Approved apparitions are cool!
The apparition took place in 1859 in what is now the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin. For the last two years a diocesan commission has been evaluating its authenticity, and on Wednesday (Dec. 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception), Bishop David Ricken announced its approval.
Apparently, he was surprised to learn that this was the first such approval of an apparition in the United States. He also reportedly was surprised to learn that it hadn’t already been approved since his predecessor bishops had supported it (albeit without giving it formal approval—note well that this is something that can happen; just because a bishop says something nice about an apparition does not mean it has been formally approved).
As this is the first American approval of an apparition, it is instructive to see the kind of language that Bishop Ricken used (most other such approvals were done pre-Internet and/or in other languages and thus have not been seen by most).
After the bishop briefly reviews the history of the apparition and the investigation of it, he arrives at the money part:
It remains to me now, the Twelfth Bishop of the Diocese of Green Bay and the lowliest of the servants of Mary, to 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, 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.
These Marian apparitions are now commemorated under the title “Our Lady of Good Help,” and there is a corresponding shrine in Champion, Wisconsin.
So what happened in 1859?
A young woman named Adele Brise—28-year old Belgian immigrant to what was then the American frontier—was taking wheat to a local mill when she saw a lady in white standing between two trees (and, yes, she did report the lady as having golden hair in the vision, which would most likely be based on Adele’s ethnic background). The lady then vanished. She saw the same thing the next day. At first Adele thought the lady might be a soul in purgatory who needed prayers, and she was frightened. She communicated this to several people, one of whom, a local priest,
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.
Note that these are a paraphrase of the two classic, basic questions, “Who are you?” and “What do you want?” (I once recommended the same questions to a child who called in to Catholic Answers Live reporting that he heard a voice from an unknown source—if the voice came back. Unfortunately, I never heard whether it did or what the voice answered. But I’m glad to see the advice I gave in modern times echoed in this case. They seem to me the best questions to ask of an unknown, possibly supernatural agency.)
Meanwhile, back in 1859, what happened next?
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 [SOURCE].
And that was all, in terms of the apparitions. They were short and straightforward.
Following this, Adele devoted herself wholeheartedly and despite obstacles to her mission of educating children. She became a Third Order Franciscan Sister. Many people began to hold pilgrimages to the site, where a shrine was built. Healings were reported, and twelve years later the site of the shrine was spared from a tremendous wildfire that scorched large swaths of forest around it.
And so, given the convergence of (1) the (obvious) compatibility of the message with the Christian faith, (2) the revolution in the life of Sr. Adele, and (3) the apparent fruit—including apparent answered prayer—that followed the apparition in the lives of others, Bishop Ricken approved the apparition, concluding with “moral certainty” (not absolute certainty) that it was of divine origin and could be recommended to the faithful as such, though this recommendation does not carry an obligation of belief. One is free to discount the idea that the apparition is of supernatural origin, and in doing so one does not sin.
While apparitions differ from one to another, it may be noted that this case corresponds fairly closely to the core paradigm for approved Marian apparitions, which may be phrased along these lines: On a limited number of occasions, the Virgin Mary appears to a young, uneducated person—usually female—and imparts a message of that proclaims no new doctrine but instead conveys both warning and consolation focusing on the salvation of souls and suggesting a way to promote this; the life of the visionary is revolutionized, and the visionary pursues some form of religious vocation (if not already undertaken); the visionary seeks the guidance of competent authorities in the evaluation of the manifestations and is obedient to ecclesiastical authority; some form of further evidence of answered prayer or the miraculous is forthcoming.
America gets its first approved apparition. Kewl beans.
And, its a straightforward and uncomplicated one that should be uncontroversial and thus serve to highlight it as a useful spiritual signpost. Kewler still.