When one describes the Apparitions, Bernadette is often presented as a poor frail and ignorant girl, living in miserable conditions in the Cachot (a former jail in the town of Lourdes). Life for the Soubirous family was not always this way.
She was born on January 7th, 1844, the eldest of nine children, to Francois Soubirous, a successful miller, and Louise Casterot, a working laundress. Bernadette grew up in a close-knit family in which she was cherished. She had a lively, spontaneous and generous nature; she was witty and incapable of deception. She was strong and surprisingly balanced. However, it is believed the reason for her small stature (she stood only 1m.40 tall) was the result of an early illness with cholera. Bernadette continued her whole life to suffer from severe bouts of asthma.
Bernadette had a strong personality but unsophisticated. Her personality flaws distressed her and she fought them with energy. She could not attend school but rather had to help her Aunt Bernarde.
No catechism: her memory refused to retain the abstract phrases.
At 14, she couldn’t read or write. She was often unkindly called stupid and referred to herself as “good for nothing”.
She wanted desperately to receive her First Holy Communion.
Read next: The Apparitions