Miracle in Wisconsin
We’ve heard or read about various Marian apparitions around the world and maybe you have wondered why there has never been an approved apparition in the USA. We’ve maybe heard of a a few but most were debunked. One day while browsing for approved apparitions I found an entry for Our Lady of Good Help (in french that would be Notre Dame de Secour). This is an approved apparition which took place in Champion, WI near Green Bay over161 years ago!
In the 1840’s-1850’s this was still pioneer territory, Immigrants were rapidly pouring in from Europe, each bringing their own religious traditions. Many of these came from Belgium. A concerning issue was the lack of any authoritative religious leadership or presence for hundreds of miles around. The situation was ripe for the growth of heresies, laxity and indifference toward religious practices. People were more concerned with survival in the wilderness. There were few Catholic churches and often only one priest to cover a vast, harsh territory. Religious instruction was scattered, inconsistent and sometimes even erroneous.
Among the Belgians settling around the Upper Peninsula was a young women, Adele Joseph Brise. At a young age she had lost an eye due to an accident with lye. This had to have left scars as well as blindness. However her faith was strong. As a child she had promised the Blessed Virgin Mary that she would one day become an Ursaline nun. Before making her application, her family decided to emigrate to America and they asked her to join them. Adele was torn because of her promise to Mary to enter the Ursalines. She was twenty four. After Mass, she consulted her pastor who advised her to obey her parents.
Four years later the Brise family was settled in their new country. Adele was walking to the mill with a load of wheat over her shoulder along, with some friends, when she noticed a woman dressed in white among the trees. Before Adele could do anything the woman vanished. Her companions however, saw nothing. Shortly after that she was again walking with friends to attend Mass eleven miles away, when she saw the lady in white for a second time. Again, her companions saw nothing.
After Mass she went to the priest and explained what had happened and asked his advise. He said, “If it happens again say, ‘In God’s name, who are you and what do you want of me?’
We must remember that Adele was not an educated woman and such phenomena were quite foreign to her. On the eleven mile walk home she saw the woman in white again but this time she also wore a yellow sash around her waist. Golden hair flowed over her shoulders and there was a crown of stars on her head. This time Adele fell to her knees and repeated what the priest had told her.
The Lady answered, “I am the Queen of Heaven”. She asked Adele to make a general confession and offer communion for sinners, explaining that if sinners did not convert, Jesus would have to chastise them. Adele’s companions neither saw nor heard anything so Adele told them to kneel because the Queen of Heaven was there.
Mary then explained Adele’s mission. She was to gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation and especially how to approach the Sacraments with reverence. Adele felt totally unqualified but Mary promised to be with her to help her. Obediently, Adele began to teach the local children despite her own lack of education.
In the 1850’s there was only one priest for the entire northeast of the state of Wisconsin. Children were not well instructed in the faith nor well prepared for the reception of the Sacraments. In this very non-Catholic nation immigrants were ripe targets for distortions in doctrine and persecution.
At twenty eight years old Adele began gathering children in her village and even taught those further out in their homes. This eventually expanded to walking in a fifty mile radius to reach remote families. These were dangerous forays through dense forest, inclement weather and hostile peoples included sleeping outside or on the dirt floor in a settlers cabin. This was hard work done in great privation and often experiencing ridicule. For the next fifty years she persevered in accomplishing Mary’s mission. Over time more women joined her and formed a third order of Franciscan sisters for teaching.
Traveling from house to house or town to town was inefficient and time consuming. Eventually the sisters set up a boarding school, St. Mary’s Academy, next to the Chapel of Our Lady of Good Help that had recently been built. The little community suffered trials, persecutions and set backs but were also the site for healings and miracles. The most memorable miracle was in 1871, the Peshtigo Fire.
On October 8, 1871 a large forest fire erupted due to the slash and burn agricultural practices as well as drought. The fire spanned northeastern Wisconsin, including parts of the upper Michigan peninsula, but more pertinent to our story it also included much of the Door peninsula where Adele’s little community and school were located. The fire burned 1,200,000 acres of forest. There were estimated between 1500 and 2500 deaths. But in the wilderness the count could have been higher.
Local residents came with their animals and gathered around Sr. Adele and the community. They prayed through the night for a miracle. Their long prayer vigil was rewarded by a steady soaking rain.
In 2010 the Bishop of Green Bay, WI gave approval of this apparition site which is still witnessing miracles. The site is in present day Champion, WI being named after Adele’s home town in Belgian. The site is now a National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help.It was designated as such on August 15, 2016. Every year on August 15 there is a great outdoor Mass and procession in honor of Mary’s Assumption.
for more information see championshrine.org