Our Lady of Good Help: Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners

September 24, 2013

It was 1859, the year of John Brown’s raid at Harpers Ferry. The first oil well had been drilled — in Pennsylvania. There were only 33 states in the Union and Sam Houston had just been elected governor of Texas.

That same year, in the woods outside of a small pioneer settlement in northeast Wisconsin, a young Belgian immigrant came face to face with Mary, the mother of God. Our Lady of Good Help, as she is called, appeared to her three separate times, standing on air between two trees in a shower of light. 

More than 150 years later, the miraculous sightings would be decreed as the first Church-approved Marian apparition in America, supernatural and worthy of belief. 

The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help is located in Champion, Wis., just outside of Green Bay. It attracts thousands of pilgrims every year. More are coming as they learn about its special significance. 

Adele Brise was 28 years old when Mary, the great evangelist and catechist, met her in the woods with an exhortation to “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.”

Brise was with companions when the apparitions took place, though she was the only one who could hear and see Mary, who had long, golden hair and was dressed in white. 

All had originally assumed the mysterious visitor was a poor soul in need of prayer, until Our Lady revealed herself to Brise as the “Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners.” 

Soon after, her father built a small chapel on the site, which was later expanded as believers began to come seeking intercession. Brise also jumped to the task assigned to her by the Virgin, teaching children the faith and how to pray and love Jesus. She founded a community of Third Order Franciscan women, a convent and school near the apparition site.

Like other visionaries, including St. Bernadette Soubirous who saw the Virgin multiple times in Lourdes only a year earlier, Brise became a target of skepticism and persecution. 

There were those who questioned her sanity. As pilgrims began pouring into Champion, so did the hucksters and others who wanted to make money off the crowds. 

The problems became so pronounced that the chapel was placed under an interdict by the bishop. Brise was denied the sacraments and threatened with excommunication if she continued recounting her story. 

The bishop relented eventually, seeing her fervor and the fruit of her work. The school thrived and pilgrims began flocking to the site once again. 

Mary is also credited with saving the shrine chapel and those who sought shelter there during the great Peshtigo fire of 1871, in which 2,500 lives were lost and thousands of acres scorched. 

Belgian pioneers, along with Brise, processed around the chapel. Just as the flames encircled them, a huge downpour swept in, saving their lives and leaving the chapel unscathed. 

It removed all doubt about the holy character of the site and the veracity of Brise’s incredible story.

Bishop David Ricken, current bishop of the diocese of Green Bay, noted the testimony to the “upright character of Adele Brise, her devotion to Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary, and her unwavering commitment to the mission Mary entrusted to her, “was a major factor in the apparition receiving recognition.” 

He also noted the many conversions, physical healings and answered prayers that have marked the uninterrupted history of faith and devotion at the shrine since its founding.

Thus, in a special decree announced on Dec. 8, 2010, Bishop Ricken affirmed the supernatural character of the apparitions and locutions received by Brise and declared them worthy of belief, though not obligatory, by the Christian faithful. 

“I encourage the faithful to frequent this holy place as a place of solace and answered prayer,” he wrote.