Bernadette Soubiroux, the oldest of six children, was born in Lourdes, France, is 1844. The family's meager income from her father's milling was not sufficient to pay for an education, so Bernadette supported the family by shepherding the family flock.
At the age of 14, between 11 February 1858 and 16 July 1858, Bernadette had 18 visions of the Immaculate Conception in a local grotto near the bank of the River Gave, near Lourdes. During the visions, Bernadette would often fall into an ecstasy. The apparition of the Blessed Virgin requested prayer and penitence, asked for the construction of a new church, and led Bernadette to a fresh water spring believed to have miraculous healing powers. Despite strong doubt and even opposition from political and church officials, Bernadette's faith in what she had witnessed remained steadfast and humble.
Saint Bernadette longed to become a Carmelite nun, but ill health prevented her from doing so. In 1866, she retreated from the public eye to the convent Notre Dame at Nevers where she remained until her death at the age of 35.