Marie Bernarde Soubirous – from Lourdes

Marie Bernarde Soubirous born Janary 7, 1844.  She was the daughter of François Soubirous a miller, and Louise, a laundress. She was the oldest of nine children. She was baptized at the local parish church on January 9, her parents’ wedding anniversary. Her family was extremely poor economic conditions in France.  She was sick as a child, which may have caused her to not fully grow.  She was only 4 foot 7 inches tall.  She got cholera when she was small and had asthma her whole life.  Soubirous attended the day school conducted by the Sisters of Charity and Christian Instruction from Nevers. She spoke very little French, she didn’t begin to study until she was 13.  She could barely read or write because she was ill so often.  Instead, she spoke Occitan, the language of her region.
Bernadette’s family was so poor they were living in a one-room basement, formerly used as a jail. On February 11, 1858, Bernadette was 14. She was out gathering firewood with her sister and a friend near a small cave, called a grotto.  Bernadette had a vision.  While the other girls crossed a little stream in front of the grotto and walked on.  Bernadette stayed behind looking for a place where she wouldn’t get wet.  She finally sat down to take off her shoes to cross the stream.  When she heard the sound of rushing wind, nothing was moving, except a wild rose in a small crevice. Behind the crevice was a dark alcove.  There was a bright white light and a white figure.  This was the first of 18 visions of what she thought was a small young lady.  But Bernadette’s sister and a friend hadn’t seen it.   

On February 14, after Sunday Mass, Bernadette, her sister, and some other girls went back to the grotto. Bernadette knelt down immediately, saying she saw the apparition again. When one of the girls threw holy water at the niche and another threw a rock from above that shattered on the ground, the apparition disappeared. On her next visit, February 18, Bernadette said the vision asked her to return to the grotto every day for a fortnight.  A fortnight is two weeks.

Almost every day for these two weeks, now called the “holy fortnight”, the vision appeared.   Initially, Bernadette’s parents, especially her mother, were embarrassed.  They tried to forbid her to go. The apparition did not identify herself until the seventeenth vision. Although the townspeople who believed she was telling the truth assumed she saw the Virgin Mary, Bernadette never claimed it to be Mary. She described the lady as wearing a white veil, a blue girdle, and with a yellow rose on each foot, similar to the statue of the Virgin in any village church.

Bernadette’s story caused a sensation with the townspeople, who were divided in their opinions on whether or not she was telling the truth. Some believed her to have a mental illness and demanded she be put in an asylum. The others thought Bernadette’s visions were simple and focused on the need for prayer and penance. On February 25she explained that the vision had told her to drink the water of the spring, to wash in it, and to eat the herb that grew there, as an act of penance. To everyone’s surprise, the next day the grotto was no longer muddy but clear water flowed. On March 2, at the thirteenth vision, Bernadette told her family that the lady said that “a chapel should be built and a procession formed”.

On March 25, Bernadette’s 16th vision happened for over an hour.  During that vision, she asked the woman her name, but the lady just smiled back.  She asked three more times, finally the lady said, “I am the Immaculate Conception”  Even though she was interrogated by officials of both the Catholic Church and the French government, she stuck to her story.

After investigation, Catholic Church authorities confirmed the authenticity of the apparitions in 1862. In the 160 years since Bernette dug up the spring, 70 cures have been verified by the Lourdes Medical Bureau as “inexplicable”.  The Catholic Church thoroughly investigates each claim with “extremely rigorous scientific and medical examinations”.  These claims have failed to find any other explanation.
The Lourdes Commission that examined Bernadette after the visions ran an intensive analysis on the water and found that, while it had a high mineral content, it contained nothing out of the ordinary that would account for the cures attributed to it. Bernadette said that it was faith and prayer that cured the sick: “One must have faith and pray; the water will have no virtue without faith”.

Soubirous’s request to the local priest to build a chapel at the site of her visions eventually caused a number of chapels and churches to be built at Lourdes. The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes is now one of the major Catholic pilgrimage sites in the world. One of the churches built at the site, the Basilica of St. Pius X, can accommodate 25,000 people and was dedicated by Pope John XXIII when he was the Papal Nuncio to France. Close to 5 million pilgrims from all over the world visit Lourdes every year to pray, drink and bathe in the water.

Bernadette didn’t like the attention she was attracting, Bernadette went to the hospice school run by the Sisters of Charity.  While there she learned to read and write. Although she considered joining the Carmelites, her health kept from her entering any of the strict orders. On July 29, 1866, with 42 other candidates, she joined the Sisters of Charity at their motherhouse at Nevers. Her Mistress of Novices was Sister Marie Therese Vauzou. The Mother Superior at the time gave her the name Marie-Bernarde in honor of her godmother who was named “Bernarde”. Bernadette was devoted to Saint Bernard, her patron saint; she copied long texts related to him in notebooks and on bits of paper. Becoming ‘Sister Marie-Bernard’ made her realize the great grace she received from the Queen of Heaven brought with it great responsibilities.  

