The Day I Met St Bernadette

In the summer of 1987 I was living in England and had three months free between jobs so I decided to go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem–hitch-hiking and staying at monasteries across Europe.

One of the place I wanted to visit was the monastery of St Gildard in Nevers, France. This is where the incorrupt body of St Bernadette is still on display to be venerated by the faithful. So I arrived at Nevers and the place was full of mentally handicapped pilgrims from Ireland on their way to Lourdes. The nun at the front desk found me a place in the guest house and I came down to a bustling refectory for dinner. I was seated at a table by myself when a softly spoken American woman sat down next to me. She smiled and said in a Southern accent, “Ah hope you don’t mahnd if ah sit here with you because I speak English too.”

It turned out that Betty Sue was from Mobile, Alabama. She was a convert to the Catholic faith from being Southern Baptist and claimed that her conversion was a result of a vision of St Bernadette. She spent every summer in Nevers to “spend time with Bernadette”. Well, Betty Sue had the keys to the place. She took me to Bernadette’s cell, showed me the tomb where she had been exhumed, told me the story of the wonder of the saint’s incorrupt body and how it all happened. The next morning after breakfast before I set out for my next destination Betty Sue said I should “spend a few minutes with Bernadette.”

So I knelt in the side chapel of the chapel of the convent where the saint’s relics are preserved in a glass coffin. While I was praying there was a wonderful fragrance of flowers. But there were no flowers. None anywhere. Nor was there anyone with a potent perfume and there were no cleaning ladies spraying air freshener around. I eventually got up from my prayers and went outside to see Betty Sue. She said, “How was it?”

“I was skeptical, but, well, it was pretty amazing. There was a strong smell of flowers.”

“Praise the Lord! You have been granted a grace from Bernadette. That is the odor of sanctity. You will be greatly blessed on your journey.”

To this day I don’t know if it was a miracle from heaven or not, but the incorrupt body of Bernadette is surely some kind of a miracle, and I’m happy to accept that the odor of sanctity was a little gift to my own as yet un-Catholic doubting heart.

There is a post script to the story. I was in San Francisco a few years ago, having now been a Catholic for some years. I told the story at a speaking engagement. Afterwards a man came up and said, “Father. I had exactly the same experience. At Nevers a woman with a Southern accent came up and introduced herself and showed me around. I also experienced the odor of sanctity. When I got home to the USA I wrote to the sisters at the convent at Nevers and asked for the name and address of the American woman who shows pilgrims around and they wrote back saying there is no one like that, and never has been. They didn’t know what I was talking about.”

Cue theme tune from Twilight Zone…

Check out The Anchoress’ thoughts on St Bernadette here.

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  • TDJ

    Wow. I’m speechless, Father. Now that she knows we’re on to her she might choose not show herself again. Have you been able to ascertain Betty Sue’s existence?


  • Denise

    Awesome! Thank you for sharing the story, Father. It made me cry. Don’t you just love all the Saints? God is so good!

  • Kay

    I love it when you share these kinds of experiences. Thanks.

  • Elizabeth Hansen

    I hope one day, despite being handicapped, that I can visit St. Bernadette there in Nevers. I spent Lent with her, inadvertently reading The Song of Bernadette. It deepened my understanding of what she experienced under the tutelege of Our Blessed Mother, the graces, mercies, and also the sufferings. Currently reading A Holy Life: St. Bernadette of Lourdes by Patricia McEachern, Ph.D. It’s a book of St. Bernadette’s writings. It’s very moving, and I can only read a bit at a time to think upon. St. Bernadette, holy child of God in heaven, pray for us. Thank you, Father, for sharing your accounts.

  • mortimerzilch

    I read somewhere that in 1929 a few cardinals checked on the condition of St. Bernadette’s corpus. It was not cold, but room temperature. One of the cardinals stuck her with a pin, and a little red spot appeared. miracles only strengthen faith that already exists, they do not compel faith.

  • Bill Foley

    The contrast between the Holy Spirit-generated wisdom in St. Bernadette and the bookish knowledge of theologians is well written about by the great Dominican Father Juan Arintero in the second volume of his classic work The Mystical Evolution in the Development and Vitality of the Church.

    “On seeing in the Church so many illiterate souls suddenly transformed by the prodigious light which they receive in contemplation and filled with a superior science by which they confound even the most learned men, who could sincerely deny that the finger of God is present there in some way? With the greatest facility, accuracy, and precision these souls speak of the most abstruse theological questions, although they have never studied theology and perhaps have never heeded such things. Meanwhile the greatest theologians, who have studied such matters all their life and are extremely careful in measuring their words, fall into confusion and inexactitude.”

  • Anne

    I too Father went to Nevers and found it an awe-inspiring experience. It was like being in the presence of incredible beauty and peace. God bless you.

  • Nzie

    Wow, Father, thank you for this story! She is my confirmation saint – as a little girl I just knew she was my friend, having watched “her” in The Song of Bernadette. I can’t believe I missed her feast day. I must be a better friend, and hopefully I can go to see her and to Lourdes someday, too.

  • Pep

    I’m so enjoying reading your new found blog, Father. It was through the book “The Song of Bernadette” that I came to know Our Lady and through Our Lady I was eventually blessed with a personal encounter with Our Lord, Jesus. The Blessed Mother does indeed lead us to her Son. Anyway, I wasn’t even old enough to read when Richard Cardinal Cushing, Archbishop of Boston gave my devout Catholic Grandmother a signed copy of the book to give to me back in the early 50s. I couldn’t read yet, but I was able to get the drift of the story through the pictures in the book which impressed upon me the love of Our Lady. I remember just staring at the pictures and feeling the love that just emanated from her. I suffered terribly with nightmares as a child and the very day I learned to pray the Rosary, when I was about 5 or 6, I told Our Lady who I had learned of through St. Bernadette’s story that I would pray the Rosary every night before bed if she would help me. Nobody will ever know how terrified I was to go to sleep for fear of the demonic things that appeared to me in my sleep night after night. My own parents were getting so frustrated and angry with me because they could not convince me the things that appeared to me in my sleep were not real when I knew they were. No matter how frightened I was, I couldn’t cry out to them for help for fear of them getting angry with me. There was nothing they could do for me anyway. I was all alone with this fear, so I was open to the love and care of the Blessed Mother. The very night I prayed my first Rosary, as best a child could do, the nightmares instantly stopped after suffering with them from the time I was in the crib. I can still recall all these years later holding on to the slats on the side of the crib for dear life because I was so frightened. Oh my, what JOY filled my soul. I will never, ever forget what the Blessed Mother did for me when nobody else could help me. In time, she led me into the Loving Arms of her Son, Jesus….which is another story for another time.

    I’m so glad to meet you, Father, and look forward to reading more of your blog. God bless you