Yesterday on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the Bishop of Green Bay, David Ricken, officially approved the 1859 apparitions of Mary to Adele Brise, a Belgian immigrant, as “worthy of belief”.
The formal declaration ran this way: “I declare with moral certainty and in accord with the norms of the Church that the events, apparitions and locutions given to Adele Brise in October of 1859 do exhibit the substance of supernatural character, and I do hereby approve these apparitions as worthy of belief (although not obligatory) by the Christian faithful.”
In 1859 in October (the month of Our Lady of the Rosary), in Robinsonville (now Champion, Wisconsin), a Belgian immigrant named Adele Brise was walking to the gristmill with a big sack of wheat on her head, when she suddenly saw a woman dressed in dazzling white, standing between two trees, a maple and a hemlock. Adele stood stock still in fright. After a while the woman faded away into a white cloud.
After getting back from the mill, Adele told her parents about it. They decided it might have been one of the poor souls in Purgatory, asking for prayers. (This is a pretty standard interpretation of seeing a ghost, if you’re Catholic.)
Next Sunday, going to Mass with two other women, Adele saw the woman in white again, though the others did not see her. She again stopped, frightened, and complained, “Oh, there is that lady again.” The other women also thought it was probably one of the Poor Souls. After a few minutes, it disappeared again into a white misty cloud that only Adele saw.
Adele kept on along to church with her companions, and went to Confession beforehand. As well as confessing and being absolved, she told the priest what had been going on. He told her to tell him about this outside the confessional. (Allowing them both to discuss it freely with others, without running into the Seal of Confession that would shut the priest’s mouth.)
So they started talking about it. Father Verhoef told her not to be afraid. If she saw the woman in white again, Adele should ask its name and what it wanted. If it was from Heaven, it would come again and would not harm her. So Adele went to Mass, received Communion, and went home in a state of grace, accompanied by the two women and by a man who worked in the area.
Sure enough, the woman appeared again. Adele approached and could see that she was wearing a yellow belt around her white dress, and a crown of stars on her long golden hair. (A sign of inculturation among Northern Europeans, but also identified with the Apocalypse and the queen’s gold of Ophir.) Taking her priest’s advice, Adele asked, “In the name of God, who are you and what do you want of me?” (Which in Catholic tradition is the way to talk to ghosts and spirits, because the name of God will make demons flee.)
The woman said, “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.”
At this point, the other women broke in. One asked, “Adele, who is it?” The other wept and asked, “Oh, why can’t we see her as you do?”
Adele answered, “Kneel! The lady says she is the Queen of Heaven!”
Adele reported that at this point, Mary turned to the other women, looked kindly at them, and said, “Blessed are they that believe without seeing.” (Which ought to be a comfort for those many people who wear themselves out with wanting to see signs and wonders.)
Then she turned back to Adele, and asked reproachfully, “What are you doing here in idleness, while your companions are working in the vineyard of my Son?” (This was in reference to Adele’s friends back home, who had joined a religious community — as Adele had also promised to do, before her parents took her with them to America.)
Now Adele teared up, and asked, “What more can I do, lady?”
“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.”
Mary then lifted her hands, as though beseeching a blessing for those at her feet, and slowly vanished, leaving Adele overwhelmed and prostrate on the ground.
Adele obeyed and began giving the local kids simple catechetical instruction. She traveled as far as fifty miles and made many personal sacrifices in order to get to kids who lived way back in the waybacks. Eventually, Adele’s father built a simple chapel on the site, dedicated to Our Lady of Good Help (Bon Secours, an old title of Our Lady from back in Belgium), which became a place of pilgrimage known for healing and other favors from God. Adele went on to found the first Catholic school in the area, and was joined by other women who felt a call to teach. Banding together as Third Order Franciscans, they also continued to pray for the conversion of sinners.
Here’s where the story gets dramatic again. There were several apocalyptically huge forest fires up north in the late 1800’s. The Peshtigo Fire on October 8, 1871 swept across the Green Bay area, killing thousands and wreaking total devastation on whole towns. People living close to the chapel fled there and marched around it in procession all night, praying the Rosary and carrying a statue of Mary. Everything outside the shrine’s five acres burned. In gratitude for this and for the original apparitions, there is a procession every year on the same date.
The sad thing is that, due to lack of vocations, all the schools at the site have now been closed. This is a pretty darned sad commentary on American life, if you can get more vocations from poor people practically living on the frontier than from people living secure.
The main point of this apparition, whether you believe it or not, is that God wants us to pray for each other’s salvation, and to teach children what they need to know about Him. Even if you only know a little yourself, that doesn’t mean you can’t teach the basics. There are too many people out there who don’t even know that much.
Our Lady of Good Help, pray for us sinners. Queen of Heaven, teach us how to serve your Son, Jesus Christ.
The long form of the bishop’s decree, from which I have cribbed a lot of this post. It talks a lot about the factors which led investigators to believe that these apparitions were true and came from God. (So if you’re wondering about other alleged apparitions, this gives you a template to see what makes something “worthy of belief”.)
Here’s the website for the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wisconsin. It’s in a beautiful area with plenty of educational stuff and parks, so it’s probably a good place to take a pilgrimage/field trip/vacation. (Especially if you have kids. Lakes and forests are good places to take kids.)
The older English translation of the Good Help title was Our Lady of Good Succor or Prompt Succor. Our Lady has local diocesan feasts under the title of Our Lady of Prompt Succor on Jan. 8 in New Orleans; Our Lady of Succour (Secours) on Jan. 28 near Rouen, France; Our Lady of Help (Notre Dame de Secours) on Feb. 22 in Rennes, France; Our Lady of Good Help/Aid (Notre Dame de Bon Secours) on Mar. 5 in Nancy, France and Montreal, Quebec; Our Lady the Helper on May 4, near Caen, France; Our Lady of Help on July 9 in the Netherlands; Our Lady, Help of Those in Their Last Agony on the last Saturday in July; Our Lady of Good Help (Buen Socorro) on Sept. 16 in Socorro, Colombia; and Our Lady of All Help on Oct. 6. The reason there are so many feasts is that most of these are associated with great local miracles or miraculous unexpected aid.
From 1476, Rome’s roadside Chapel of La Madonna di Bon Aiuto, built by Pope Sixtus IV, in gratitude for safe shelter from a thunderboomer. (In modern Italian, “Good Help” is “Buon Aiuto”.)
While there were other approved apparitions in Canada and Mexico, and while the apparitions of Our Lady of America appear to have been sorta kinda approved for all practical purposes (at least according to now-Cardinal Burke’s canon law opinion), this is the first apparition in the US that has definitely been formally approved. (And if you read any pointed language about this, it’s because there were notoriously false apparitions in Necedah, Wisconsin and a few other places in the past century, and they produced bad, bad fruit.)