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Memorial of St. Bernadette of Lourdes

Today is the feastday of our Sr. Rita Marie of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, CP, one of the first four local vocations to our monastery.
Born: October 15, 1931
Professed: September 25, 1952
Died: April 11, 2009

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St. Bernadette was born in Lourdes, France on January 7, 1844. When she was fourteen,  a very beautiful lady appeared to her above a rose bush in a grotto. The woman wore blue and white and smiled at Bernadette before making the sign of the cross with a rosary of ivory and gold. Bernadette fell to her knees, took out her own rosary and began to pray. Though her sister and friend claimed they were unable to see her, Bernadette knew what she saw was real. Three days later, Bernadette, her sister Marie, and other girls returned to the grotto, where Bernadette immediately knelt, saying she could see the lady again. She fell into a trance and one girl threw holy water at the niche and another threw a rock that shattered on the ground. It was then that the apparition disappeared.

On February 18, Bernadette said "the vision" asked her to return to the grotto each day for a fortnight. With each visit, Bernadette saw the Virgin Mary and the period of daily visions became known as the "holy fortnight." When Bernadette began to visit the grotto, her parents were embarrassed and attempted to stop her, but were unable to do so. On February 25, Bernadette claimed to have had a life-changing vision. The vision had told her "to drink of the water of the spring, to wash in it and to eat the herb that grew there" as an act of penance. The next day, the grotto's muddy waters had been cleared and fresh clear water flowed.

On March 2, at the thirteenth of the apparitions, Bernadette told her family the lady said "a chapel should be built and a procession formed." During her sixteenth vision, Bernadette claimed she had asked the woman her name, but her question was only met with a smile. Bernadette asked again, three more times, and finally the woman said, "I am the Immaculate Conception."

Church authorities and the French government rigorously interviewed the girl, and by 1862 they confirmed she spoke truth. Since Bernadette first caused the spring to produce clean water, 69 cures have been verified by the Lourdes Medical Bureau, and after what the Church claimed were "extremely rigorous scientific and medical examinations," no one was able to explain what caused the cures. Bernadette asked the local priest to build a chapel at the site of her visions and the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes is now one of the major Catholic pilgrimage sites in the world. 

Following the miracles and constructions, Bernadette decided she did not like the attention she was getting and went to the hospice school run by the Sisters of Charity of Nevers, where she was taught to read and write. On July 29, 1866, Bernadette took the religious habit of a postulant and joined the Sisters of Charity at their motherhouse. Bernadette spent the rest of her life there working as an infirmary assistant, and later a sacristan. People admired her humility and spirit of sacrifice. Once a nun asked her if she had temptations of pride because she was favored by the Blessed Mother. "How can I?" she answered quickly. "The Blessed Virgin chose me only because I was the most ignorant."

Unfortunately, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the bone in her right knee and was unable to take part in convent life. She died in the Sainte Croix (Holy Cross) Infirmary of the Convent of Saint-Gildard at the age of 35 on April 16, 1879, while praying the holy rosary.

Thirty years layer, on September 22, two doctors and a sister of the community exhumed her body. They claimed the crucifix and rosary she carried had been oxidized but her body remained incorrupt. The incorruption was cited as one of the miracles supporting her canonization.

Saint Bernadette is often depicted in prayer with a rosary or appealing to the Holy Virgin. She was beatified in 1925 and canonized by Pope Piuis XI in December 1933. Saint Bernadette is the patroness of illness, people ridiculed for their piety, poverty, shepherds, shepherdesses, and Lourdes, France.