Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help
The Chapel of the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help is a Marian shrine, located within the Roman Catholic Diocese of Green Bay. The chapel is in the community of Champion, Wisconsin, about 16 miles (26 km) north east of Green Bay, Wisconsin. It stands on the site of the reported Marian apparition to a Belgian-born woman, Adele Brise, in the year 1859.
The apparition was formally approved on December 8, 2010, by Bishop David Ricken, becoming the first Marian apparition approved by the Catholic Church in the United States. Bishop Ricken also approved the Chapel as a Diocesan Shrine, recognizing its long history as a place of pilgrimage and prayer.
The Apparitions of 1859
Adele Brise was born in Belgium in 1831. Together with her parents, she immigrated to Wisconsin in 1855. In early October of 1859, Adele reported seeing a woman clothed in white and standing between two trees, a hemlock and a maple. Adele described the woman as surrounded by a bright light, clothed in dazzling white with a yellow sash around her waist and a crown of stars above her flowing blond locks. She was frightened by the vision and prayed until it disappeared. When she told her parents what she had seen, they suggested that a poor soul might be in need of prayers.
The following Sunday, which was October 9, 1859, she saw the apparition a second time while walking to Mass in the community of Bay Settlement. Her sister and another woman were with her at the time but neither of them saw anything. She asked the parish priest for advice, and he told her that if she saw the apparition again, she should ask it, "In the Name of God, who are you and what do you wish of me?"
Returning from Mass that same day, she saw the apparition a third time, and this time asked the question she was given. The lady replied, "I am the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same." Adele Brise was also given a mission to "gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation."
At the time of the apparition Adele was 28 years old, and she devoted the rest of her life to teaching children. At first she traveled by foot from house to house, and later she began a small school. Some other women joined her in this work and they formed a community of sisters according to the rule of the Third Order Franciscans, although Adele Brise never took public vows as a nun. She died on July 5, 1896.
The original chapel was a small wooden structure built by Lambert Brise, the father of Adele Brise, at the site of the Marian apparition. Mrs. Isabella Doyen donated the 5 acres (20,000 m2) surrounding the spot, and a larger wooden church was built in 1861. This chapel bore the inscription "Notre Dame de bon Secours, priez pour nous", giving the shrine its present name. The site became a popular place of pilgrimage and the chapel was soon too small to accommodate the pilgrims who were coming. A larger brick chapel was built in 1880, and dedicated by Bishop Francis Xavier Krautbauer, the second bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Green Bay. A school and a convent were also built on the site in the 1880s.
The Peshtigo Fire
Lumber companies and sawmills had been harvesting the woods of Wisconsin, leaving piles of sawdust and branches as they produced lumber and wood products. The night of October 8, 1871, a firestorm began near Peshtigo, Wisconsin that spread through the woods and towns, consuming everything in its path. Unable to outrun the flames, nearly 2,000 people died in the inferno. Driven by strong winds, the conflagration leaped across the Green Bay of Lake Michigan and began burning huge sections of the Door Peninsula. When the firestorm threatened the Chapel, Adele Brise refused to leave and instead organized a procession to beg the Virgin Mary for her protection. The surrounding land was destroyed by the fire but the chapel and its grounds, together with all the people who had taken refuge there, survived the fire unharmed. The conflagration destroyed about 1,200,000 acres (4,900 km2) of land and is the worst recorded fire disaster in US history.
The current building at the shrine was built in 1942, with support from Bishop Paul Peter Rhode, who dedicated the new building in July of 1942. It is a Tudor Gothic style building which accommodates approximately 300 people in an upper Apparition Chapel with a small Apparition Oratory for prayer on the lower level. The Apparition Oratory also contains a collection of crutches left behind in thanksgiving by people who came to pray at the shrine. The grounds of the shrine have an outdoor area for a Rosary walk and Stations of the Cross.
The largest annual gathering at the Chapel happens on the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, on August 15, celebrated with an outdoor Mass and a procession around the grounds of the shrine.
The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help gained national recognition when the apparitions were approved, after a two year investigation, by Bishop David Ricken on December 8, 2010, making it the first and only apparition approved by the Catholic Church in the United States. Bishop Ricken noted that his predecessors had implicitly endorsed the shrine by holding services there over the years.
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