CHAMPION, Wis. — At the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help outside of Green Bay, Wis., it used to be that the largest crowds came each year for the Aug. 15 outdoor Mass with the bishop. However, according to longtime caretaker of the shrine Karen Tipps, every day is now like the feast of the Assumption.
“There is a night-and-day difference between the summer of 2010 and this summer,” Tipps said. “We are seeing 10 times the number of daily visitors we would typically have in the summer.”
That’s because last December, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Green Bay’s Bishop David Ricken announced that this shrine was an approved apparition site of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is the only Church-approved Marian apparition site in the United States.
It was here, in 1859, when the Blessed Mother appeared three times to a young Belgium immigrant, Adele Brise. The message of the Blessed Mother to Adele was to “gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.”
The new rector of the shrine, Father Peter Stryker, hopes that message will continue to inspire pilgrims. Father Stryker and a fellow priest, both members of the Fathers of Mercy, a religious order of priests based in Kentucky, arrived in early July to take over the shrine’s daily operations at the request of Bishop Ricken.
“Both of us feel very welcomed and appreciated here,” said Father Stryker. “The holy traffic has indeed increased during these summer months. We feel honored to be serving at the first and thus far only site of Church-approved Marian apparitions here in the United States.”
Along with two new priests, the shrine has had to add new restrooms, expand the parking lot, and increase the corps of volunteers tenfold. Buses full of pilgrims from as far as Texas, Louisiana and Florida arrive regularly. This summer the shrine and bishop were featured on an ABC special about Marian apparitions.
“I think it is refreshing for people to see the shrine in its infancy stage,” Tipps said. “It is still that humble, peaceful place that it has been for 152 years. So the people coming now are saying, ‘Wow! We just love it here. It is so beautiful; it is so peaceful, and it’s so unlike anywhere else in the world.’”
According to Bishop Ricken, the need to accommodate large crowds is a good problem to have. “I didn’t think it would take off this fast,” he said in a recent interview with the Green Bay Press Gazette. “It has been a wonderful gift to the diocese. So many people are coming, and there are all kinds of reports of answered prayers and healings.”
Karen and Morris Critchlo of Russellville, Ky., visited the shrine in late July. “It was awesome,” said Karen. “It was hard to believe that I had been at a spot where Mary had appeared.”
Eddie O’Neill writes from Green Bay, Wisconsin.