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Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes: The Story of the Miraculous Healing of Sr. Jeanne Fretel, OSB
This feast commemorates the first of eighteen apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary witnessed by St. Bernadette Soubirous. On February 11, 1858, Bernadette a poor, sickly child of a local peasant family, first glimpsed, “something white in the shape of a girl” in a grotto near Lourdes, France. Later questioned by Church officials, Bernadette stated that she saw, “a pretty young girl with a rosary over her arm.” The girl, Bernadette said, was “lovelier than I have ever seen.” Perhaps because of her lowly background, Bernadette was deeply impressed by the polite and dignified way the Lady treated her. On March 25, 1858, during her sixteenth appearance, the Lady identified herself as “the Immaculate Conception,” a dogma solemnly proclaimed by Pope Pius IX, on December 8, 1854, in Ineffabilis Deus.
Fourteen-year-old Bernadette Soubrious was collecting firewood together with her two younger sisters near the small market town of Lourdes. At some point, Bernadette became separated from her siblings and come upon a rock grotto next to the river. Here the future saint first saw the apparition of the Blessed Virgin, Our Lady of Lourdes, dressed in white with a blue sash and a yellow rose on each foot. Our Lady made the sign of the cross in silence before disappearing.
Bernadette would return to the grotto a second time, but it was during Mary’s third appearance that she addressed Bernadette, asking her to come to the grotto daily for two weeks. Bernadette agreed, and news of the apparitions quickly spread. On another occasion, Our Lady instructed Bernadette to tell the ecclesiastical authorities to build a church at the grotto and to hold processions.
Our Lady also told Bernadette to drink and wash in a spring hidden under the sand. At Mary’s prompting, the young seer began to dig the muddy ground revealing a spring whose water, the Blessed Virgin assured, offered miraculous curative powers and divine healing. Today, this water is credited in the spiritual and physical restoration of innumerable souls. Since the springs discovery over 200 million people have pilgrimaged to Lourdes for healing. A basilica was soon constructed over the Gave de Pau River. The Church has officially documented some seventy miraculous cures at Lourdes, including that of Sr. Jeanne Fretel.