In 2010, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help (about sixteen miles northeast of Green Bay, Wisconsin) Bishop David Ricken formally endorsed our country’s first Church-approved Marian apparition:
“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.”
This is the account of that Marian apparition according to Sr. Pauline LaPlant, to whom Adele Brise often told her story:
She was going to the grist mill about four miles from here [Champion, WI] with a sack of wheat on her head … As Adele came near the place, she saw a lady all in white standing between two trees, one a maple, the other a hemlock. Adele was frightened and stood still. The vision slowly disappeared, leaving a white cloud after it. Adele continued on her errand and returned home without seeing anything more. She told her parents what had happened, and they wondered what it could be—maybe a poor soul who needed prayers?
On the following Sunday, she had to pass here again on her way to Mass at Bay Settlement, about eleven miles from her home … This time, she was not alone, but was accompanied by her sister Isabel and a neighbor woman. When they came near the trees, the same lady in white was at the place where Adele had seen her before. Adele was again frightened and said, almost in a tone of reproach, “Oh, there is that lady again.”
Adele had not the courage to go on. The other two did not see anything, but they could tell by Adele’s look that she was afraid. They thought, too, that it might be a poor soul that needed prayers. They waited a few minutes, and Adele told them it was gone. It had disappeared as the first time, and all she could see was a little mist or white cloud. After Mass, Adele went to confession and told her confessor how she had been frightened at the sight of a lady in white. He bade her not to fear, and to speak to him of this outside of the confessional. Father Verhoef told her that if it were a heavenly messenger, she would see it again, and it would not harm her, but to ask in God’s name who it was and what it desired of her. After that, Adele had more courage. She started home with her two companions, and a man who was clearing land for the Holy Cross Fathers at Bay Settlement accompanied them.
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.
When word spread about Adele Brise’s vision of the Blessed Virgin some believed the account with astonishment, while others judged it a demented delusion. Adele, however, considered it a commission to catechize the children and admonish the sinners of the Bay Settlement. Adele’s father erected a makeshift chapel near the spot of Adele’s vision.
Twelve years later, on October 8th, 1871, disaster came. The Great Peshtigo Fire remains the largest and deadliest forest fire in U.S. history. Between 1,200 and 2,400 lives were lost in Green Bay region. Hundreds fled to the shrine for refuge, beseeching Mary’s help. They lifted a statue of Mary and carried it around the grounds. When the wind and fire threatened suffocation in one direction, they turned in another direction to pray. Hours later, rain began to extinguish the raging fire. The shrine grounds were a green island in an ocean of smoldering ashes in every direction, and all those who fled to Mary’s shrine were saved.