Inaugural Solemnity Mass Celebrated at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion

The celebration included a Rosary procession with the statue of Mary, followed by all-night adoration and hourly Rosary.

An estimated 4,000 faithful celebrated Our Lady Oct. 8-9 at The National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion.
An estimated 4,000 faithful celebrated Our Lady Oct. 8-9 at The National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion. (photo: Courtesy of The National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion)

CHAMPION, Wis. — Oct. 8-9 were banner days at The National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion in Wisconsin, as an estimated 4,000 faithful arrived for a special Mass coinciding with the celebration of the 164th anniversary of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s second and third apparitions to Adele Brise.

“It was the first-ever Solemnity of Our Lady of Champion in the history of the Catholic Church,” Father of Mercy Joseph Aytona said after the Oct. 9 Mass celebrated by Bishop David Ricken of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin. In 2010, Bishop Ricken approved the apparition of our Blessed Mother that took place here on Oct. 9, 1859. 

“Today, we celebrate the inaugural Solemnity of Our Lady of Champion. Oct. 9 will in perpetuity recognize and recall that Our Lady appeared here as Our Lady of Champion, which is the name of the little-known town just down the road,” Bishop Riken said, beginning his homily.

Four bishops and more than 30 priests joined him for this inaugural Mass. 

Father Aytona, the rector of the shrine, shared the significance with the Register. “We have Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Fatima and many other apparitions of Our Lady, such as Our Lady of Guadalupe; and, obviously, it’s a solemnity whenever the feast day falls on the liturgical calendar for that specific place. And now we’re going to join the rest of the ranks of all of the other approved Marian apparition sites to celebrate it as a solemnity, liturgically speaking.”

The huge celebration drew people not only from the local area and nation but far and wide. Father Aytona met people from all over the world, including a woman from Japan, another from Guam, and some faithful from Indonesia. “So praise God, we have obviously a universal Church, and it showed the universal reality during the solemnity. Although it’s the only approved Marian apparition in the United States, it belongs to the whole universal Church. It was truly a day of celebration for the universal Church.”

In April, Bishop Ricken officially announced a name change for the shrine from Our Lady of Good Help to the National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion.

In his Oct. 9 homily, he recapped how young Brise saw a beautiful lady, who told her, “‘I am the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners.’ The Queen of Heaven, touched down here, right in front of you. … Can you imagine that? That is mind-boggling. … Then she revealed her identity and her mission to Adele: ‘I am the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners.’ That is what she is doing here. And she is asking us to do the same, to pray for our own ongoing conversion and for the conversion of sinners.”

Bishop Ricken recounted how the Blessed Mother told Adele to teach the children what they should know for salvation — ‘Teach them their catechism, how to sign themselves with a Sign of the Cross, and how to approach the sacraments. That is what I wish you to do.’ Our Blessed Mother concluded these words, however, with profound words that echo the voice of her own Son, ‘Go and fear nothing, I will help you.’”

“And now we remember this apparition through a high and solemn Mass, so that we might seek the grace to carry out this mission today, so that we might spread the faith to all children,” Bishop Ricken continued. “Mary’s words to Adele ring just as true today, but they are spoken now to you and to me.”

The conversion of sinners was among prayer intentions during the Mass. He explained that Our Lady directed Adele to pray for them, and Our Lady “directs us to do the same — ‘I am the Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same.’” He told people to pray for their loved ones and offer Communion for those who have drifted from the Church and sacraments. “Do not give up — persevere. Keep praying for that one person; pray for their conversion and full return to the sacramental life of the church.”

The bishop again reminded that, as each apparition is different, “the uniqueness of the message here at Champion is quite clear. It’s all about the children: [As Our Lady said] ‘Gather the children in this wild country. Teach them what they should know for salvation; teach them their catechism; go and fear nothing, I will help you.’”

He then addressed a serious issue in no uncertain terms.

