. He said he was cured.
I didn't get what Bob meant until I knelt in front of the statue of St. Bernadette and Our Lady in the grotto in St. Anne's Shrine a few days before my mom died. Through St. Bernadette, Bob found peace and had accepted what was going to happen to him. That was the miracle. And, I'm convinced that St. Bernadette is here to help those of us who believe.

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