A New Song of Bernadette
He will find Faith!

James Reilly
Guest Columnist

(Post February 28, 2007 www.RemnantNewspaper.com) Editor’s Note: On December 25, 2006, a little  girl named Bernadette Pouliot died suddenly. She was just six years old.  Though this miniature soldier of Christ is no longer with us physically, her memory seems destined to live on for years to come. Her sublimely Catholic death will stand as a triumphant reminder to those living in this modern Age of Darkness that Hope must live on and that the light of Faith is all that really matters, for it is that Light which transforms the darkness of death from an evil specter and a cruel end into a glorious new beginning.  That Christian reality is the reason the faithless, hopeless enemies of Christ hate Him and, by extension, hate those who follow Him. 

But as Bernadette’s story reminds us, the modern world’s irrational hatred changes nothing. God is still in His heaven, ever eager to welcome into Paradise those who love Him and keep His commandments.  Nothing has changed  for us, and nothing ever will…so long as we keep the faith of a child burning in our souls. This, then, is the success story of one of our own who has made it safely through the darkness—a beautiful child who at this very moment is with God and His angels and His saints in heaven. Bernadette now knows everything; she no longer has need of faith; for her the struggle has ended, and our good God has taken his little one to Himself.  Benedicamus Domino! Many thanks to Mr. Reilly for sending us this powerful reminder of why we are here on this earth and what we must do from now until the moment of our own death—persevere in the old Faith and never lose Hope. MJM

How was your Christmas? my sister asked. I hesitated. My mind flashed back to a few days earlier. It was Sunday, Christmas Eve, just before Mass.

“Hi, Brian. Where's Roz?” I asked.

“She stayed home with “Niquey” (Monique) and little Bernadetty – she threw up last night,” answered Brian.

“Yeah, the dang flu is bad this time of year,” I replied.

It was no surprise that Rosalind Pouliot was staying home. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer and just had surgery. She also had a pain in her back, which was recently confirmed to be cancer in her spine. The thought of his wife enduring chemotherapy and radiation, and how they would manage to deal with the young children's education and hospital bills, along with the stark mortality of his own wife, weighed heavily on Brian's mind. It was not despair, nor depression. It was his Marine character shining through: consider the options, make the best plan and march forward. That plan always included God right up front.

I've had occasion to ride with Brian and his family in the car, and they started each trip with a short prayer for a safe journey. Driving almost two hours to come to the Roman-rite Mass was not so much a duty but simply a part of the fabric of their lives. While others would have arrived just before Mass, having come such a great distance, Brian and his family were invariably early so the kids could go to confession and he could practice with the choir. Often, he and the organist were the choir, but not today – it was Christmas Eve. Everyone was home. Dominic, the eldest son of eight children, had just come back from Parris Island, having completed his basic training in the Marines. My oldest boy just finished Army boot camp in Georgia, and we’ve always joked about the Army versus the Marines. It would be wise for the enemies of the United States to fear these two strong, well-trained men. All the technology, politics, generals, behind-the-scenes manipulation and U.N. squabbling will never achieve any victory for us; the future is in the hearts of these young men. I pray that God is in their hearts. Mass was beginning, so I prepared my heart for my Lord.

Bad News

I finished up a few errands after Mass and went downstairs for a cup of coffee. I saw Caroline's face as Brian walked past and up the stairs to the door. It was clear that something was wrong; tears started welling up in her eyes. “Someone has to help him get through the day,” she said. “They just told him that Bernadette has leukemia. She's at the hospital.”

“What?!” I exclaimed, as I tried to grasp the situation.

“He just called the hospital in Lowville,” Caroline explained. “Bernadette was becoming unresponsive so they rushed her to the hospital.”

 “Can Rosalind drive?” I asked. “She must have; Monique is only fourteen,” I added, answering my own question.

