Hello everyone; this weekend I had the great honor of serving as Bishop Ricken’s Miter and Crosier Bearer as he celebrated the Mass in commemoration of the 152 anniversary of the Marian Apparitions at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help. The bishop challenged us in his homily to be more joyful and bold in our evangelization and defense of the Catholic Church. Bishop Ricken reminded us that “Mary was the greatest evangelist of all time.” The entire Holy Mass was a deep and profound celebration of gratitude for the myriad of blessings that have flowed from this site – the very spot where the “Queen of Heaven” touched Earth.
Today, I will also be posting “part nine” in the history series on Our Lady of Good Help. Let’s pick up where I last left off.
The Great Peshtigo Fire burned 1.5 million acres of land and killed 1,200 – 2,400 people on the night of October 8th, 1871. As the Fire raced up the Door Peninsula, the terrified townsfolk of Robinsonsville fled to the Chapel of Our Lady of Good Help, carrying anything they could put on their backs and driving their livestock before them. When they found themselves encircled by the fire with no way of escape, they entered the Chapel. There – with Sr. Adele, her fellow sisters and the school children – they fervently prayed in procession on their knees around their “Beloved Sanctuary.” After long intense hours, their prayers were answered as the heavens sent a downpour of rain. However, it was at the dawn of October 9th (exactly twelve years to the day that Sr. Adele had seen the “Queen of Heaven”) that they witnessed what can only be explained as a miracle.
As dawn broke, Sr. Adele, her fellow sisters and the school children – along with the townsfolk of Robinsonsville exited the Chapel – grateful to be alive. However, as they looked around gratitude turned to awe. For as the looked on, all they could see were miles and miles of destruction and desolation – EXCEPT for the five acre parcel of land upon which the Chapel, convent and school stood. This “postage stamp” of land “shone like an emerald island in a sea of black.” The great fire had burned the sides of the Chapel fence which faced away from Mary’s Shrine, yet on the inside, everything was fresh and green. All of the buildings on the Chapel property at that time were made of wood and the very heat of the intense fire should have instantly incarnated them and all inside, as it had so many other buildings in the vicinity. Yet, all who had entered the Chapel were alive and – though very shaken – physically intact. A true miracle! For as I said before, the Great Peshtigo Fire is still to this very day the most deadly and destructive wild-fire in U.S. history– burning 1.5 million acres of forest and farmland and killing 1,200 – 2,400 people.
Was this the fulfillment to Our Lady’s prophesy to Sr. Adele – “If they do not convert and do penance, my Son will be obliged to punish them?” Many have pondered this, both the scoffers and the believers. However, if the saying is true that “one can tell a tree by it’s fruit,” then the most sure way to judge this matter would be to look and see what has transpired at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help since the apparitions and the “Miracle of the Fire.”
After Our Lady appeared to Sr. Adele Brise, in 1859, she labored tirelessly “in the vineyard of Jesus Christ.” Adele would often walk fifty miles just knock on the doors of the farms she came across, begging to do all of the chores only for the privilege of teaching the children their catechism.
Immediately after the Marian Apparitions to Adele had ended, her father and the other townsmen of Robinsonville built a small roadside chapel on the apparition site. This chapel was soon daily visited by pilgrims.
Around 1867-1868 a larger chapel, a convent and school were erected. The boarding school was soon teeming with students (25 from Oconto alone) and several women joined Sr. Adele Brise as “sisters” in her apostolate.
The Great Peshtigo Fire ravaged Northern and Eastern Wisconsin, killing 1,200 – 2,400 people and desolating 1.5 million acres, yet through the power of God and intercession of the “Queen of Heaven,” it left the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help completely untouched.
Throughout many a persecution by skeptics who misunderstood her, Sr. Adele Brise continued to stay ever firm in her faith and obedience to her superiors and bishop.
Since the apparitions, many miraculous events, healings and cures have occurred – some as recent as 2010. A testament to these cures are the braces and crutches on the wall in the Chapel Crypt, left by those healed.
On December 8th 2010, after two years of investigation, Bishop David Laurin Ricken, twelfth Bishop of Green Bay, officially decreed that the Apparitions of Our Lady of Good Help received the full approbation of the Church (I personally witnessed Bishop Ricken do so– I had the immense privilege to serve as his Miter and Crosier Bearer for that Mass). He stated:
“[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 (Official Decree on Marian Apparitions, Most Reverend David Laurin Ricken, D.D., J.C.L.).“
Since the decree, many – as the good Bishop encouraged – have “frequent[ed] this holy place as a place of solace and answered prayer.” The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help receives 800 – 1,000 people a day and that number is on the rise.
Bishop Ricken, in the decree, said that “these apparitions [are] worthy of belief (although not obligatory).” However – looking at the points which I make above – who wouldn’t believe, who wouldn’t cast themselves in the arms of Our Lady of Good Help? My personal belief – is in union with the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, of course – and yes; Our Lady did appear in Champion, Wisconsin and the Peshtigo Fire was in part, God’s justice sending retribution for our sins. Yet, do I believe that the message Our Lady – the Queen of Heaven – given to Sr. Adele Brise in 1859, only applies to the people of the 1800’s – certainly not! Our Lady’s message is just as applicable to our lives as it was to the people of Robinsonville and I firmly believe that “if we do not convert and do penance, Our Lord will be obliged to punish us” with something just as or even more terrifying as tha Great Peshtigo Fire.