Saint Bernadette’s body reposes in a glass casket in the Chapel of the Sisters in Nevers, France. Travel between Lourdes and Nevers has never been rapid however, and in 1866 Bernadette took three days to make the journey, passing via Bordeaux and Perigueux.
The Sisters were present in Nevers well before Bernadette was born. At the invitation of the Mayor and the Cur6, with the agreement of the Prefect and the bishop, they arrived in Nevers in 1834. The renown of the Congregation reached as far as Lourdes through the gossip of some pious persons.
The Congregation had been founded in 1680 by a Benedictine, Jean-Baptiste Delaveyne, the Cure of a parish in the diocese of Nevers. The Sisters of Charity and Christian instruction of Nevers were devoted principally to children and the sick, and in particular the destitute.
In Lourdes they were therefore called to look after the Hospice and the girls’ school. A special class was opened for the children of families without resources. In was to this class that Bernadette was admitted when she returned from Bartres in January 1858. She could neither read nor write despite her 14 years.
Rumours of the apparitions quickly spread into the school and the Sisters could be no other than severe with this gamine about whom these extraordinary stories abounded.
The day after the second apparition, 15th February, is a Monday: a bad day for schoolchildren! It is worse for Bernadette: the Superior says to her: “Have you finished your playacting!”. It must be said that the next day is “Mardi Gras”. Just like the priests of the parish the Sisters are forbidden to go to the Grotto.
Despite these difficult beginnings, Bernadette will never leave the Sisters of Nevers. She will be accepted as a boarder with a double status: that of pupil and a sick destitute. She was sick enough to receive Extreme Unction, as it was called at that time. Destitute, she wished to remain.
The Cure had insisted that Bernadette should stay at the Hospice to protect her from popular curiosity. This step was only partly successful. The Sisters were now happy to have such an important boarder. All the more so that she retained her disarming simplicity and her gifts manifested themselves much amongst the sick – even the most revolting, as among the children.
What would become of Bernadettc? She was only 14 vears old. She could well be ;een as a Carmelite but her health would not permit it. Various Congregations wcxvld like to have recruited her, but she did not see herself among them. Neither the Chaplain. Abbe Pomian, whom she had confided in from 13″ Februarv 1858, nor the Sisters, exerted any pressure on her.
The decisive meeting took place in September 186s. Mgr Fourcade, bishop of Nevers, on a Visit to Lourdes, wished to meet Bernadette. Would she not consider entering the Congregation of Never? I have no dowry and I don’t know how to do anything. she says. For the dowry, exceptions can be made. So far as knowing nothing: it is not true: I saw you peeling carrots, replied the prelate. Bernadette decided: “I love the poor, I like looking, after the sick. I shall stay with the Sisters of Never ‘s“.
One year later Bernadette was received as a postulant whilst still remaining in Lourdes for another two years. In 1866 ,, she arrived in Nevers with two other postulants. Another year passed and she was professed but her health prevented her from going where she would like to have gone in accordance with the charisma of the Congregation: to the sick, the poor and the children. On that clay the bishop gave her the “work of prayer”.
The Superior and Mistress of Novices were rather severe in their dealings with Bernttdette. It was the practice at the time, and they wished to protect Bernadette against any temptation to vanity; it was a useless exercise given Bernadette’s temperament. The Superior was never convinced of the authenticity of the Apparitions, and after Bernadette’s death she blocked all attempts to open the process of beatification.
For thirteen years Bernadette lived the charisma of the Congregation: Deus caritas est. She was an excellent nurse: competent, smiling, comforting, despite her own ailments, more and more severe. With the agreement of her superiors she also became the confidante and support of the younger Sisters, clarifying their vocations, along with all those who came to visit her.
Bernadette died in Nevers on the Wednesday after Easter, 16th’ April 1879. Her body stayed in Nevers because she had said, under no circumstances would she return to Lourdes to eclipse the Blessed Virgin.