I followed Brian out the door, and found him alone on the sidewalk outside the church. He reiterated what Caroline had told me, then said, “What am I going to do? Why does this happen? There has to be cause and effect? What's going on here?” The tears clouded his eyes and I put my arm around his shoulders. I felt as effective as a band-aid on the Titanic. Dave joined us. Brian recovered, and said, “They are transporting her to the university hospital here in Syracuse. They will be here in about two hours or so. It makes no sense to go there when they are coming here.” Brian suggested, “We've all been fasting since midnight with nothing but a cup of coffee. We're going to need our strength…it's going to be a long day. Let's sit down somewhere and get some breakfast, while we must wait.” We gathered up several families and headed to the diner. Our hearts were heavy, but we wanted desperately to help our friend deal with this second enormous blow in the same month.

Brian was searching for understanding, and his kids were in shock and almost speechless. The food helped, a little. He quoted for the first time that day Saint Teresa of Ávila. When great trials beset her for doing His will, Teresa commented, "No wonder, Lord, that you have so few friends."

It is rare to find a man who understands that suffering comes from God, and rarer still to see him embrace the suffering as Christ did His cross. I was in school just then, and class was in session. This was the school of the living catechism. I tried to drag out the breakfast, for I knew that waiting at the hospital would be agonizing. But Brian would have nothing to do with the idea. “Let's get over to the hospital,” he urged. Caroline's husband, Dave, picked up the tab for us all. I told him we would square up with him later. I mentioned it to him a couple of weeks later; he laughed at me, telling me what a bargain it had been for so many people. It is amazing how a small gesture by a friend can make the whole world seem a little brighter. I thank God I have the privilege of knowing such people.

Brian asked if I could get a priest to come give Last Rites to Bernadette. I thought it a little odd, as I didn't think leukemia was a sudden killer, and she had to be stabilized enough for transporting to Syracuse, but I told him I would. We left the diner and went back to the church. I called the rectory and requested that a priest come to bless Bernadette at the hospital.

“Is she in grave danger?” father asked.

“Not that I know of, Father,” I replied.

“I will be offering Mass shortly and cannot come now,” he said, adding, “I might be able to send Fr. Matula later.”

“Thank you, Father. I will keep you informed, if anything changes.” As I left the church, I saw Fr. Timothy Pfeiffer, a friend of Brian’s, crossing the street. I approached him and told him the situation. “I am leaving now to say Mass in Binghamton. I can't possibly get there before 7:30 p.m., at best,” he said. After one more try to reach to an old friend, my family and I headed over to the hospital.

At the Hospital

As we arrived at the entrance to the hospital, we saw familiar faces from the diner and a few additional friends, all still dressed in their best church clothes. There were about 30 people, ranging from toddlers to adults, including those home just for Christmas.

We waited. It was well past two, and we all thought that they should have been there by now. Finally, a nurse came out and talked to Brian. There had been some complications and they had to put Bernadette on a respirator. We all knew then that it was much more serious then we first thought. The nurse also said that we would need to go back to the main entrance to get visitors’ passes and she would be in the ICU.

There was an area in the large emergency waiting room sectioned off for kids to play with toys. It must have been an unusual sight: thirty people kneeling in their dress clothes in an emergency room playroom on Christmas Eve, praying the holy Rosary. None of that mattered; we were begging for God's mercy. I don't believe in coincidence. Things happen for a reason. If you believe in God and you realize that He is in charge, then it must be so. I am also willing to accept that the reasoning may be beyond my understanding. I don't know where the wind comes from, but I can feel the reality of it on my face. I felt God's hand in this and it was beyond my understanding. God chose the Blessed Virgin to be His mother, out of all the inhabitants of the earth. He performed His first public miracle at her intercession. Those things alone seem enough to get us on our knees looking for her intercession before our Lord.

