Incorruptible…that’s what you are…


Strong Woman has prompted me to tell my St Bernadette story.
This happened the summer of 1987 when (still an Anglican priest) I took three months to make a pilgrimage hitch-hiking from England to Jerusalem…staying in monasteries and convents en route.

I arrived in Nevers tired, hot and dusty after a discouraging day. My arrival there was a little miracle in itself, but once I got settled I came down to dinner, and in a moment a very nice lady came and sat next to me and said in the strongest Southern US accent, “Well, hah there! My name is Peggy Sue and the sisters said ah should sit here because ah speak English.”

It turned out that Peggy Sue was from Alabama and was a convert from the Baptist faith because she had experienced a vision of St Bernadette. Ever since she spent a month in the summer, “Spending tahm with Bernadette ‘n’ practisin’ mah Frayinch.” She had the keys to the whole place, took me on the grand tour and told me the whole story of Bernadette’s life, death, burial and exhumation. “Now ah know about these things because Daddy back in Alabama is a funeral director…” It turns out that Bernadette’s incorruptibility is just about the best attested miracle around.

The next morning after breakfast I got my backpack and was about to head down the road to my next stop…the ancient basilica of St Mary Magdalene at Vezelay. Before I left Peggy Sue hurried out and said, “Before you leave you must spend a few moments with Bernadette.” So I went into the chapel and knelt before the glass casket where her incorrupt body in on display.

As an Anglican I wasn’t too sure about such weird Catholic piety, but not wanting to miss a blessing I knelt and said, “Lord, bless my journey today, and Bernadette, if you’re there, maybe you can say a prayer for me too.” As I knelt there in silence there was a wonderful light fragrance of flowers. The only thing was…there weren’t any flowers anywhere.

As I shrugged on my backpack Peggy Sue smiled and said, “Well, how was it?” I told here about the fragrance and she beamed that sort of Holy Ghost grin that holy people have, “You’ve experienced the odor of sanctity!” she said. “That’s a special blessing from Bernadette!”

Well, there it is. True story. Make of it what you will.

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  • Mac McLernon

    Ohhhhh, wow! You lucky, lucky, lucky soul!!

  • Jeffrey Smith

    A true story and one with a long tradition behind it. Not many people ever have such an honor.

  • Andrew

    Wow! Wish I had been there. Perhaps you’ll get a vision of the Blessed Mother next.Wouldn’t that be cool!

  • Mac McLernon

    The sad thing about Nevers is that the nuns there no longer wear proper habits… they dress like the “Marks and Spencer’s” nuns we get in Britain

  • northern cleric

    Gosh Mac – how down market! They seem to be kitted out in Jaeger up here. The odour of sanctity was one of Saint (Padre) Pio’s gifts. One hears stories of people who experienced it when near him and find that whenever times are difficult for them it returns as a consolation.

  • MM


  • Radical Catholic Mom

    I have experienced that beautiful scent twice in my Catholic Charismatic prayer group. There were no flowers around and yet it was the sweetest fragrance. I had been with this group for 40 minutes prior so it could not have been perfume on someone. Wonderful!

  • Mara Joy

    That’s pretty cool. The fact that the name of the Southern lady was “Peggy Sue” makes it even cooler…(speaking as a Northerner, of course…) :-)

  • Mary Ann

    What a lovely story. Thanks!PS – I do read all of your articles in the National Catholic Register.