A dish from the village of St. Bernadette


I grew up loving St. Bernadette Soubirous whose feast day is today. 

Million Dollar movie had a lot to do with it.  My brothers Pete and Mark and I first encountered her as grade school youngsters by way of the landmark and, Academy Award winning film by David O. Selznick, called “The Song of Bernadette.”

As portrayed by the luminous Jennifer Jones, it was impossible not to fall in love with St. Bernadette. Step-by-step in grainy, black, grey and white on (as I recall it) a primitive Channel 9, the movie unfolded time and again in seamless beauty. We watched every time it was on, following her  remarkable path to sainthood, from the first visitation by the Blessed Mother, to the miraculous spring which still nourishes the hopes of many, to her suffering and death and canonization.

As a teen, I read the novel, “The Song of Bernadette”  which had sparked the movie,  several times. I remember being so impressed that it’s author, Franz Werfel, was Jewish and that part of his inspiration for writing the massive book was the way many Catholics had reached out to save Jewish people from the horrors of the holocaust.

As an adult, I’ve been on the receiving end of bottles of Lourdes water carried back from Lourdes by friends and colleagues including Mary Stadnyk, who have traveled there and came away transported by the sacredness of the place and the hope it conveys. In those small bottles —  perched on top of the fire place mantle next to a small statute of Our Lady of Lourdes — I sense the presence not only of Our Lady, but of Bernadette, so faithful in her belief. 

The last few days, St. Bernadette has been very much in my mind. As the diocese observed The World Day of the Sick on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, it seemed certain that she was there in spirit in St. Francis Medical Center, Trenton, and CentraState Medical Center and St. Robert Bellarmine Parish, Freehold, as Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., blessed the suffering and the hands of those who care for them.

The day was a gift for hundreds of people in attendance. As Msgr. Sam Sirianni, diocesan director of the Office of Worship, and pastor of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish, put it, it enabled a “great spirit of prayer” to  permeate the gatherings. “It was wonderful,” he said, noting that non-Catholics had joined Catholics at the services and Masses. The Mass in St. Robert Bellarmine was attended by upwards of 600 on Feb. 11 with 180 healthcare professionals from around the diocese staying on for dinner, underwritten by the Order of Malta, that was hald in the parish social hall.

The observances at CentraState and St. Robert Bellarmine where sponsored by the diocesan Office of Pastoral Care, directed by Deanna Sass.

Today marks the anniversary of the second apparation when the Blessed Mother began the second of what would become 18 messages, by telling the 14-year-old Bernadette that “I do not promise to make you happy in this life but in the next.”

I think of the grace with which she received that message and the grace with which she followed all the instructions to come from Our Lady of Lourdes.

Tonight, I think we’ll honor Bernadette with prayer and reflection. Then, we’ll sit down and partake of  Poule au Pot — literally, “chicken in a pot,” a dish popular throughout France since medieval times. It is a staple in in the Midi-Pyrenees region of France where Lourdes is located. This version has evolved over the years in my kitchen from years of tinkering. It is easier than most to prepare.

The traditional Sunday dinner fare features a whole, stuffing filled chicken that has been poached with vegetables in simmering broth. The broth is served as a soup to start the meal and the chicken and vegetables are the main course.

Poule au Pot

Ingredients: 1, whole,  2 1/2 to 3 pound chicken; 3 cups plain breadcrumbs; 2 cloves garlic; 1 tablespoon minced parsley; pinch nutmeg; salt and pepper to taste; 2 eggs, beaten; 1/2 cup light cream; 3 quarts good spring water; 2 to 3 parsley sprigs; 1 teaspoon thyme; 10 pepper corns; 1 bay leaf; 2 chopped medium, sweet onions; 2 chpped carrots; 2 chopped celery stalks.

Directions: rinse the chicken well, pat dry and set aside; in a large bowl, mix together the breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley, nutmeg, salt, pepper and eggs. Add enough light cream bind the ingredients together. Fill the cavity of the chicken tightly with the stuffing and tie the legs together with string over the cavity opening so that it is closed off; to a large soup pot, add the chicken, water, parsely, theyme, peppercorns and bayleaf and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for one hour; add the chopped vegetables and simmer for another half hour; remove the chicken from the broth and set aside to cool. Cut into serving portions and arrange on a warm platter. Remove the stuffing and arrange neatly on the platter. Strain the vegetables from the broth and arrange them on the platter along with the chicken and stuffing. Cover loosely with foil and keep warm in a low oven.

Serve the broth as a first course then present the platter along with whole grain mustard thinned with a little broth.

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