There was a small parade of us, who made our way around to the main entrance and into the first waiting room near the ICU.  We filled that one, and so the nurse graciously showed us another. The second one would become the Pouliot Family headquarters for the next 24 hours. The kindly nurse also mentioned that in the room across the hall there had been a little Christmas Eve banquet for the ward and that we were welcome to help ourselves. The kids’ eyes lit up when she said that there was a slushy machine; normally, it was only for patients, but she would look the other way and we should help ourselves. That was all Bernadette's sister Collette needed to hear. She and her brother Jerome spent the next hour tasting and discussing the finer points of slushies. Just older than Bernadette, Collette was unaware of the seriousness of the situation.

Bernadette had arrived, and the doctors were assessing the situation and running tests. But where were Rosalind (Bernadette’s mother) and Monique (her 14-year-old sister)? They had not arrived with the ambulance, as we had anticipated. Was the already weak and sick Rosalind, whose cancer was causing her constant back pain, driving the two hours to Syracuse, after seeing her daughter unconscious and attached to a respirator? It was inconceivable; she must have gotten a friend to drive her. Prayers began anew.

A Mother’s Agony

Roz arrived shortly after the ambulance that brought Bernadette. Clearly, she had summoned what little strength she had left to drive with Monique to the hospital, after stopping home to get some clothes; she knew it would be a long night. That strength evaporated once she got to the hospital and could rest in the strong arms of her husband. She was moved about in a wheelchair from that time on, until late the next day. Monique and Rosalind mentioned that there was some brain hemorrhaging, and Rosalind let out a wail of anguish. All I could think of was Shakespeare's Henry V, when at the gates of Harfleur the king makes a speech to get the French to surrender. He speaks of the “...mad mothers with their howls confused doth break the clouds.” Such was the cry from this loving mother’s heart, and it pierced us all.

The doctor came in and looked about the room, then at Brian. He asked, “Do you want to go somewhere private?”

“No, these are all my friends; you can say whatever you need to in front of them,” was Brian’s reply. (My definition of “friend” changed forever just then.)

The doctor explained that her white blood cell count was 500,000; the normal count was 5,000 or 10,000. There were a lot of consequences of this, and none of them sounded good. Additionally, there were three brain hemorrhages and this, he believed, was causing the pressure and difficulties with breathing, but there were things they could do.  They would also pull out the white blood cells to an acceptable level. This would make the blood flow more freely. Hope sprang up in our hearts; maybe the small hole they were to make in Bernadette’s skull will relieve the pressure, and she would improve. We would know in the next few hours. The doctor seemed optimistic. Thank God! Things were beginning to look up.

A Priest Comes

Even with the hopeful news, the situation was clearly even direr than before.  Contacting a priest was imperative. I called the rectory again and informed them that the situation was much graver. I was informed that Father's sister was also gravely ill and that he was on his way to see her, but that Fr. Matula could come in about an hour.

My wife and I left messages with other priests we knew. It was Christmas Eve, and everyone was preparing for Christmas. I decided to go look for the hospital chaplain. As I walked to the elevators, I saw Msgr. Rodoghero come out, and my heart leaped. He once taught catechism to us and taught our altar boys. “I got your message,” he said. As my eyes welled up, I exclaimed, “Thank God, thank God.” He met with Brian and Roz, and consoled them, then asked to be led immediately to Bernadette. I saw Monsignor, Brian and Rosalind disappear, as the doors of the ICU swung shut behind them. I wanted to follow, but I didn't want to be in the way or hinder any efforts on her behalf. I paced the hall, praying, exchanging glances and reporting what news I knew to friends and family.

Eventually, Monsignor, Brian and Rosalind emerged from ICU, and we all went into the waiting room. Monsignor spoke of God's love and His mystery. Having seen Bernadette, he was clearly moved almost to the point of speechlessness. He blessed Rosalind and the family, and then a soft sound slowly arose from him. At first, I thought he was singing some sort of blessing. Then, the familiar “O Come, All Ye Faithful” rang out, bright and beautiful, clear as a bell on a cold winter’s morning, and we all joined in: “O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him ....” The juxtaposition of the joy of Christmas and the enormous suffering of the Pouliot family left me dumbfounded and in awe of how, by such a simple act, Monsignor put God in the very center of what was happening, for us all to see and acknowledge. I saw the tears in his eyes, as he walked out the door.

