15th Aug 2013

Do You Know About Our Lady’s Only Appearance in the United States?

by Vicki Thorn

Leading up to today’s feast of the Assumption, I’ve been thinking a lot about Our Lady’s apparitions in the Americas. Everyone knows about the one in Mexico! I was blessed to spend time recently with a priest who has spent a great deal of time studying the tilma. I was thinking about how blessed we are here in Wisconsin to have the spectacular shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, WI that was built by Raymond Cardinal Burke.

I was also thinking about the one approved apparition in the United States, which took place here in Wisconsin!

The story is rather short. The shrine is located in Champion, Wis., which is about 17 miles northeast of Green Bay. (I expect most people will recognize that town!) The town was originally known as Robinsonville in the mid-1800s, and was settled by Belgian immigrants. A young woman by the name of Adele Brise often walked the area.

Adele had arrived from Belgium with her parents, two sisters, and a brother from Belgium in 1855 when she was 24 years old. Even as a young girl in Belgium, she had felt a call to become part of a religious community. It is reported that she and some of her friends had promised Our Lady they would become sisters and serve foreign missions. The promise troubled her as the family prepared to immigrate, but her confessor told her, “If God wills it, you will become a sister in America. Go, I will pray for you.” Life in America kept her occupied with the work of 240 acres of farmland and the challenges of pioneer life.

In early October 1859, Adele was carrying wheat to a grist mill about four miles from home when she saw a woman dressed in white standing between a maple tree and a hemlock tree. Frightened, she stood still, and the vision faded to a white cloud. Adele recovered and hurried on her way, but wondering who this woman was. She returned home and told her parents. They wondered if perhaps it was a soul in need of prayer.

Sunday morning, Oct. 9, she was on her way to Mass at Bay Settlement some 11 miles away accompanied by her sister and a neighbor. When Adele approached the place where she had seen the woman before, the woman again appeared but did not speak. Adele was visibly shaken, but continued on to Mass. After Mass, Adele told the priest, Father Verhoef, about what had happened. She asked him what should she do if the woman were to appear again. He told her to ask this question: “In God’s name, who are you and what do you want of me?”

On the way home, another encounter happened. Here is the description from Sister Pauline LePlante as reported on the website of the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help:

“As they approached the hallowed spot, Adele could see the beautiful lady, clothed in dazzling white, with a yellow sash around her waist. Her dress fell to her feet in graceful folds. She had a crown of stars around her head, and her long, golden, wavy hair fell loosely around her shoulders. Such a heavenly light shone around her that Adele could hardly look back at her sweet face. Overcome by this heavenly light and the beauty of her amiable visitor, Adele fell on her knees.

“‘In God’s name, who are you and what do you want of me?’ asked Adele, as she had been directed.

“‘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’

“‘Adele, who is it?'' said one of the women. ‘O why can’t we see her as you do?’ said another weeping.

“‘Kneel,’ said Adele, ‘the Lady says she is the Queen of Heaven.’ Our Blessed Lady turned, looked kindly at them, and said,Blessed are they that believe without seeing. What are you doing here in idleness…while your companions are working in the vineyard of my Son?’

“‘What more can I do, dear Lady?’ said Adele, weeping.

“‘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,’ replied her radiant visitor, ‘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.’”

The manifestation of Our Lady 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.”

Our Lady’s call was for prayer and catechesis. How fitting this is to the time of the New Evangelization!

Adele accepted Our Lady’s invitation and went on to become a religious and to teach the young Belgian children.

An incredible event happened on the 12th anniversary of the apparition. A raging fire storm (known as the Peshtigo Fire) began to burn at the same time as the Great Chicago Fire. The fire burned 2,400 square miles and 1,500 people lost their lives. Many local people gathered with Sister Adele and her companions prepared to meet their fate. They took the statue of Our Lady and processed the perimeter of the property on their knees, praying the Rosary. In the morning, “The houses and fences in the neighborhood had been burned with the exception of the school, the chapel and fence surrounding the six acres of land consecrated to the Blessed Virgin.”

On Dec. 8, 2010, Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay issued this decree: “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.”

Obviously there is much more to the story! I encourage you to go the web site of the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help and read further. Edward Looney, a seminarian from the Diocese of Green Bay, has written a book published by Tau Publishing called Our Lady of Good Help: Mary’s Message and Mission for Adele Brise and the World.

During the feast of the Assumption, we need perhaps to be reminded of Our Lady’s deep care for us and that she is truly our mother, protector and advocate. These words from Our Lady of Guadalupe to Saint Juan Diego speak strongly to her care for us.

Listen, put it into your heart, my youngest and dearest son, that the thing that disturbs you, the thing that afflicts you, is nothing. Do not let your countenance, your heart be disturbed. Do not fear this sickness of your uncle or any other sickness, nor anything that is sharp or hurtful. Am I not here, I, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need anything more? Let nothing else worry you, disturb you…

Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God!

Vicki Thorn is the founder of the National Office for Post Abortion Reconciliation and Healing and Project Rachel.

(The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Catholic Pulse or the Knights of Columbus.)