The message of Our Lady of Good Help “go and fear nothing – I will help you” resonates today. Last week, I visited the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, the only Church-approved Marian apparition site in the United States. In 1859, Mary appeared to Adele Brise, a devout Belgian immigrant, who settled with her family in the Green Bay area. Mary’s message and the miracles that followed testify to the power of faith.
In October 1859, Adele was at work, on her way to a grist mill, when a lady in white appeared to her between two trees. The following Sunday, the lady appeared again. She instructed Adele with a simple direct message: “I am the Queen of Heaven…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.”
Simply, Adele did just that. After making the general confession and prayers Mary requested, she devoted her life to the rest of the mission. She traveled on foot up and down the peninsula instructing children. As Sister Adele she founded a red brick convent and school with the community of sisters she attracted. The convent and school buildings remain there today along with the fourth generation of the original chapel. This modest Tudor Gothic chapel was built in 1942 above the site where Mary appeared to Adele. Within the chapel and on the grounds, pilgrims find inspirational religious art typical of the early 20th century. The church has an active schedule of devotions, Mass, and Confession, led by the Fathers of Mercy missionary order.
A small oratory beneath the church invites pilgrims to more secluded reflection. Sister Adele’s modest grave lies outside in a small garden with those of others from her community. From there, visitors can walk a Rosary prayer walk around the perimeter of the property.
At first, I hesitated to do the walk as I picked one of the hottest days of summer to visit and was tired from travel. As I sat praying under the shade on a bench, I glimpsed a small fawn frolicking in the field behind the farthest fence. I took this as a sort of playful prompting to linger and walk the trail in the blazing heat.
It did not disappoint! The Rosary walk encircled devotional statues, a roadside shrine typical of Belgium, and a prayer garden containing stations of the cross. The riot of glorious flowers in the garden reminded me of God’s generosity. I thanked Him for letting me visit this holy place.
The Shrine’s simplicity in the middle of farmland in rural Wisconsin contrasts starkly to the grandeur and size of many other shrines. Yet, somehow, it seems a fitting homage to Mary, her simple message, and Sister Adele’s quiet obedience through her daily work. What seems like a simply and ordinary charge – to teach children to make the sign of the Cross, know their faith, and obtain the sacraments – veils the great supernatural reality and eternal impact of those actions.
Moreover, the power of the faith that makes this place a pilgrimage site today is tangible within its quiet. In 1871, an intense fire destroyed much of the surrounding area, yet went around the grounds of Sister Adele’s mission. Over 325 persons were killed locally, while the blaze known as the Great Peshtigo Fire killed over 1200 persons and destroyed many acres of farmland and homes. As Sister Adele and her community, students, and neighbors sheltered within the chapel and prayed the Rosary, the fire stopped, extinguished by sudden rain. The fire merely charred the outside of the fence. All those inside were unharmed. Since then, many healings have occurred through prayers offered at the Shrine.
In 2010 the Bishop of Green Bay gave official Church approval to the apparitions and locutions given to Adele. After an investigation, he found they had supernatural character and were worthy of belief (although not obligatory) by the Christian faithful. Six years later the U.S Council of Catholic Bishops designated the shrine as a National Shrine.
Go and See
The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help is well worth a pilgrimage. In addition to private reflection at the quiet grounds and chapel, pilgrims enjoy opportunities for other spiritual devotions. Recently, the Shrine added a large Mother of Mercy Hall for healing Masses. The Green Bay Order of Malta arranges monthly Eucharistic prayer services with anointing of the sick. The Mother of Mercy Hall also provides space for retreats, conferences, and pilgrimage groups. Pilgrims may visit the original 1885 school building which now serves as a gift shop and café. The rooms within contain glimpses of its former use as a school and living area for the community.
Perhaps God used my trip to repair my Airstream to let me encounter this beautiful Shrine and renew my spirit there. May Our Lady of Good Help pray for us and soothe the fires of wrath and destruction raging today in many hearts. Through Jesus, may she bring us to fuller love and respect for all in our own communities.
If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to my monthly emailed newsletter. I’ve also got a short slideshow with more photos of the Shrine if you didn’t get enough in this post. Finally, you can make your own pilgrimage to The National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help at 4047 Chapel Drive, Champion, WI 54229 and learn more at www.shrineof ourladyofgoodhelp.com