Voluntary Work

Bernadette

Saint Bernadette Soubirous

Since her arrival in Nevers in 1866 to enter the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of Nevers, the spirit of Bernadette Soubirous has never ceased to inhabit the place.
We hear about the trivial and important moments of her story, her life dedicated to the service of others, her intact body, her words and prayers, her joys and pains, the many volunteers who, attracted by Bernadette, come from far and near to be at the service of the pilgrims and the sanctuary.

Her sayings

Her writings and sayings…

Bernadette only learned to read and write at the age of 14.  Her writings, as a Sister of Charity of Nevers in Nevers, include her “Personal Notes”   (1873-1874), a few of her jottings  and some family correspondance.

What she said about her encounters with the Lady

She was looking at me.  It was just like two people in conversation.

What she said about her choice of life

I love to take care of the poor and the sick.  I will stay with the Sisters of Nevers.

What she said about her daily life as a Sister of Charity of Nevers

I want my whole life to be inspired by love.

I shall always have enough health, but never enough love.

Our first movement doesn’t count but the second does.

What she said about her inner life

Jesus alone for Master, Jesus alone for Riches …

God speaks in the depths of the person, without the noise of words.

O Jesus, give me I pray … the bread of humility, the bread of obedience … the bread of charity.

What she said a few days before her death

My Jesus!  Oh, how I love him!

I am ground like a grain of wheat.

I won’t forget anyone!

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Bernadette’s story

This is the story of Bernadette Soubirous, from her childhood in Lourdes to the apparitions at the grotto, her departure to Nevers and her life within the Congregation.

Bernadette in Lourdes (1844-1866)

On January 7th 1844, Bernadette Soubirous was born in Lourdes, a small town in the Pyrenean  mountains, to a miller’s family who enjoyed relative prosperity during the early years of Bernadette’s life.

Gradually, the family suffered serious health problems.  Water mills were progressively shutting down, marking the beginning of industrialisation.  Soon there was no money left at the mill.  Louise and Francois Soubirous were obliged to borrow, as was the case for so many others.  Within a few short months, all they could offer to anyone who wanted to employ them, was their physical strength.

In 1854 they, and their four children, were obliged to leave the Boly Mill.  They moved from house to house, each place less expensive and smaller than the previous one, until finally they were given free accommodation in the Cachot, a single, dark and unhealthy room, in the town’s disused prison… described by Imperial Attorney Dufour as “a sordid and dark hovel where no human being could live.”

The Soubirous family became trapped in a spiral of misery: unemployment, eviction, exclusion, contempt.  Bernadette suffered from ill-health.  She had stomach pains, also persistent asthma as a result of a cholera epidemic.  She was one of the many children in France who, at this time, did not know how to read or write because they had to work.   Occasionally she attended school in a class for poor children in the Lourdes Hospice run by the Sisters of Charity of Nevers.

In 1858 the Apparitions began for Bernadette.

The experience of the Apparitions

On 11th February 1858, 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous left the Cachot with her sister and a friend to collect firewood on the banks of the Gave at Massabielle.

It all began with a gust of wind in the poplars. In the crevice of a rock, Bernadette noticed a “lady dressed in white”  

“I thought I had made a mistake … I rubbed my eyes … I looked again and I still saw the same lady.”

“Would you do me the favour of coming here for the next fortnight?”

Between February and July, the Virgin Mary appeared 18 times to Bernadette.

The Lady did not reveal her name until 25th March, during the 16th apparition.  However, during most of the other apparitions no words were spoken.

On 18th February, during the 3rd apparition, Bernadette heard the Lady’s first words:  

“Would you do me the favour of coming here for the next fortnight?"

Towards the end of the fortnight, on 24th and 25th February, Bernadette received a message:  “Pray for sinners” … and the Lady asked her “to drink at the fountain and wash herself there.”    After scratching the muddy ground in the grotto, Bernadette discovered a spring.

On 2nd March, the Lady assigned a double mission to Bernadette:   “Go and tell the priests that people are to come here in procession and to have a chapel built here.”

“She was looking at me.  It was just like two people in conversation.”

These amazing encounters with Mary made Bernadette realise that God was interested in her, that he was close to the poorest, to those ignored and excluded by the world.

During all this time, Bernadette did not allow herself to be intimidated either by her questioners or by the crowd.  She remained simple and free.

“I have been asked to tell you about it, not to make you believe it.”

After this she stayed at the Hospice in Lourdes, run by the Sisters of Charity of Nevers.  For her it was a time to reflect on what she wanted to do with her life.

The apparitions were over. It was now time to make a choice.

Bernadette Soubirous was welcomed at the Hospice run by the Sisters of Charity of Nevers, as an “au pair boarder.”  There she stayed for 8 years.

Each day she saw the Sisters looking after the sick, the elderly poor and the young daughters of families without resources.  In fact, the Sisters were close to the poorest, because this was the wish of Jean-Baptiste Delaveyne, founder of the Congregation.

“I love the poor.  I love taking care of the sick.  I will stay with the Sisters of Charity of Nevers.”

The community welcomed Bernadette and left her free to make up her own mind.  She took some time to make a decision:  “I’m going to join the Sisters because they didn’t put any pressure on me … “ and “I love the poor.  I like to care for the sick.  I will stay with the Sisters of Nevers.”

In 1866, she left for Nevers and from then on she remained with the Sisters of Charity of Nevers.

