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‘Teach them what they should know for salvation’

Our Lady of Good Help in Wisconsin is only Marian apparition approved in U.S.

CHAMPION, Wisc. | The first time Father Edward Looney visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, he had just come back from a European pilgrimage. While abroad, he had asked God to show him in his own diocese the faith that he saw at Marian shrines there. If he saw that same faith, he promised, he would enter seminary.

He found himself among more than 3,000 people at the 36-acre shrine in the countryside of Champion, Wisc. — and accepted it as an answer to his prayer.

"I felt overwhelmed and awestruck at the same time," Father Looney said of that day, Aug. 15, 2000. "Overwhelmed, because I knew I was destined for the seminary, and awestruck that my prayer was answered so quickly."

Image of Mary as she appeared to Adele Brise in 1859 in Champion, Wisc.

Photographer: LIZETTE LANTIGUA | FC

Image of Mary as she appeared to Adele Brise in 1859 in Champion, Wisc.

Since that day, he has returned many times to the first approved Marian apparition site in the United States — and thus far, the only one. He said he always feels "God’s love in a profound way in the Apparition Oratory."

The shrine is the U.S. version of Marian apparition sites in Europe, such as Our Lady of Lourdes in France and Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal. And the peaceful grounds in Champion have some things in common with those more famed shrines.

At the oratory, which marks the spot of the apparition, people have left their crutches throughout the years as a proof of healing and as a gesture of thanksgiving. Near the oratory is the Apparition Chapel, the main church. Also on the grounds are beautiful Stations of the Cross, a rosary walk pathway, and outdoor images of other Marian apparitions, as well as historic small roadside chapels from the area. You can even see a 1885 schoolhouse and convent that later became a hospital for children with disabilities.

Lady dressed in white

The apparitions happened in 1859 to Adele Brise, who had moved from Belgium with her family to what was then Robinsonville, Wisc. That October, Adele was on her way to a mill with a sack of wheat.

She saw a lady dressed in white standing between two trees. She was frightened when she saw the image slowly disappear, leaving a cloud. When she told her parents at home, they said it could be a poor soul who needed prayers.

The second time she visited the area, she was accompanied by her sister and a neighbor. When they came to the same spot, she saw the lady again, and the image once again disappeared.

After Mass, Adele went to confession and told her parish priest, Father William Verhoef, what she had seen. He advised her not to be frightened, that if it were a heavenly messenger, she would see it again and it would not harm her. He also told her to ask in God’s name who it was and what it wanted of her.

As she headed back home with her sister, a neighbor and a man who was working the fields, she once again saw the image in the same spot. She described the lady as beautiful, dressed in dazzling white, with a yellow sash. She had long golden hair and a crown of stars.

Conversion of sinners

Adele knelt and asked the questions the priest suggested. The image responded: "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. If they do not convert and do penance, my Son will be obliged to punish them."

One of Adele’s companions asked who the lady was, and the other asked why she couldn’t see her. "The Lady says she is the Queen of Heaven," Adele said, then asked them to kneel. Then the Lady said, "Blessed are they that believe without seeing."

"What are you doing here in idleness," continued the Lady, "while your companions are working in the vineyard of my Son?"

"What more can I do, dear Lady?" Adele responded.

"Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation."

"But how shall I teach them who know so little myself?" replied Adele.

"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 Brise trusted in these words and began her evangelization in the area.

Approved in 2010

Although the apparitions happened in October of 1859, they weren’t approved until Dec. 8, 2010, the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The approval came from Bishop David L. Ricken of the Archdiocese of Green Bay, Wisc.

But "it was always implicitly approved by the bishops of Green Bay," said Father Peter Stryker, rector of the shrine. The earlier bishops were so busy evangelizing, he said, they didn’t take time to get it approved.

"Maybe the Holy Spirit delayed the approval because we need those special graces today more than when Catholic culture was booming in this country," Father Stryker said.

Shortly after Bishop Ricken arrived in Champion, he received a note from his predecessor, Bishop David Zubik, saying he had begun the process of looking into the apparitions. Bishop Ricken then started interviewing families that had been coming year after year to the shrine.

"They told me of the blessing and prayers that were answered; it was just beautiful," Bishop Ricken said.

He moved forward with the specific Vatican process of investigation that took 18 months. He organized a commission comprised of three Marian scholars — including a "devil’s advocate" — to evaluate the apparition.

Three aspects of the shrine are the most important take-home facts for the bishop.

"First, that it is a welcoming sanctuary of peace that invites all to grow in their relationship with Mary, our Mother, on their personal journey to a deeper relationship with her Son, Jesus," he said.

"Second, that it is a destination for pilgrims who seek healing of mind, body and soul. Third, that this environment fosters the teaching of the Catholic faith to children and adults.

"Finally, visitors are able to encounter Jesus in the sacraments of Eucharist, reconciliation and anointing of the sick. Prayers are answered in this simple, humble, beautiful place."

Church is cautious

According to a book by Father Looney,"The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, A Self-Guided Tour," the Church is very cautious toward apparitions. They are not approved quickly unless there is some pressing need — as in the case of Our Lady of Lourdes, when a miraculous spring of healing water emerged, or in the case of Our Lady of Fatima, because thousands saw the miracle of the sun.

However, the story Our Lady of Good Help did feature one compelling sign, in the view of many area residents: the Peshtigo Fire of 1871.More than 1.2 million acres burned, and 2,000 people died — more than any other fire in American history, according to "Time" magazine — but the people who fled to the shrine and prayed the rosary survived.

"All those people that came to the shrine consecrated their lives to Jesus through Mary," Father Stryker said.

He notes another interesting fact. In the Lourdes apparition, which happened a year earlier than the one in Champion, Mary identified herself as the Immaculate Conception. At Champion, she identified herself as the Queen of Heaven.

"It’s kind of like bookends of Mary’s life," the priest said. "She starts as the Immaculate Conception in St. Anne’s womb and ends as the Queen of Heaven."

But in contrast to the Fatima apparition, in which Mary imparted secrets to the children, she gave Adele Brise a simple message in Champion: "to teach the Catholic faith to the next generation," Father Stryker said.

The continuing invitation is likewise simple, said Father Looney. His advice:

"Come to the shrine and receive the Eucharist, offering it for the conversion of sinners. That’s what Mary asked Adele to do. Then after you have come and prayed, teach by word and example. That’s what Mary asked Adele to do."

FIND OUT MORE

  • For those who dream of visiting the Marian apparition sites of Our Lady of Lourdes or Fatima, but can’t cross the Atlantic for whatever reason, there is Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wisc.
  • The shrine is located at: 4047 Chapel Drive, Champion, WI 54229.
  • 920-866-2571
  • Opened from 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.
   

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