The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wisconsin has been in the news for over a year after the local Bishop, David L. Ricken of the Diocese of Green Bay, approved as supernatural the apparitions to a Belgian immigrant woman named Adele Brise (“Breece”) in the 1850s.[i] These apparitions went unnoticed by the larger Catholic world until Bishop Ricken’s Decree made the apparitions the first approved in the United States (effectively vaulting it overnight onto the international stage).
The message of Our Lady to Adele Brise was about conversion and bringing together “the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.”[ii] Throughout her life, Adele faithfully lived this charge that Our Lady gave her. Adele enjoyed a good reputation, dare I say one for holiness, and she never wavered in her charge.[iii] Unfortunately, this charge can easily become obscured by another part of Our Lady’s message to Adele—one that warned of a punishment if Our Lady’s word was not heeded.[iv]
In the 1870s, there was a terrible fire known as the Great Peshtigo Fire that devastated a sizeable portion of Wisconsin. The Fire has been associated with the “punishment” aspect of Our Lady’s message. However, it is dangerous to associate the Fire with Our Lady’s warning. I would like to provide four reasons why it is dangerous to make the association.
The first reason is theological. The only way to verify that the Fire was the fulfillment of Our Lady’s warning to Adele is by a supernatural revelation. Adele was the only person in a position to claim this and she died in 1896, having never said a word to this effect, or at least nothing was recorded. Secondly, the association plays upon religious sensibilities in an unedifying way. Thirdly, it distracts us from the message on catechesis and salvation. Fourthly (and closely related to the second), it distracts us from looking at how to apply the message and charge in our contemporary situation.
Our Lady’s message to bring together the children of this wild country and teach them what they need to know for salvation is very necessary in our time. In a country wild with Secularism and attacks upon the liberty of the Church to preach salvation in Jesus Christ, Our Lady’s call is for all of us to study and learn our Faith. If we did this rather than make vain associations, perhaps Our Lady’s message would have been heeded sooner.
May Our Lady, the Queen of Heaven, grant us her help and heavenly aid as we live her charge made known to Adele so many years ago.
[i] <http://www.shrineofourladyofgoodhelp.com/> (Accessed 7 March, 2012).
[ii] Sr. M Dominica, O.S.F., The Chapel of Our Lady of Good Help. (De Pere: Journal Publishing Company, 1955), 9. Hereafter Dominica followed by page number. In the 1950’s, Sr. Dominica wrote out the history of the Shrine and the apparitions, using primary source documents and witnesses who were still living at that time.
[iii] There is one story where the Bishop ordered her to close the chapel that was built over the spot where Our Lady appeared to Adele. Adele lived and worked at the chapel. In the meeting where Adele was to hand the keys over to the Bishop, she boldly stated to him that now he was responsible for all the souls who were without catechesis. Impressed, the Bishop gave the keys back and allowed Adele to continue her work. See Dominica, 21-22.[iv]Dominica, 8.