Shelly Henley Kelly shares the story of her own devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes.
Our Lady of Lourdes was the first Marian apparition I learned about. As a child attending CCE, the idea that Mary appeared to a young girl in France seemed fantastical. Like St. Bernadette, I wouldn’t understand the message, “I am the Immaculate Conception,” until much later in life. Still, the stories of Our Lady of Lourdes and the miraculous healings associated through her intercessions drew me to her.
It was February 11, 1858, when 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous heard a roar of wind as she collected wood near Lourdes, France. Following a golden light to a nearby grotto she saw a beautiful lady veiled and dressed in pure white with a blue sash, holding a rosary. The Lady made the Sign of the Cross, then disappeared as Bernadette prayed the Rosary.
Over the next three weeks, the Lady appeared to Bernadette in the grotto fifteen times, asking her to pray, wash and drink from an unseen stream, and tell priests to build a chapel there. However, the parish priests refused to act until they knew the lady’s name. Each time Bernadette asked, the lady only smiled.
On March 25, the Lady relented, saying, “I am the Immaculate Conception,” a recently adopted dogma that poor uneducated Bernadette could not have known. The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared at Lourdes twice more, in April and July, and the people who drank or bathed in the grotto’s chilled spring water experienced miraculous healings.
For 165 years pilgrims gather at the French grotto seeking not only physical healing, but spiritual as well. Though we’ve never been to Lourdes, France, I like to think that Our Lady of Lourdes smiles on our family through her servant, St. Bernadette.
Christmas week, over twenty years ago, my husband and I happily learned we were expecting our second child. Two weeks later grief paralyzed us when my husband’s mother unexpectedly died of pneumonia. The following months were excruciating as our sorrow manifested physically into a difficult pregnancy and an angry husband.
We’d only been in our new house a few months and I still hadn’t registered with a parish. Although there were two churches just over a mile away, my husband and I were both starting new jobs and our weekends were full of unpacking and helping our 2-year-old adjust. Finding a new parish wasn’t urgent until pregnancy and tragedy arrived together.
Walking into nearby St. Bernadette Catholic Church for the first time stirred up comforting memories of my childhood parish, with its similar late 1970s architecture. During Mass, I rested in the prayers and songs of my youth. I didn’t know it then, but over the next five years this would become my parish home where I would be led into a reversion of faith.
Our second daughter’s birth soothed our sorrow and brought joy back into our lives. As she and her sister blossomed in faith at St. Bernadette, I grew alongside, rediscovering my childhood faith and finding a spiritual home. The healing we sought developed slowly at this parish, with its prayer garden showing the faith of a child, kneeling before Our Lady of Lourdes. Years later, our daughter who inherited her grandmother’s stubborn sassy attitude adopted St. Bernadette as her Confirmation saint. Our Lady of Lourdes, the grotto, and St. Bernadette appear often as we’ve traveled for our daughter’s softball tournaments.
In our lives, Mary is always there, patiently present, inviting us to pray and follow her to find healing through God’s graces.
Copyright 2023 Shelly Henley Kelly
Images: copyright 2023 Shelly Henley Kelly
About the Author
Shelly Henley Kelly is a daughter of God, a Martha who strives to be Mary, living in the world, but not of the world, perpetually busy as breadwinner, wife, mother, catechist, and ACTS sister. A published author, Shelly writes about being a working mom and catechist at SoundMindAndSpirit.com and can be heard on various podcasts at SQPN.com.