We all know that Wisconsin is God’s country. What you may not know is that God himself sent us a heavenly visitor. It was October of 1859. Immigrants were pouring into the young state from all over Europe. One such immigrant, a 29 year old Belgian girl named Adele Brise, was walking down a forest trail bringing a sack of grain to the grist mill. She saw a lady clothed in dazzling white, with a yellow sash around her waist and a crown of stars around her head standing between two trees, one a maple, the other a hemlock. Adele was frightened and stood still. After several minutes, the vision slowly disappeared, leaving a white cloud.
On October 9th, the following Sunday, Adele was on her way to attend Mass at what is now Holy Cross in Bay Settlement, in the company of her sister Isabel and a neighbor woman. As they came near the same set of trees, the lady in white once again appeared to Adele. Her friends did not see the lady, which left them all puzzled. After Mass, the priest told her that if she saw the vision again she was to ask in God’s name who it was and what it desired of her.
The lady appeared again on their trip home. Adele asked her, “In God’s name who are you and what do you want of me?” “I am the Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same.” The Lady replied. “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?” asked the other weeping.
“Kneel,” said Adele, “the Lady says she is the Queen of Heaven.”
The Lady turned, looked kindly at them and said, “Blessed are they that believe without seeing.” The Lady continued, “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?” Adele said 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 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. Once the story of the apparitions got out, Adele’s father built a small chapel on the site. The chapel became known as “Good Help” because of the Lady’s promise. Eventually a schoolhouse and residence were built there.
Twelve years later the Peshtigo fire broke out on October 8, 1871 (it was the same night is the Chicago fire). Over 1,200 lives were lost in northeastern Wisconsin and 1.5 million acres were burned. Local farmers gathered at the apparition site and prayed for protection. When the dawn broke that morning, the entire countryside was burned, except for the apparition site. Everyone there had been spared.
This is not the only time that the Mother of Jesus has reportedly appeared on earth. Other sites such as Fatima (1917), Lourdes (1858), and Mexico City (Our Lady of Guadalupe, 1531) are much more famous. This place is humbler but no less holy. The old schoolhouse is still standing together with a chapel from the 1930s and a recent visitor’s center. The Shrine is located it 4047 Chapel Dr, New Franken WI and is open from 7 AM to 7 PM each day. Learn more at https://championshrine.org
Fr. Joel Sember serves as pastor of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church and Saints Mary & Hyacinth Catholic Church, Antigo, and Saint Wenceslaus Catholic Church, Neva. On July 1 he will also become pastor of SS. James & Stanislaus Catholic Church, White Lake. You can find him online at www.PilgrimPriest.us and on the Antigo Area Catholic Churches YouTube channel.