Thursday, July 12, 2018
Our Lady of Good Help
The airport cabbie was blunt. “Champion? It’s a bump along the road – you don’t even slow down for it.”
My wife and I explained that we were looking for Our Lady of Good Help. “Oh, you’re here for the shrine,” he said. “That’s different.”
He was right on both counts. Champion, Wisconsin, is little more than a dot on the map, but the shrine there is a bustling hub. As the only fully approved Marian apparition site in the USA, Our Lady of Good Help hosts thousands of pilgrims every year.
The shrine’s origins dates back to the mid-19th century when Belgian immigrants settled the area, including the Brise family and their teenage daughter, Adele. A cheerful girl despite a disfiguring youthful injury, Adele was both pious and affable.
One day, Adele was walking to the gristmill with a load of wheat. A shimmering lady clothed in white appeared between two trees, but the vision rapidly dissipated. After a second sighting, Adele asked her confessor for advice, and he told her to ask the lady who she was and what she wanted. On the way home from Mass later that same day, October 9, 1859, Adele saw the lady again and made bold her inquiry.
“I am the Queen of Heaven,” came the lady’s reply. “Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.”
Adele balked, but our Lady met her objections with a simple formula: “Teach them their catechism, how to sign themselves with the sign of the Cross, and how to approach the sacraments.” Then, before vanishing, the Queen of Heaven reassured the young apostle. “Go and fear nothing,” she said. “I will help you.”
From that moment on until her death in 1896, Adele dedicated herself to carrying out Mary’s charge. Along with a handful of companions, who associated themselves with the Franciscan Third Order, Sister Adele worked tirelessly to build up the faith of the fledgling immigrant community. They built a chapel, a convent, and a school, and when the compound was miraculously spared during the devastating Peshtigo Fire of 1871, all lingering doubts about Adele’s visions were dismissed.
Green Bay Bishop David Ricken declared the apparitions “worthy of belief” in 2010, and in 2016, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops designated the grounds a National Shrine.
A version of this story originally appeared in Franciscan Magazine, Franciscan University of Steubenville. For more information on Our Lady of Good Help and the shrine at Champion, Wisconsin, follow this link.