Bernard was born in 1090 in Dijon, France. He and his six brothers and sisters received an excellent education. When he was just seventeen, his mother died. He might have let sadness get the best of him had it not been for his lively sister Humbeline, who helped to cheer him up. Soon Bernard became very popular. He was good looking and intelligent, full of fun and good humor. People enjoyed being with him.
Yet one day, Bernard greatly surprised his friends by telling them he was going to join the very strict Cistercian Order. They did all they could to make him give up the idea. But in the end, it was Bernard who convinced his brothers, an uncle, and twenty-six friends to join him. As Bernard and his brothers left their home, they said to their little brother Nivard, who was playing with other children: “Goodbye, little Nivard. You will now have all the lands and property for yourself.” But the boy answered: “What! Will you take heaven and leave me the earth? Do you call that fair?” And not too long after, Nivard, too, joined his brothers in the monastery.
St. Bernard became a very good monk. After three years, he was sent to start a new Cistercian monastery and to be its abbot. The new monastery was in the Valley of Light and became known by that name. In French, the Valley of Light is “Clairvaux.” Bernard was the abbot there for the rest of his life.
Although he would have liked to stay working and praying in his monastery, he was called out sometimes for special assignments. He preached, made peace between rulers, and advised popes. He also wrote beautiful spiritual books. He became the most influential man of his time. Yet Bernard’s great desire was to be close to God, to be a monk. He had no desire to become famous. This saint had a great devotion to the Blessed Mother. He often greeted her with a “Hail Mary” when he passed her statue. It is said that one day, the Blessed Mother returned his greeting: “Hail, Bernard!” In this way, Our Lady showed how much his love and devotion pleased her.
St. Bernard died in 1153. People were saddened because they would miss his wonderful influence. He was proclaimed a saint in 1174 by Pope Alexander III. He was also named a Doctor of the Church in 1830 by Pope Pius VIII.