Apparitions of Our Lady
A visit to Our Lady of Good Help Shrine in Wisconsin, where the first U.S. Marian apparition was recently approved.
The most striking thing about the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in New Franken, Wis., is its simplicity. Tucked away in a rural area of the Green Bay Diocese, the shrine is surrounded by farms. A couple of friendly canine companions from the nearby farmhouse even meander over to welcome guests in the parking lot.
And yet, on Dec. 8, 2010, Bishop David Ricken officially approved the Marian apparitions that took place there, making it the first and only Marian apparition site in the United States to be approved by the Church.
The shrine itself rests on 6 acres of land, where in 1859 our Blessed Mother appeared to a 24-year-old Belgian immigrant named Adele Brice (Brise). (Her name is spelled both ways by the shrine.)
The first apparition occurred while Adele was on her way to the grist mill along Indian Trail in the northeastern Wisconsin woods.
Our Lady appeared between two trees — a maple and a hemlock — dressed all in white and with a yellow sash around her waist. The vision slowly disappeared, leaving a white cloud after it. When she told her parents about it, they surmised that it was a poor soul in need of prayers.
On the following Sunday, Oct. 9, Adele passed the same spot on her way to Mass in Bay Settlement, 11 miles away from her home in Robbinsville (now New Franken). The lady in white appeared again, and again the apparition disappeared, leaving a white cloud behind.
Upon reaching Bay Settlement, Adele consulted her spiritual director, who advised her that, if the lady appeared again, she should ask, “In God’s name, who are you, and what do you want of me?” He assured her that if the apparition were a heavenly messenger, it would not harm her. On her way home, the lady appeared again, and this time Adele questioned her.
The lady identified herself as “The Queen of Heaven” and instructed Adele to make a general confession and offer her holy Communions for the conversion of sinners. Additionally, she instructed her to gather the children of this underdeveloped area and educate them in the Catholic faith. From then on, Adele committed herself to this mission, traveling a 50-mile radius on foot, teaching the faith door to door, eventually forming a community of women dedicated to the same cause called the Sisters of Good Health and establishing a convent and children’s boarding school on the apparition site’s grounds.
Immediately after the apparitions, Adele’s father built a small log oratory on the site. By 1861, pilgrims were arriving almost daily to see the privileged place, so the settlers built a larger chapel over the ground on which the maple and hemlock trees grew, placing the main altar exactly above the trees’ location. The original convent and boarding school, frame structures, were built between 1865 and 1868, and in 1869 the school was officially named St. Mary’s Academy.
In 1871, the entire grounds and buildings were miraculously preserved from the devastation of the Peshtigo Fire, which swept over the chapel, school and land without causing so much as a cinder, while at the same time it destroyed 280,000 acres and took about 1,500 lives. No one who had fled to the protection of the chapel was harmed. Fence posts surrounding the property were singed on the outside while left perfectly intact on the side facing toward the chapel.
In 1880, the wooden chapel was razed and a brick one erected in its place, followed by a brick convent and school in 1885. The Sisters of Good Health carried on Sister Adele’s work for several years after her death in 1896. St. Mary’s Academy closed in 1928 and was converted into a home for handicapped children in 1933.
In 1942, a fourth chapel was built — the one currently standing — and was dedicated by Bishop Paul Rhode under the title “Our Lady of Good Help.” During construction of the new chapel, excavators discovered the stumps of the maple and hemlock trees between which Mary had appeared; they had long been forgotten, along with the fact that the main altar had been placed directly above them. The stumps were preserved and a crypt built in their place, just below the current main altar of the shrine in a cozy basement chapel.
In 1953, the school was converted into a pre-novitiate for the Sisters of St. Francis whose motherhouse was in Bay Settlement.
Today, the brick buildings stand as testament to the courage and fortitude of Sister Adele. A caretaker lives in a small house just a few yards from the school building, and a gift shop has been added for visitors. On the grounds behind the buildings there is an outdoor Stations of the Cross and a Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary walkway for private or group meditation. In the summer, the grounds are abloom with flowers and decorative plants. Next to the crypt entrance lays the Chapel Cemetery, where Sister Adele and two of her fellow Sisters of Good Help are buried, along with a few settlers and benefactors.
Within the shrine itself, the center of attention is the statute of Our Lady above the luminous tabernacle on the main altar. Embedded in the left wall is a lighted glass case that holds a smaller statue of Mary as “The Queen of Heaven”; this statue is used in the shrine’s annual feast of the Assumption procession that has been held every Aug. 15 since Sister Adele’s time there and still attracts a large number of pilgrims.
Beneath the statue is a reliquary that houses two small pieces of wood: one from each of the two trees between which the Blessed Mother appeared to Sister Adele. Beside that is a smaller reliquary containing a tiny swatch from the Blessed Mother’s veil. This is an ancient relic, not from the apparition.
The real attraction is the crypt beneath the shrine. A statute of Mary stands between two adoring angels, illumined by spotlights, but even more so by racks of votive candles: a reminder of the intentions of those seeking her intercession. With room for no more than about 20 people, the crypt offers pilgrims a space to quietly reflect on the miracle that took place there in 1859. It’s almost as if Our Lady waits there, eager to “appear” in the hearts of pilgrims.
Marge Fenelon writes from Cudahy, Wisconsin.
Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help
4047 Chapel Dr.
New Franken, WI 54229
Our Lady of Good Help Shrine is located on County Hwy K just 17 miles northeast of Green Bay and 6 miles east of the intersection of State Hwy 57 and County K and 1 mile east of the town of Champion on the north side of the highway.
Planning Your Trip
Reservations are not required to visit the shrine. Parking is adjacent to the shrine and near the crypt and gift shop entrances. The winter schedule runs through March. The shrine is open daily 7am to 7pm. Daily Mass times: Monday, 8am; Tuesday, 8:30am; Wednesday, 7pm; Saturday, 8am; First Fridays, 8am. Visit the website for adoration times and other events.
- January 30-February 12, 2011