Bernadette in Nevers (1866-1879)

The first days

On the evening of 7th July 1866, Bernadette Soubirous, accompanied by the Superior from Lourdes and two other young girls, crossed the threshold of the Mother House in Nevers, known at that time as “St. Gildard.”

On arrival, she would have seen the words “Deus Caritas Est,” engraved in the stone on the front of the house, words which echoed the spirit of the Congregation since its foundation.

The following day, in the presence of 300 Sisters and still wearing her Pyrenean costume, Bernadette told the story of the apparitions for the last time.

Afterwards she began her religious formation.

Her daily life as a Sister of Charity of Nevers

On 30th October 1867, along with 44 novices, Bernadette made her first commitment to religious life.  She would have liked to be sent to a community where she could take care of sick and poor people.  As her health did not allow it, she remained at the Mother House where she was given the duty of assistant-nurse and the mission of prayer.

During the 13 years spent in Saint Gildard, Bernadettte was successively assistant-nurse, nurse-in-charge of the infirmary, sacristan and very often sick herself.  Her life was simple and ordinary.  Bernadette had a joyful character and was always available for whatever was required of her.  

“I want my whole life to be inspired by love.”

She remained in the infirmary for long periods.  She suffered greatly from a knee tumour and lung tuberculosis.  She died on 16th April 1879, at the age of 35 and was buried in Saint Joseph’s Chapel in the centre of the garden.

On 8th December 1933, she was canonised and declared saint.

Her body

The intact body of Bernadette Soubirous is located in the main chapel of the sanctuary.

The Church puts her forward as a witness and invites us to visit her.

For the process of beatification and canonisation, three inspections of the body took place in 1909, 1919 and 1925.

Each time, the body was found to be intact.

In 1925, she was declared blessed and her body was placed in a shrine in the chapel where it still remains.  Bernadette was declared saint in 1933.

Visit Bernadette in Nevers!  There she is inviting you to look at Jesus, her “only Master.”

Today, as thousands of people from all over the world, of all ages and cultures, come to pray to Bernadette, tell her about your joys, your sorrows, your expectations!

Come and walk in her footsteps!  Walk where she lived and walked!  This place is now known as Espace Bernadette.

Pray with Bernadette

Bernadette’s prayer 

" O Jesus, give me I pray …
the bread of humility, the bread of obedience, the bread of charity,
the bread of strength to break my will, and make it one with yours,
the bread of patience to bear the pain my heart endures,
the bread to see you and you alone in all things and always! "

" I put my hope in you, Lord.  Be my house of refuge because you are my strength. "

" He is sufficient for me … Jesus alone for wealth."

 

A pilgrim’s prayer 

Bernadette,
To put my hesitant footsteps in your footsteps,
Please, Bernadette, lend me your clogs.

They are for me, at the same time, symbols of good sense,
spirit of poverty and simplicity.
You know very well, alas, that I lack all of this.
Please, Bernadette, lend me your clogs.

You went to gather wood that would kindle the flame
that brings men together and conforts them.
May I too re-rekindle the hearts of those seeking,
silence, or words, or a smile, or a helping hand.
Please, Bernadette, lend me your clogs.

And should they be too small, may they make me modest.
In the knowledge that as I go forward I have limitations,
my steps are small, I stumble and rise again.
Please, Bernadette, lend me your clogs.

To go towards Mary with more confidence,
To discover the living water offered to those who thirst.
To go to the table where bread is freely give,
Please, Bernadette, lend me your clogs.

To go towards the Father who awaits and loves me.
To take part in the feast at the end of the road
After having walked, carrying my joys and sorrows,
Asking you at all times to take me by the hand,
Please, Bernadette, lend me your clogs.

Marie-Louise Pierson

Our own prayers 

Write your intentions here.  They will be taken care of by the Sisters who live in Nevers.

Write your intentions here.  They will be taken care of by the Sisters who live in Nevers.

Would you like to become a volunteer at Espace Bernadette ?

 

Come and join us! With others, share an adventure of solidarity in the service of the sanctuary and the pilgrims.

If you wish to live this adventure of solidarity at the service of the sanctuary and the pilgrims, a certain frame of mind is required

  • Welcome each person as he/she is. Listen compassionately.  Welcome the other members of the volunteer team.
  • Guide people in discovering Espace Bernadette. Guide them in doing the “Walk in the footsteps of Bernadette” and in awakening in them a spiritual awareness.
  • Be of assistance and enter into Bernadette’s spirit of availability.
  • Be ready to share with and receive from the Community of Sisters and the volunteer team during prayer time, re-reading, relaxation, meals, deepening of Bernadette’s spirituality.

There are multiple tasks:

  • Reception of pilgrims and visitors. Providing information.
  • Chapel service
  • Room cleaning
  • Shop
  • Table service
  • Maintenance of gardens and buildings
  • Animation … museum, video and walk in the footsteps of Bernadette

 

 

To become a volunteer

 

Requirements for registration

  • Be an adult
  • Be in good health
  • Speak and understand the French language. Any other language would be appreciated.
  • Respect the selected commitment period
  • Accept an assignment suitable to the needs of the sanctuary
  • Sign the volunteer’s agreement

 

Conditions of stay

  • Bedroom with one or two beds and wash-hand basin
  • Toilets and showers on each floor
  • Sheets and towels supplied

 

Conditions of registration

  • Send a covering letter explaining why you are interested in becoming a volunteer
  • Attach a description of your skills

 

Your application will be final after agreement with Espace Bernadette Volunteer Service.