Christmas Tears

It was getting late. The kids had not been home at all that day and were getting antsy. They needed to prepare for midnight Mass. They had choir practice at 10 p.m., so they needed to get refreshed and ready for Mass. I almost forgot that I had to pick up my oldest boy, Pete, at the bus station at midnight; he had worked that day in Boston, then caught the bus to be with us for Christmas. The plan was that the kids would head home for a while, then we would come back and I’d drop everyone off at the church, then head back to the hospital and later get Pete at the bus station. “That will work,” I thought.

“‘I have come out of my unconsciousness’ – that's what she said,” Rosalind was saying. “Little Bernadette saying something like ‘unconsciousness’ – very interesting, isn't it?” Rosalind was then wheeled downstairs, accompanied by Joanne and the boys, to get some refreshment. A few minutes later, Fr. Matula arrived. The ladies had seen him at the main entrance desk, desperately seeking the whereabouts of the Pouliot Family. He had been sent to the wrong hospital and had walked all over this one. He collected himself and went to Bernadette with her father, and later went back downstairs to find Rosalind and her his blessing. How blessed was this family to have two holy priests help them through this difficult time!

The doctor walked back into to the waiting room. It was not good news. The small hole they had put in the little girl’s skull to relieve the pressure had revealed that there was no pressure to relieve. The brain hemorrhaging was worsening and the fact that it was in the brain stem had the doctor very, very concerned. The brain was dying and had been all day. Bernadette’s parents had to be prepared for the worst. The night would be a long one.

“Why did this happen? What caused it?” asked Brian.

“It's like a lightning strike, completely random,” the doctor replied.

“Would it have helped if we got here sooner?” Brian suggested.

“Chances are that if you had brought her to your local doctor, he would have thought it was the flu. Even if he took some blood, it would have been a couple of days before he got the results back. He would have sent her home and she probably would have died there.”

He then warned Brian that he might have to make a difficult decision; not now, but maybe tomorrow. “What decision is that?” Brian asked.

“If there is no brain activity through the night, and the drugs and respirator appear to be the only things keeping her alive, do you want to stop the respirator?”

What a question on Christmas Eve! Brian didn't blink. He graciously thanked the doctor for all he was doing for his daughter, and returned to his wife, the mother of six-year-old Bernadette. It makes me wish I had studied a little harder in school, for I don’t know the words to describe the deep sorrow that afflicted my heart just then. I knew only a splinter of the sufferings that Brian was enduring, and I was all but incapacitated.

A Little Soul Returns to God

It must have been shortly after eight when Fr. Pfeiffer arrived. He met with Roz and Brian, then proceeded into 4-D and spent a good deal of time in prayer with Bernadette and her parents. When they came out, Roz explained to Father that Bernadette was learning more prayers from her first Communion catechism. Her face became quite serious as she mentioned that Bernadette had once stolen a cookie. Father suppressed a small grin, as he patted his ritual prayer book and said, “We covered that in here. She is an innocent soul.” He made it clear to Rosalind that she need not be fearful for the soul of her daughter; Bernadette was prepared.

He blessed the family, and left to say midnight Mass (after which he later would come down from the pulpit to lead the congregation in prayer especially for the Pouliot Family.) With waiting room furniture, Joanne made a makeshift bed in which Roz could get off her feet. The night would be restless one, with Brian and Rosalind venturing into ICU every couple of hours to see Bernadette.