He said that while so much good is being done for children in the United States, “There is also something evil that I must bring out into the open, terrible sins and criminal,” and these “heinous sins and crimes against children are clearly mortal sins that would cause someone to be separated from the love of God and perhaps even lose their soul if repentance does not happen.” He asked people to pray “for a huge outpouring for the gift of purity into our minds, in our hearts, the gift of chastity to be poured out upon our country and the entire world. Whatever sin has been committed by us or by others,” let us turn toward the Lord Jesus and his Church and immerse ourselves “in the merciful love of God.”

He added, “Considering Our Lady’s message, let us all vigilantly pray and work to protect God’s children. Let us do so here at the Shrine of Our Lady of Champion, throughout this diocese and throughout the nation.”


Reaction From Regulars

John and Jody Kuiken took part in the weekend’s festivities. The Mass took place on “a perfect fall Wisconsin day. The night before they had the reading of the [Peshtigo] fire and the whole Rosary walk was lit up with candles. It was magnificent,” John said. They relocated to be close to this shrine “because this is where Mary’s been” and work weekly in the café. Jody said “the music was heavenly,” adding, Bishop Ricken is “so humble, so strong, and at the same time he doesn’t mince words.”

Mentioning the evening’s reading, Father Aytona emphasized, “To have all of this come to fruition — it's a miracle.” Twelve years after Our Lady appeared, the Peshtigo fire happened [on Oct. 8, 1871], and there was a miracle from the fire, “which was about the size of Rhode Island, the biggest devastating fire in U.S. history. The inside of the fence [around the shrine] wasn’t charred at all, but was unscathed. And the actual grounds where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared were five acres at that time. What other proof do you need that this this place is a chosen place, by God through Mary, for pilgrims to come? It only emphasizes what we need to do more, especially as Catholics, through the message of Our Lady.”

As those people saved from the fire did, the celebration included a Rosary procession with the statue of Mary, followed by all-night adoration and hourly Rosary.


Families Celebrate

Michael and Kailee Spielvogel brought their 4-year-old twin daughters, Charlotte and Clara, and son, Jeremiah, just over a year old, to honor Mother Mary. 

“I’ve been there many times as a child,” Kailee said, “but it’s not something I’ve ever brought my family to. My husband and I were praying for a home. We prayed a 54-day Rosary novena leading up to Our Lady of the Rosary [Oct. 7], so we came to the shrine with prayers of gratitude for our Mother.”

From the moment they drove onto the shrine grounds, Kailee had the same experience from earlier visits. “There was this peace that can’t be described,” she said. “It's this feeling of safety and home. So I was really, really excited to bring my children there and thank God for the gift of them, and then ask Mary to just keep us under her mantle as a family.”

The National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion 2023
L to R: At the solemnity celebration, the Spielvogel family enjoys the day, the faithful pray before the statue of Our Lady of Champion and attend the Oct. 9 outdoor Mass.(Photo: Courtesy of The National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion)

In his homily, Bishop Ricken reflected on such peace: “A profound gift of Our Lady here at the Shrine of Our Lady of Champion is the profound interior peace that pilgrims and visitors experience. I’m sure that many of you have experienced that here other times, or today: an earthly peace that Our Lady gives here in this holy place. Nearly all pilgrims comment on the gift of interior peace that Our Lady gives so generously.”

Kailee also found it “very moving to see so many people on their knees in front of the Eucharistic Lord. That was very powerful for me, as well. To bring my children there and have them witness the universal Church that we don’t see always on a Sunday or daily Mass to that level. So it’s just a very beautiful way to show them how good our God is and how omnipresent he is in our world.”

“One of the things that really had moved our hearts is her title,” Kailee added. “Because we’ve seen her as the ‘Champion’ over our lives, so to have her very close to us, near to us, and then to have that basically confirmed by the Holy Spirit and the actions that the bishop took to ask the Church for the solemnity, you know, that’s all the workings of the Holy Spirit. So it’s very beautiful that we will see more of her being a ‘Champion’ of our times as the years go on.”