Saint Bernadette Soubirous

The Soubirous family lived in the far north of the little town of Lourdes, in
the Lapaca district. A large stream flowed there, and on this stream there were
seven mills; one of them known as the Boly Mill, and this had been the residence
of the Soubirous. Francois Soubirous leased the mill from relatives of his wife,
Louise. In many ways, it was the trade of the miller that had brought the couple
together. They had married on the parish church on 9th January 1843. By 1855,
the family income had decreased drastically - trade was not good at the mill,
and the Soubirous were not the best of business people; often filled with pity
for the poor of the local people, they would tell their customers to pay when
they were able to, and they never refused credit. And of course there was the
family to raise, which further drained their resources. No longer being able to
pay for the rent of the mill, the Soubirous were forced to quit their dwellings,
give up the millers trade and take on whatever work they could find for
themselves. Francois Soubirous recalled that another relative owned a building
in the Rue des Petits Fossés - this building was the former Lourdes jail. The
old jail was locally known as "the Cachot". The Soubirous were allowed to remain
there rent-free. Each evening, the family gathered around the old fireplace for
family prayers. This concluded with the recitation of the Rosary - often led by
one of the Soubirous girls, Bernadette.


The marriage of Francois Soubirous and Louise Casterot produced six children.
The eldest of these was Bernadette. She was born on 7th January 1844, and was
baptized the next day by Abbé Forgues in the old parish church, being given the
name of 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
expecting 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 15 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 nurses to tear open her chest so that
she might breathe. Because of her delicate constitution, her parents would
attempt to give her little bits 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 luxurious
feast. When she was ten, Bernadette was again separated 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 minimize the effects of the cold on
Bernadette 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 the summer of 1857, she returned to stay with Marie Aravant for a few
months, working as a shepherdess. There was a great affection between the two.
Bernadette celebrated her fourteenth birthday in Bartres, but there still 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.
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 Fossés.

On the 11th of February 1858 Bernadette together with her sister and a friend
were sent in search of firewood; their search took them along woodland paths
past the savvy mill and the canal and down to the bank of the river Gave,
opposite the Grotto of Massabielle. While the two other girls hurriedly crossed
the stream Bernadette hesitated, fearful of the cold water and her mother\'s
warnings about her asthma. Suddenly there was a sound of wind and looking up
Bernadette saw, in a niche high up in the rock, the figure of a lady dressed in
white and holding a rosary. The Lady, as Bernadette later called her, appeared
to Bernadette a total of eighteen times. On the 18th of February the