Back at the church, I saw a few people and brought them up to date. I was told that Fr. Gleba's sister was not likely to survive the night. I prayed for her. I heard the girls sing a few Christmas carols just before Mass, but then I had to leave, to pick up Pete. A bus station on Christmas Eve… there is something very odd about that. I saw my boy for the first time in six months. He looked good. I brought him up to speed on the events of the day, and we went straight to the hospital. John, a good friend of the Pouliots, was standing in shock in the hallway. I looked for Joanne and realized she was in ICU with Bernadette. I washed my hands and went in.

I indicated to her that Pete was outside, and she went to him. It was Christmas Day already, when I saw Bernadette for the first time. It was as if someone had placed a beautiful little doll on the bed, with arms and legs scattered outward. Wisps of her fine blond hair were extending up away from her head, which was bandaged where the hole had been made. The respirator droned a slow, consistent march off to the right. Tubes and tape covered the lower left of Bernadette’s mouth, and little spots of blood stained her cheek and lower jaw. Plastic IV's were in both arms, and infusers cranked away on stands on the left side for dopamine. Also on the left were stands with the usual heart and respiration signals. Her eyes were closed. I prayed and wept.

“What's CP?” I asked the nurse when she came close to check the IVs. “Cranial pressure,” she said, adding, “It looks good.” Suddenly, Bernadette shrugged her shoulder. I looked at the nurse. She knew from my expression what I was thinking, and gently said, “It is an involuntary action that does not necessarily indicate a lot of brain activity.”

I felt like I was on a roller coaster ride; the big bumps scared the life out of me, while the small bumps with twists and turns knotted my stomach. I wanted to throw up.

The little girl’s radiance brought me out of my selfishness. (How can she possibly look so beautiful?) Other friends were coming by after Mass. The Mazzarellas, Mrs. Blonski and the Leavitts all came by to offer support and prayers.

In a few minutes, Rosalind and Brian entered the room. I watched in utter amazement as this woman, wracked with pain and grief, was transformed before my eyes. How was this possible? It was like the transformation of a superhero, who at first looks ordinary but then sheds his tie and jacket, and flies into the air to save a crashing plane or catch someone falling off a cliff.

Slowly, Rosalind leaned out as far as possible from her wheelchair. Her smile became radiant, her countenance sweet and reassuring, and her voice beautiful. “Hi, Bernadette. The doctor says that you’re going to Jesus tonight, Sweetie. You’re very sick, Honey,” Roz said. “Remember the song we used to sing? Twinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder what you are….”

It sounded as if they were going to take a stroll or go on a picnic together. Bernadette’s mom told her in her own way that it was okay…that Bernadette should go, and that they would all be OK, too. I couldn't hear all the words, but it was heartbreakingly beautiful.

After midnight Mass had ended, the Kahns arrived, at the same time as Emily, who had just lost her dear mother to cancer in February of this same year. Fr. Pfeiffer returned shortly with Dominic, Bernadette’s big brother. Dominic had agreed to be his sister’s sponsor for Confirmation. The Kahns watched as Dominic sponsored little Anastasia (Bernadette's Confirmation name, chosen for the saint of the day). Shortly after, her hand twisted around with the palm turned up toward heaven. It was about 4 a.m. on Christmas Day. I never saw her move again.

When I held Bernadette’s little hand, it was warm and soft, but the blood stains across the back punctuated the reality of the situation. I rubbed the top of her little hand, which fit completely under my thumb, and looked for a twitch, a blink, a sigh, a cough, a lip movement…anything that would say she was coming back. There was nothing. I prayed. At times, Joanne and Becky, one on each side, would rub Bernadette’s hands or stroke her hair, whispering the Rosary and other prayers. Roz and Brian would come in to check on Bernadette, getting little fits of sleep in between, when possible.

It must have been about six when her blood pressure started dropping very slowly. One gentleman was always active through the night, crunching numbers, requesting input from the nurses, verifying medicines and following up on medicines ordered. He now took control. He ordered new solutions, and a new IV was opened. I was about to get Brian, when her blood pressure stabilized, then slowly rose again.

