Disliking the attention she was attracting, Bernadette went to the hospice school run by the Sisters of Charity of Nevers where she finally learned to read and write. Although she considered joining the Carmelites her health precluded her entering any of the strict contemplative orders. On July 29, 1866, with 42 other candidates, she took the religious habit of a postulant and joined the Sisters of Charity at their motherhouse at Nevers.
Bernadette spent the rest of her brief life there, working as an assistant in the infirmary and later as a sacristan, creating beautiful embroidery for altar cloths and vestments. Her contemporaries admired her humility and spirit of sacrifice.
One day, asked about the apparitions, she replied:
“The Virgin used me as a broom to remove the dust. When the work is done, the broom is put behind the door again.”
She had followed the development of Lourdes as a pilgrimage shrine but was not present for the consecration of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in 1876.
Bernadette contracted tuberculosis of the bone in her right knee. For several months prior to her death she was unable to take an active part in convent life. She eventually died of her long-term illness at the age of 35 on 16 April 1879, while praying the holy rosary.
Bernadette Soubirous was declared venerable by Pope Pius X, “Blessed” on June 14, 1925, by Pope Pius XI and officially canonized a Saint by Pope Pius XI on December 8,1933.
During the process of canonization Bernadette’s body was exhumed three times in the presence of the scientific community. The first time was in 1903, thirty years after her death, and the last time was in 1925, forty-six years after her death. Her body was found to be intact on all three occasions.