In these tragic days of vast wildfires raging in many parts of the world bringing death and destruction in their wake, terror and despair, it seems timely to call on the Blessed Mother to come to our assistance today. Once long ago in 1871, and in the similar circumstances of a uncontrolled devastating fire, She gave her motherly protection to all who gathered in a Church built over the site where She had appeared 11 years earlier under her title of ‘Our Lady of Good Help’ to a humble and partially deformed Belgian immigrant woman in Wisconsin, U.S.A. Read the amazing story below.
Many Catholics are familiar with the great supernatural facts of Lourdes and Fatima, but not enough Catholics (especially in the United States) are aware that the Virgin Mary appeared to Adele Brise in 1859 in Champion, Wisconsin with a message that focused on the importance of the Sacraments, catechesis of the young, and the salvation of sinners. To underscore the importance of this apparition, the U.S. Bishops in 2016 designated The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, the location of the apparitions, a National Shrine, this following the published approval of the apparition by the Bishop for the Diocese of Green Bay, Rev. David L. Ricken, on December 8, 2010, who declared on that date the following:
“I declare with moral certainty and in accord with the norms of the Church that the events in October of 1859, do exhibit the substance of supernatural character, and I do hereby approve these apparitions as worthy of belief by the Christian faithful.”
I understand that the approval of this apparition of Our Lady of Good Help makes it the only approved Marian apparition in the United States at the Diocesan level , which only serves to underscore its importance.
Bishop Ricken summarized the apparition of the Virgin Mary to Adele Brise very succinctly, stating:
Incessant prayer has gone up in this place based upon the word of a young Belgian immigrant woman, Adele Brise, who in October 1859 said that the Blessed Mother, a Lady clothed in dazzling white, had appeared to her on this site. The Lady was elevated slightly in a bright light and gave words of solace and comfort and a bold and challenging mission for the young immigrant woman. The Lady gave her a two-fold mission of prayer for the conversion of sinners and catechesis. “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… 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; that is what I wish you to do. Go and fear nothing, I will help you.” Adele Brise began immediately to fulfill the mandate and mission entrusted to her by the Lady and oftentimes at great personal sacrifice went to the homes of the children to instruct them in the largely unsettled and forested area in Wisconsin. Adele was ever obedient to the authorities of the Church and steadfast in the mission entrusted to her by Our Lady, no matter what difficulty she encountered.
Twelve years after the appearance of Mary to Adele Brise there was an extraordinary, supernatural confirmation of the apparition’s authenticity. Specifically, in 1871 “the great fire of Northern Wisconsin”, historically known as the Peshtigo fire, took direct aim at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help. Boris and Natasha, who have researched the Peshtigo fire, provide an excellent summary of what then happened:
“The Peshtigo fire burned from southwest to northeast up both sides of the Bay. It was a wildfire of immense proportions with hurricane force winds and 2,000 degree temperatures. Nothing in its path survived and it was headed right for Our Lady of Good Help.
Unable to fight it and with no hope of outrunning it, the people headed for the only place they could think of – the church. The compound was now about five acres in size and enclosed by a white picket fence. No one knows how many people eventually crowded in but it was a large number. They brought their livestock with them and there were reports that forest animals were also inside the fence.
With the fire bearing down on them, Sister Adele led them in prayer. They said the Rosary. They kneeled in prayer at the altar. They walked around the chapel in a processional with a statue of Mary lifted high and pleaded for salvation. Soon the fire was all around them. Flames arched over the compound. People watched nearby farms explode in flames. The outside of the picket fence was charred black. Before this night was over, the heat, the flames, the smoke, the poisoned air and the flying debris would destroy over one million acres (2400 square miles) of old growth forest, kill 2500 people and incinerate at least a dozen communities. It was the largest and deadliest fire in American history – before or since – but the Chapel of Our Lady of Good Help was spared.
Morning brought a scene of total devastation as far as the eye could see. It took years for the region to recover and some of the destroyed communities never re-built. In the middle of it was Our Lady of Good Help, a green oasis in a desert of destruction. Everyone and everything inside the fence were alive, uninjured and undamaged. If the people of the Belgian colony ever had any doubts that the Virgin Mary had appeared to Adele, provided for her and protected her, there were none now.” [See their full article, with photos of the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help and of Sister Adele Brise at the following link
CONCLUSION: The apparition of Our Lady of Good Help to Adele Brise in 1859 is of incredible importance to the Catholic Church in the United States and to all Catholics. A main focus of the apparition is the salvation of sinners and the need to teach the faith to the young. The reason for evangelization, the reason for catechesis, is so that people can be saved. If we don’t pass on the faith, the corresponding risk is the loss of salvation. What awesome and daunting responsibilities our Catholic faith has passed on to us. Our Lady of Good Help, pray for us.
Ref. For a more detailed account of the apparitions of Our Lady of Good Help, see Sister Dominica Shallow’s short book, Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help: a History (see shrineofourladyofgoodhelp.com). Father Garrigou-Lagrange uses the phrase, “great, supernatural facts.”