It is almost certain that when I meet someone, they will express their appreciation for the beauty of my name and will ask about its origin. My personal prayer is that many more will come to find beauty, admiration, and love for Our Lady of Lourdes, after whom I am named.
The Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes is on February 11—this was the first day in 1858 when Our Lady appeared to a peasant girl named Bernadette Soubirous, who was 14 years old at the time. Centuries before, the Grotto of Massabielle was a military base for France. However, in 1858, it was no longer a military base but a muddy grotto. On February 11, St. Bernadette, along with her sister and a friend, went to gather firewood for the family. When the three girls went out, Bernadette was told to stay on one side of the river, out of concern that her asthma would be triggered if she traveled through the freezing water.
Alone, Bernadette heard a noise near the bushes, and suddenly a lady appeared to her, inviting her to come closer. Bernadette described her as being the most beautiful woman she has ever seen—veiled, dressed in white, with a blue sash around her waist, yellow roses at her feet, and a Rosary in her arm. She seemed to be as young as 17. As Bernadette attempted to make the Sign of the Cross, her arm was paralyzed; it wasn't until the Lady made the Sign of the Cross first that the girl was able to move. As Bernadette prayed the Rosary, each bead slipped through the Lady’s hand as well. The Lady prayed silently except on the “Glory Be,” when she prayed aloud with Bernadette.
Afterwards, the young lady told her sister the story, but did not tell her mother, concerned she would not receive the news well. However, the visitation of the Lady occupied Bernadette’s conscience, and eventually, she told the whole story. She was accused of having illusions and was prohibited to return to the Grotto. Bernadette regretted this, though she was convinced that the Lady’s visitation was real and internally sensed the Lady’s invitation for Bernadette to return to the Grotto. Therefore, her mother eventually allowed her to return.
Bernadette returned to the Grotto on many of the following days: February 14, 18, 19, 20, 21, 23, 24, 25, 27, and 28. She visited the Grotto periodically in March, April, and finally, July. I urge you to use the interactive timeline at the end of this article to contemplate Our Lady’s visitation, imagining how Saint Bernadette felt in the midst of Our Lady’s presence. How would you have behaved in front of our Mother if you were Saint Bernadette? Reflecting on each apparition, ask yourself: “How can I invite Our Lady into my life today?”
Today, Lourdes, France is a place of pilgrimage where thousands travel from all over the world to drink from the miraculous spring. A recent miracle is that of a 79-year-old nun, Sister Bernadette Moriau, who healed from spinal complications which had made her wheelchair-bound and fully disabled. In 2008, she made a pilgrimage to Lourdes, where she attended a blessing for the sick, stating that she was not looking for a miracle. However, after visiting Lourdes, she felt the urge to remove her braces. After 28 years of not being able to walk, she was moving, and wheelchair, braces, and medications were no longer needed. When the case was sent to the International Medical Committee, they concluded that there was no scientific explanation for the cure, and so they sent the case to the local bishop, who made the final statement.
In 2018, this case was officially recognized as a miracle during Mass said by Bishop Benoit-Gonin of France. As miracles must be complete, spontaneous, immediate, and documented to be officially recognized by the Church, there are approximately 70 miracles declared official—although there have been 70,000 claimed miracles and instances of healings due to the intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes.
From St. Pope John Paul II’s prayer to Our Lady: Holy Mary, Mother of believers, Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us. Amen.