On February 11, 1858, 13 year old Bernadette Soubirous was out collecting firewood with 2 other children. The others had run ahead and left Bernadette behind, and as she was preparing to cross the Gave River she heard a peculiar sound. Looking up, Bernadette noticed that one of the caves by the river bank was glowing with a golden light. She then saw a beautiful lady dressed in a pure white robe with a blue sash, a veil over her head, a rosary in her hands, and yellow roses at her feet. The Lady asked her to pray her rosary, and by the time she had finished praying the Lady had vanished.
She went back the next Sunday and saw the Lady again, and the next time she went back the Lady told Bernadette that she should return every day for 15 days. She asked Bernadette to pray for the conversion of sinners and to tell the priests to build a chapel on that site. She also told Bernadette to scrape away the soil in a particular spot, revealing the spring of water that is still there today. Bernadette was kept from going to the Grotto several times, but during the sixteenth apparition, on March 25, 1858, which is the Solemnity of the Annunciation, when the Archangel appeared to Mary to announce the conception of Jesus in her womb, the Lady finally revealed her identity to Bernadette. She told her, “I am the Immaculate Conception,” revealing herself to be the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. Bernadette didn’t understand what this meant, but others did, and people flocked to Lourdes in even greater numbers than before.
The finding of the spring of water and the miraculous healings that have resulted from it are proof that the apparition was true, and that the Lady really was the Mother of God. On one occasion in 1902 Dr. Alexis Carrell, an agnostic and a physician, accompanied the train bringing the sick to Lourdes as a favor to a friend, and out of professional curiosity about what was causing these stories of miraculous healings. On the train he met a girl, Marie Bailly, who was suffering from tuberculous peritonitis. He was standing right behind her when the Lourdes water was poured over her stomach and saw her physical symptoms, abdominal distension with large hard masses, gradually disappear. By the next day she was able to get up and dress herself, to eat without stomach pains, and to take the train ride back to Lyon. Subsequent testing showed her to be completely and inexplicably cured. It would take another 40 years for Dr. Carrell to fully accept the faith, but he would eventually return to the Catholic Church. In the meantime, he lost he job with the medical faculty of Lyons for defending the account of the event and being open to a miraculous explanation.
These miracles are an awesome proof of Our Lady of Lourdes, but we must remember that they point us back to Our Lady herself and the message that she gave to St. Bernadette. She told her to pray for the conversion of sinners and to urge people, “Penitence, penitence, penitence!” On the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and the anniversary of her first appearance to St. Bernadette, let all remember to pray not only for cures of physical ailments, but also for conversion of heart for ourselves and for all sinners.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.