Was Flannery O’Connor Miraculously Healed at Lourdes? A Little-Known Story

Cmacauley, Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 1.0

It was in 1958 that Catholic author Flannery O’Connor took a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, where the young peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous experienced apparitions of the Virgin Mary a century before. Lourdes is internationally renowned as a healing shrine. Often it is bathing in the waters of Lourdes that has helped many pilgrims reach healing, both physical and – perhaps more often – spiritual.

Flannery O’Connor, who, as a reluctant pilgrim, was talked into going to Lourdes by a relative, Cousin Katie, described her attempts at bathing in Lourdes water with humor and even a little irony.

Writing to her friend Elizabeth Bishop, the famous American poet, in a June 1, 1958 letter from Milledgeville, Georgia, O’Connor spoke of her experiences at Lourdes:

Somebody in Paris told me the miracle at Lourdes is that there are no epidemics and I found this to be the truth. Apparently nobody catches anything. The water in the baths is changed once a day, regardless of how many people with running sores get into it. I went early in the morning and it was clean; sat in a long line of peasants to wait for my turn. They passed around a thermos bottle of Lourdes water and everybody had a drink out of the top.

I had a nasty cold so I figured I left more germs than I took away. The sack you take the bath in is the same one the person before you took off, regardless of what ailed him. At least there are no society trappings along with the medieval hygiene. I saw nothing but peasants and was very conscious of the distinct odor of the crowd. The supernatural is a fact there but it displaces nothing natural; except maybe those germs.

Despite an occasionally sardonic sense of humor, O’Connor was deeply moved by her experiences at Lourdes. She wrote compassionately of the effect that the suffering pilgrims had on her: “The thing about Lourdes is that you are not inclined to pray there for yourself at all as you see so many people worse off.”

These words are especially thoughtful, and possess a certain nobility to them, when we consider that Flannery traveled to Lourdes on crutches as somebody suffering from the life-threatening, and physically excruciating, condition of lupus, the same disease that killed her father when Flannery was a fifteen-year old girl. That is one of the reasons that Flannery went to bathe in the Lourdes waters so early in the morning when a lesser number of people would be present. As a woman who spent much of her life on crutches, she was very self-conscious of her disposition and how awkward it may be for her to publically bathe in those healing waters.  

The sadder side of Flannery’s life may, in fact, be the Cross. As a young woman she was diagnosed with lupus. The life-threatening condition that killed her father and – eventually – took Flannery’s own life relegated her to spend most of her life with her mother, Regina, in Georgia, on the farm in Andalusia. For years she suffered severe bodily pains, fatigue, and had to endure the physical (and emotional) struggle of operating on crutches.  

Was it, therefore, a healing that Flannery was seeking through the waters of Lourdes, through her pilgrimage?

Not exactly. As mentioned, although being a devout Catholic, Flannery was a reluctant pilgrim in traveling to Lourdes. It was Cousin Katie who, realizing that there would be a diocesan pilgrimage to both Lourdes and Rome, insisted that Flannery go with her mother, even offering to pay for their expenses—though Flannery, given her condition, was not crazy about the idea of traveling abroad. Yet, Flannery was still very open to the mystical dimensions of her Catholic faith.

And a mystical occurrence may have transpired in Flannery’s own life after the Lourdes visit. Even after bathing in the waters of Lourdes, though not experiencing a complete healing, Flannery experienced significant (unlikely) improvement in her bones. She always wondered whether it was the result of Lourdes.

Author Lorraine V. Murray explains: “‘Maybe this is Lourdes,’ Flannery wrote to another friend a few months later, after the doctor reported that her hip bone was stronger. He was even permitting Flannery to walk around the room without crutches. Flannery expressed hope that if the improvement continued, she might no longer need them in a year or two.

“And even if the improvement was not due to a Lourdes miracle, she deemed it ‘something to be grateful to the same Source for.’ Two days before Christmas that same year, she shared the good news with Father [James] McCown, saying she was willing to ascribe the improvement either to Lourdes ‘or somebody’s prayers’.” (The Abbess of Andalusia: Flannery O’Connor’s Spiritual Journey, by Lorraine V. Murray)

[See also: 12 Right-on-the-Money Quotes from Flannery O’Connor]

[See also: Hear Flannery O’Connor’s Thick Southern Accent As She Reads One of Her Stories]



Br. Daniel Maria Klimek, T.O.R.

Br. Daniel Maria Klimek, T.O.R., is a simply professed friar with the Franciscan Friars of the Third Order Regular from the Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, pursuing a vocation to the priesthood. He earned his Ph.D. in spirituality with distinction from the Catholic University of America, and received his Master of Arts in Religion from Yale Divinity School, concentrating on the history of Christianity.


  1. Thank you for another informative website. Where else could I get that type of information written in such an ideal way? I have a project that I’m just now working on, and I’ve been on the look out for such information.

  2. Hmm is anyone else encountering problems with the pictures on this blog loading? I’m trying to determine if its a problem on my end or if it’s the blog. Any feed-back would be greatly appreciated.

  3. I’ve read some good stuff here. Certainly worth bookmarking for revisiting. I surprise how much effort you put to create such a fantastic informative site.

  4. You’re completely correct! I really liked reading through this and I will come back for more as quick as possible. My site is dealing with Arvind Pandit, you can take a glance if you are still interested in this.

  5. Thanks for this terrific content! I genuinely liked reading it.I will make certain to take note of your blog and will return from now on. I would like to encourage you to ultimately keep going with the nice writing, even discuss kik for mac also, have a wonderful evening!

  6. Admiring the persistence you put into your website and in-depth details you display. It really is amazing to discover a blogging site from time to time that is just not the similar old re-written material. Excellent read! I’ve saved your blog and I am including the RSS feeds to my own door intercom system page.

  7. Our LGV (Large Goods Vehicle) HGV training is based in East London, and our LGV/ HGV courses are taught by qualified DVSA LGV & HGV trainers. LGV was formerly known as HGV, where it used to be referred to as HGV Class 2 (now called LGV Category C) and HGV class 1 (Now called LGV Category C+E).

  8. Hi there just wanted to give you a quick heads up and let you know a few of the pictures aren’t loading correctly. I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue. I’ve tried it in two different web browsers and both show the same outcome.

  9. I am actually loving the design of your information site. Do you face any internet browser compatibility situations? Some of my own website visitors have lamented regarding my free new movies online blog not operating the right way in Internet Explorer though appears amazing in Opera. Do you have any kind of recommendations to help fix the situation?

  10. My family and I unquestionably like your site and find the majority of the discussions to be just what I am looking for. Would you offer people to write material for you? I wouldn’t mind creating an article relating to personal injury attorney or maybe on many of the things you write about on this site. Awesome website!

Leave a Reply