Today, I will be posting “part eight” in the history series on Our Lady of Good Help. Let’s pick up where I left off last Tuesday.
In the year 1871, one of the greatest natural disasters – the most deadly wildfire (a true hurricane of fire) in the history of the U.S. – befell on the people of the Midwestern United States. On October 8, 1871, The Peshtigo Fire (or The Great Wisconsin Fire) engulfed Northern Wisconsin, consuming 1.5 million acres of forest and farmland and killing 1,200-2,400 people. The Peshtigo Fire and the Great Chicago Fire both raged the same night, however the Chicago Fire burned far less land than the Peshtigo Fire (2,000 acres as opposed to 1.5 million acres) and was far less deadly (300 casualties). Both fires were deadly, destructive and – in large part – due to reckless handling of fire and sloppy logistics.
The Great Peshtigo Fire started raging in and around the lumber town of Peshtigo in the twilight hours of Sunday, October 8, 1871. By 8:30 P.M. the fire was on the outskirts of the town of Peshtigo and by 10:00 P.M. the town was completely burned to the ground. This inferno burned onward in a belt 50 miles long and 20 miles wide toward Green Bay. A survivor of The Fire once wrote: “if one could imagine the worst snow storm he ever witnessed, and each flake a coal or spark of fire driven before a terrifying wind, he would have an idea of the atmosphere at the time the fire struck.” To many it seemed to be the end of the world. (The Chapel of Our Lady of Good HelpSr. M. Dominica O.S.F. 18 – 19)
After both jumping the Bay and skirting around it, this Great Fire proceeded to consume large tracks of Outagamie, Kewaunee, Door, and Brown counties. The towns and settlements of: Brussels, Casco, Green Bay, Humboldt, Lincoln, New Franken, Robinsonville, and Williamsonville were nothing but fuel for the flames as this blaze raced up the Door Peninsula – and the Chapel of Our Lady of Good Help stood right in it’s path. It seemed as if the Chapel, built on the very sight where the “Queen of Heaven” touched earth, would also be consumed by the same inferno which had laid waste to much of Northern Wisconsin – however, Our Lady had different plans.
The following quote from the Chapel of Our Lady of Good help history book recounts the scientifically unexplainable, and marvelous miracle which occurred on that fiery night.
“ The crucial hour had come, the hurricane of fire broke in all its fury. Adele and her companions were faced with a momentous decision. They were determined not to abandon Mary’s shrine, and their faith in Mary’s protection never faltered. The children, the Sisters, and the farmers with their families, drove their livestock before them and raced in the direction of Mary’s sanctuary. They were now encircled by a raging inferno with no means of escape. Looking back, they saw their buildings literally swallowed by the fiery monster. By this time the surrounding territory was one vast sea of fire. Awe-stricken, they thronged the Chapel grounds. Already the Chapel was filed with terror-stricken people beseeching the Mother 0f God to spare them, many wailing aloud in fright. “’Filled with confidence, they entered the Chapel, reverently raised the statue of Mary, and kneeling bore it in procession around their beloved sanctuary. When wind and fire exposed them to suffocation, they turned in another direction, and continued to hope and pray, saying the rosary (the Chapel of Our Lady of Good Help history book P. 19).’”
Sr. Adele, the children and farmers possessed remarkable courage and faith – and the Blessed Mother did not abandon these – her faithful children – to the terror of the flames.
“After hours of horror and suspense, the heavens sent relief in the form of a downpour. The fervent prayers to the Mother of God were heard. The Fire was extinguished, but dawn revealed the ravages wrought by the conflagration. Everything about them was destroyed; miles of desolation everywhere. But the Convent, school, and Chapel, and the five acres of land consecrated to the Virgin Mary shone like an emerald isle in a sea of ashes. The raging fire licked the outside palings and left charred scars as mementos. Tongues of fire had reached the Chapel fence, and threatened destruction to all within its confines – the fire had not entered the Chapel grounds (The Chapel of Our Lady of Good Help Sr. M. Dominica O.S.F. 20).”
Imagine the gratitude and awe that Sr. Adele and her companions must have felt on the morning of October 9th,, upon seeing the death and destruction all around them. Fear must have most certainly flooded their spirits, yet this sentiment soon faded into joy and thanksgiving as they realized the miracle with which they had been so blessed. For miles around them all that could be seen and smelled was black, smoldering ash. However, the five acre parcel of land upon which they all stood, was green and fresh, and – along with the Convent, school, and Chapel – left completely untouched by the fire’s intense heat.
To be continued next week.