Bernadette spent the rest of her life at the convent working as an assistant in the infirmary and later as a sacristan, creating beautiful embroidery for altar cloths and vestments. Her sister nuns admired her humility and spirit of sacrifice. One day, asked about the apparitions, she answered, Mary, used me as a broom to remove the dust. When the work is done, the broom is put behind the door again.

She followed the development of Lourdes as a pilgrimage shrine while she still lived at Lourdes but was not present for the consecration of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in 1876.

Bernadette’s childhood cholera illness left her with severe, chronic asthma.  She contracted tuberculosis of the lungs and bones. For several months before dying, she was unable to take an active part in the convent life. She eventually died of her long-term illness at the age of 35 on 16 April 16, 1879.  This was the Wednesday after Easter.

Juliana of Nicomedia

Saint Juliana of Nicomedia is said to have suffered Christian martyrdom during the Diocletian persecution in 304. She was popular in the Middle Ages, especially in the Netherlands, as the patron saint of sickness.

Saint Juliana, the daughter of a famous pagan named Africanus, was born in Nicomedia.  Her father was hostile to the Christians. Juliana had secretly chosen to be baptized. As a child was betrothed to Senator Eleusius, a prominent officer from Antioch.  He was one of the emperor’s advisors. When the time of her wedding approached, Juliana refused to be married. This surprised her parents because until then she had never opposed them.  She had been an obedient daughter. Her father urged her not to break her engagement, but when she refused to obey him, he handed her over to the Governor.  Eleusius’ ego was injured and he wanted revenge. He asked about and found out that Juliana had converted to Christianity, without her parents knowing. While she was in prison, her former fiancé, Elusius asked Juliana to marry him, but she again refused. Juliana preferred to die rather than have a pagan as a husband.
Eleusius was filled with hate, flogging her ruthlessly. After that, he burned her face with a hot iron and said to her, “Go now to the mirror to see your beauty”. Juliana answered him with a light smile: “At the resurrection of the righteous, there won’t exist burnings and wounds but only the soul. I prefer to have now the wounds of the body which are temporary, rather than the wounds of the soul which torture eternal.”  Juliana was beheaded. She was partially burned in flames, plunged into a boiling pot of oil, and finally beheaded. Saint Barbara suffered the death of a martyr along with Juliana.

A noble lady named Sephonia came through Nicomedia and took the saint’s body with her to Italy, and had it buried in Campania. This is why Juliana, honored in Nicomedia The veneration of Saint Juliana of Nicomedia became very widespread, especially in the Netherlands. She became known as the patron saint of sickness.

Our Lady of Lourdes

On February 11, 1858, Soubirous went with her sister Toinette and neighbor Jeanne Abadie to collect some firewood. After taking off her shoes and stockings to wade through the water near the Grotto of Massabielle, she said she heard the sound of two gusts of wind but the trees and bushes nearby did not move. A wild rose in a natural niche in the grotto, did move.
She saw a lady dressed in white, wearing a white dress, a blue girdle, and a yellow rose on each foot, the same color as the chain of her rosary; the beads of the rosary were white.  From the dark alcove came a dazzling light.
Soubirous tried to make the sign of the cross but could not, as her hands were trembling. The lady smiled and invited Soubirous to pray the rosary with her. Soubirous tried to keep this a secret, but Toinette told her mother. After parental cross-examination, she and her sister received corporal punishment for their story.
Three days later, February 14, Soubirous returned to the grotto. She had brought holy water as a test that the apparition was not of evil,  She threw holy water in her direction.  She said if the apparition came from God stay, but if not, she must go. The apparition smiled and bowed.
Soubirous’ companions became afraid when they saw her in ecstasy. She remained ecstatic even as they returned to the village. On February 18, she spoke of being told by the Lady to return to the Grotto over a period of two weeks. The Lady only spoke to her a third time.  She told me also that she did not promise to make me happy in this world, but in the next.
Soubirous was ordered by her parents to never go there again. She went anyway.  On February 24, Soubirous said the apparition asked for prayer and penitence for the conversion of sinners.
The next day, she said the apparition asked her to dig in the ground and drink from the spring she found there. This made her dirty and disheveled.  Some of her supporters were concerned, but she revealed the stream that soon became a focal point for pilgrimages. It was muddy at first, the stream became increasingly clean. Word spread, this water was given to medical patients of all kinds.  There were many reports of miraculous cures. 
Seven of these cures were confirmed as lacking any medical explanations by Professor Verges in 1860. The first person with a “certified miracle” was a woman whose right hand had been deformed as a consequence of an accident. Several miracles turned out to be short-term improvements or even hoaxes.  The Catholic Church and government officials became increasingly concerned.  The government fenced off the grotto and issued stiff penalties for anybody trying to get near the off-limits area. Lourdes became a national issue in France.  Emperor Napoleon III with an order to reopen the grotto on October 4, 1858. The church had decided to stay away from the controversy altogether.
Soubirous, knowing the local area well, managed to visit the barricaded grotto under cover of darkness. There, on 25 March, 25, she said she was told: “I am the Immaculate Conception”  On Easter Sunday, April 7, her examining doctor stated that Soubirous, in ecstasy, was observed to have held her hands over a lit candle without sustaining harm. On July 16, Soubirous went for the last time to the grotto. “I have never seen her so beautiful before,” she reported. 

