December 8, 2010, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, was a momentous day for the Church and for the United States of America. It was on that day that Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay issued a decree that authenticated the nineteenth-century apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary to a young woman, Adele Brise, in the farmlands near Champion, Wisconsin. A shrine built there, the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, is now worthy of belief as a site where Mary really appeared along the level of Guadalupe in Mexico, Lourdes in France, and Fatima in Portugal. Mary’s appearances to Adele Brise are the first Marian apparitions approved by the Church for the United States.

Adele Brise’s story is a remarkable one. At age twenty-four and the oldest of four children of Belgian immigrants, she came with her family to the Green Bay peninsula in 1855. Her father purchased 240 acres of land in the town of Red River for $120 dollars. Adele had intended to join a religious community when she came to America, but her first days in Wisconsin were taken up with the hard work of farming and pioneer life.

Adele’s life changed in early October 1859. While carrying grain to a mill about four miles from her home, Mary appeared to her. A few days later, on October 9, while walking to Sunday Mass in Bay Settlement, about eleven miles from home, Mary appeared to her again. After Mass, Adele told the pastor about what she had seen. He said to her, “Ask in God’s name who it was and what it desired of her.” On the way, home, Mary appeared a third time and Adele asked the question as the pastor had suggested. Mary responded:

“I am the Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners and I wish you to do the same. 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.”

Adele Brise dedicated the rest of her life to doing what Mary instructed. She gathered the children near her home and taught them the faith. She also traveled to other farms, sometimes as far as fifty miles away, to do the same. She faced challenges of the forest and weather that were often easier to handle than ridicule that came from those who didn’t believe that Mary had appeared to her.

Eventually, a school and chapel were built at the site of the appearances. Most of the students were orphans. Adele, who gathered a lay community known as the Sisters of Good Help around her, often went begging for what she and the school needed. When food was scarce, Adele would pray to Mary for help. Inevitably someone would drop by a sack of flour or some meat to get them through the next days.

A huge fire known as the Peshitgo Fire threatened the area on October 8, 1871 (the same day as the Chicago Fire). People brought animals and their families to the grounds of the chapel. Adele carried a statue of Mary around the perimeter of the grounds. On the outer portion of the perimeter everything burned. The fire did not advance inside the five-acre perimeter near the school and chapel. Many considered this a miracle. The procession is repeated every year on October 8.

Bishop Ricken began looking into Mary’s appearances in 2009, and much of his investigation involved the life of Adele Brise. The bishop said this about her:

“What has struck me about the story of the life of Adel Brise is her lifelong fidelity to what the Blessed Mother asked her to do with her life. She dedicated her life to prayer, especially for the conversion of sinners, and to the catechesis of children. She made great sacrifices and attracted other young women to follow her in fidelity to the Blessed Mother’s call.”

Activities

  • Plan as if you are able to make a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help. Ask students to prepare an itinerary of their pilgrimage.
  • Write a prayer of petition to Our Lady of Good Help.
  • Create a PowerPoint or slide show of the approved Marian apparitions.
  • Investigate other Marian apparitions that have been considered but not approved. Write a report on at least one of these.