I recently went on pilgrimage to the great state of Wisconsin, a state that I had never been to before. The purpose of my trip was to visit the Marian apparition site, the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, in Champion, Wisconsin, just east of Green Bay, situated in the middle of Belgian immigrant farm country. Most people have never heard of this Marian apparition Shrine, but in 2010, Bishop David L. Ricken of the Diocese of Green Bay gave his approval to the 1859 apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary to a young farm girl named Adele Brise. (The local bishop, not the Vatican, has the authority to declare the authenticity of visions). It is being run by the wonderful Fathers of Mercy, one of the best Catholic religious orders of priests that there is. It is one of numerous approved Marian apparition sites in the world.
Adele Brise was born in Belgium in 1831. She and her farm family moved to the Bay Settlement area near Green Bay, Wisconsin sometime in the early 1850’s. The US Bishops had already declared Mary to be the patroness of the US in 1846. In 1854, Pope Pius IX declared the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, which states that Mary was conceived without original sin. Just four years later, in 1858, at Lourdes, France, Mary appeared to St. Bernadette and declared that she was The Immaculate Conception. A year later, in 1859, the twenty eight year old Adele was surprised to see Mary appear to her in the wooded area of her farm in Wisconsin. As usual, her appearance had a very definitive purpose. Mary asked her to pray for poor sinners, to teach the young children how to make the sign of the cross, and to teach them about the catechism and the sacraments. Her exact statement is as follows:
“I am the Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same. You received Holy Communion this morning and that is well. But you must do more. Make a general confession and offer Communion for the conversion of sinners… Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation… Teach them their catechism, how to sign themselves with the sign of the Cross, and how to approach the sacraments; that is what I wish you to do. Go and fear nothing, I will help you.”
Adele dedicated her life to doing just that. She traveled all over the area teaching and instructing young children in the catechism, many times at great cost to her health. Her income consisted of alms from the community. She even formed a Third Order Community (laity) of Franciscan Women to further Mary’s request. Adele’s father Lambert built the first chapel on the site in 1859. In 1861, the year that the Civil War began, pilgrimages to the Shrine began. In 1869, St. Mary’s Boarding Acadamy opened at the Shrine.
Adele and her community worked tirelessly for the rest of their lives to fulfill Mary’s request. On July 5, 1896, Adele died. Her last words were:
“I rejoiced in what was said to me. We shall go into the house of the Lord.”
One important milestone in the history of the Shrine is the great Peshtigo fire of 1871. It is the worst recorded fire ever in the United States, burning approximately 1.5 million acres. A huge storm system set the Wisconsin woods on fire near the Shrine on October 8, the same day as the great Chicago fire. Adele and her Franciscan sisters took shelter in the chapel. Other residents near the Shrine did the same, and they moved their livestock onto the grounds of the chapel. Adele and her sisters took the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary and marched around the chapel praying. As the wind-whipped, fire and smoke approached the Shrine perimeter, a rainstorm began and put out the fire, saving the chapel and the property. The only livestock to survive the fire were those that were brought onto the chapel grounds. The perimeter fence was charred but survived. It’s almost as if the devil wanted to destroy this holy ground. But thanks to the faithfulness of Adele and her community, his plan was foiled. Estimates are that around 2,000 people lost their lives in the fire.
As with all investigations of the veracity of Marian apparitions, there were two very important factors taken into account by Bishop Ricken. The first was the resultant lifestyle of the seer. Did Adele Brise change her life as a result of the vision of Mary? Yes, with great certainty. Adele went from being a simple farm girl to a tireless evangelist, often traveling through the woods to teach the catechism. She would travel up to fifty miles away from the Shrine, going from home to home, offering to do the farm chores for the family if they would allow her to teach their children the catechism. Later, she formed a religious community of lay sisters and a school at the Shrine, and spent many hours teaching children their prayers and the catechism. There were times when Adele and her community did not know where their next meal was coming from, but without fail, when praying for relief from hunger, someone would always show up at their door with food.
The second factor taken into account deals with miracles. Did miracles happen at the Shrine after the 1859 apparition of Mary? Yes! The fact that the Peshtigo fire stopped at the fence of the chapel property after burning so much land could be considered miraculous, for sure. But there are also people who have visited the Shrine who have been cured of severe illnesses. Many people have left their crutches at the Shrine as proof that they could walk again. Others have been cured of deafness, blindness, heart disease, and tuberculosis. The Church has not “officially” declared them to be miracles, like the sixty-six documented miracles at Lourdes. That takes a lot of investigation. But the people who have experienced healing as a result of visiting the Shrine all credit Our Lady of Good Help and her miraculous intercession with her Son.
Due to all of the pilgrims who started coming to visit the Shrine, a new and larger chapel was built in 1942. It received the title that was over the door of the previous chapel (built in 1861) that read:
“Notre Dame de bon Secours, priez pour nous.” (Our Lady of Good Help, pray for us.)
There are numerous events held throughout the year at the Shrine, but probably the biggest one is on August 15, the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There is an outdoor Mass and a walk around the grounds afterwards. On October 8, an outdoor candlelit rosary procession is held in honor of the Shrine surviving the great Peshtigo Fire. There is all night Adoration, as well.
There are daily Masses at the beautiful Chapel, along with daily confessions. The oratory where Mary appeared is below the Chapel. Although the Chapel is handicapped accessible, at present there are only stairs to the Oratory. There is a great gift shop next to the chapel, and a soup and sandwich restaurant is next to the gift shop. My personal testimony is that everyone there is very friendly and helpful. The Fathers of Mercy are wonderful confessors as well.
To learn more about this amazing place, visit their website here.
To light a votive candle at the Shrine, click here.
To view the USA Today article on the Shrine, click here.
To view the EWTN Live interview with Father Stryker and Bishop Ricken, click here.
To read the National Catholic Register article on the Shrine, click here.
To hear great sermons by the Fathers of Mercy, click here.