Everyone seemed satisfied that things were under control again. The nurses were angels; they treated her with such gentleness and care. How they could stay so connected to her, someone's dear child, and yet still stay so focused on their technical duties is difficult to fathom.

The night had crept away and I needed to open the church for Christmas Mass, which started at 10:30.  Brian and Roz were caressing their daughter, as I left. In my mind, I could still see Bernadette's little hand. The joy of Christmas mixed with the tragic events of the past 24 hours, as I prayed.

After Mass, I stood in the back of church, wishing friends a merry Christmas. I told one friend about Bernadette and that she was very sick. He said he had heard that she died. It was like a hammer hitting me in the head. I wasn't ready for that. I couldn't speak as the tears welled up in my eyes. To me, she was still in the hospital, and her hands were warm. I wanted to get back to her. I waited as people left the church, and I locked the doors. There was a phone call from Thomas, Bernadette's brother. “Is Dominic there? The family really needs Dominic at the hospital. If you see him, have him call us.”

We went back to the hospital. I stopped at the main entrance to get my visitor badge and realized I already had one. I saw Mark Grenier motion to me from in front of the door leading to 4-D. “You need to get in there now.” I went through the door and saw over 35 people, all gathered around Bernadette. Bernadette's brothers and sisters were near the head of the bed, and their mother was sitting in a chair close by. I think they were finishing the Glorious mysteries.

Afterward Brian was talking to the doctors, explaining that he wanted his daughter to be placed in Rosalind’s arms, and then Bernadette would have to breathe on her own, without a machine. Brian motioned for his boys to rearrange some things and it was done.

The myriad of tubes and wires seemed endless, as Bernadette was slowly disconnected from them and the nurse carefully cleaned her up. She was removed from all the instruments and placed gently in her mother's loving arms, with Brian next to them both. We started singing, “Hail Holy Queen…Mother of mercy...,” thinking of both mothers undergoing the agony of witnessing an innocent child's death. Our voices cracked and tears salted our mouths, as we desperately fought to maintain the melody. We finished the hymn to Our Lady and began the Rosary with the joyful mysteries. I know that Christ conquered death and that it has no power over Him or those that follow Him and keep His commandments; but He also wept at the tomb of Lazarus. We wept and we prayed. When the Rosary was ended, they lifted Bernadette back to the bed. The doctors began to examine her to get the necessary information for the death certificate. The official time of death was 1:41 p.m., December 25, 2006. I held Bernadette’s hand one more time; it was getting cold. In a few minutes, the nurse pulled around a curtain and started washing her. I left her with my wife and the nurse. I thought of the last Fourth of July at the Pouliots’. Bernadette fluttered around like a butterfly giggling and playing with her friends, shy as a field mouse. I wish I had been more loving to her, even in a small way.


A Soul Returns

It was great news. Mrs. Blonski had prayed for many years for the conversion of her mother Muriel. Now, finally, at 100 years of age, Muriel was joining the Church. She invited everyone over for a celebration. A sweeter woman would be hard to find.

Mark loved her so much that he had made MP3 recordings of her singing and telling stories, and sent them around to all of us. It was a very enjoyable Saturday afternoon.

The next Sunday, Msgr. Gleba and I were in the sacristy. I brought up Muriel. Monsignor said, “You know, when I baptized her, I asked her, ‘Why, after all this time, did you want to be baptized?’” Her explanation was that she saw Bernadette, and wanted to belong to the Church where that beautiful little girl belonged.

Bernadette attended the Roman-rite (Latin) Mass in Syracuse, New York. For those who believe, no evidence is needed; for those who don't, no evidence is enough. Saint Bernadette, pray for us.


Contributions for the medical bills and ongoing

health care treatment for Rosalind can be made to:


The Bernadette Fund

c/o St Stephen's Church

305 N. Geddes

Syracuse, NY 13204

315 422-5224


or on the web at