The Catholic Church decided to institute an investigative commission on November 17, 1858. On  January 18, 1860, the local bishop “The Virgin Mary did appear indeed to Bernadette Soubirous.” These events established the Marian veneration in Lourdes, which together with Fátima and the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of the most frequented Marian shrines in the world, and to which between 4 and 6 million pilgrims travel annually.

Soubirous described the apparition as a tiny maiden about 12 years old.  She insisted the apparition was no taller than herself 4 foot, 7 inches tall, Soubirous was small even by the standards of other poorly nourished children.  She described the apparition as dressed in a flowing white robe, with a blue sash around her waist. This was the uniform of a religious group called the Children of Mary, because of her poverty, Soubirous was not allowed to join.  Though she was admitted after the apparitions.

Patron Saint of Nuns and against thunderstorms – Saint Scholastica

Saint Scholastica was born around 480 in Italy. Her parents were wealthy. She dedicated her life to God from the time she was very young. Her father depended on her after Scholastica’s mother had died, and didn’t want her to go, but he could not refuse God his child.  She is the twin sister of Saint Benedict, who formed the Benedictine order. They grew up together until he left home to continue his studies. He created a monastery near Monte Cassino.  She create the first Benedictine convent for nuns about five miles from his monastery. 
They visited each other once a year.  She was not allowed in his monastery, so they met at a home between the two monasteries. They spent their visits praying and discussion spiritual matters.  

At one of these meetings, St. Scholastica begged her brother to stay until the next day.  St. Benedict refused to break his own rule that he not spend the night outside of his monastery.  She prayed and a major thunderstorm came.  It was storming so hard no one could return home. Benedict asked, “What have you done?” 

She answered. “I asked and you would not listen, so I asked my God and He did listen.”

So they spent the rest of the night praying, discussion the faith, and the power of prayer.  The next day, both left.  Three days later Saint Scholastica died. In a vision, Saint Benedict saw her soul, in the form of a shining white dove go to heaven.  She died in 543.  Benedict had her buried in the tomb he had prepared for himself.  She is the patron saint of nuns and against thunderstorms.

Patron saint of dentists and against dental problems – Saint Apollonia

Saint Apollonia was born about the year 200.  She was one of a group of virgin martyrs who suffered in Alexandria during a local uprising just before the persecution of Decius. According to church tradition, her torture included having all of her teeth violently pulled out or shattered.

During festivities to commemorate the millennium of the founding of Rome, people formed a mob Alexandria, when a poet prophesied a disaster.  A Christian man and woman, Metras and Quinta, were seized and killed by the mob.  The houses of several other Christians were pillaged.

Apollonia, a deaconess was important in her community.  Men seized her too and with repeated blows broke all her teeth. Outside the city gates, they build a pile of wood and threatened to burn her alive if she didn’t renounce her faith. At her request, she was given a little freedom. She sprang quickly into the fire and was burned to death in 249.

Apollonia and a whole group of early martyrs didn’t wait for the death they were threatened with.  Either to preserve their chastity or because they had to renounce their faith or die, they voluntarily embraced the death prepared for them.  Some thought this was too much like suicide. Saint Augustine of Hippo touches on this question in the first book of The City of God.  If during a persecution holy women plunged into the water with the intention of being swept away by the waves and drowned, to preserve their threatened chastity. Although they quit life, they receive high honor as martyrs in the Catholic Church.  It may or may not be the case this was the command of God, not erroneously but through obedience, as we must believe in the case of Samson? When, however, God gives a command and makes it clearly known, who would account obedience there to a crime or condemn such pious devotion and ready service?

She was revered in the Alexandrian Church, as a martyr.  She is popularly invoked against the toothache because of the torments she had to endure. She is popularly regarded as the patroness of dentistry and those suffering from toothache or other dental problems. In some areas of Italy, Saint Apollonia is seen in the role of the tooth fairy, collecting children’s fallen baby teeth while they sleep and leaving a gift in exchange. Her image is the side support of the arms of the British Dental Association.