The Guardians of the Chapel
They are the guardians of the Chapel that the Virgin Mary requested of Bernadette Soubirous during the 13th apparition on 2nd March 1858. Guardians of the chapel, meaning the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception built above the Grotto, but even more so, guardians of the Church as the People of God, a spiritual building of which each baptised person is a living stone.
The head of this mission is the Rector of the Sanctuary, appointed by the Permanent Council of the Conference of Bishops of France, at the suggestion of the Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes. He is surrounded by the “Chapelains”, who share the responsibility for pastoral care with him.
About 25 priests are resident at the Sanctuary to welcome pilgrims, accompany them in their pilgrimages, celebrate Mass and the other sacraments (notably that of Reconciliation and the Anointing of the Sick), proclaim the Word of God, teach the message from Lourdes and meditate on the rosary.
The first “chapelains” arrived in Lourdes shortly after the apparitions.
In 1866, the Bishop of Tarbes, Mgr. Laurence, entrusted Father Rémi Sempé and the Fathers of Garaison, the Missionaries of the Immaculate Conception, with the task of welcoming the first pilgrimages that were developing. The first rector of the Sanctuary, Father Sempé, was the superior of the “chapelains” for twenty-three years. He also initiated the construction of the first chapel, which the Virgin Mary requested of Bernadette Soubirous, and the subsequent constructions including the Rosary Basilica.