Wisconsin Marian Shrine Gets Official Name Change
The National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help is now the National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion.
CHAMPION, Wis. — The National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wisconsin, received an official name change on Thursday.
Bishop David Ricken of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin, officially announced its name is now the National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion. At the same time, after receiving confirmation from the Holy See, he proclaimed the Mass celebrating the anniversary of the only approved Marian apparition in the United States, held at the shrine every Oct. 9, has been raised to the rank of a solemnity.
Previously, in 2010, Bishop Ricken declared the apparitions to Adele Brise in the town of Champion in 1859 “Worthy of Belief.” With the declaration, the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help became the first and only approved apparition of the Blessed Mother in the United States. Then, in 2016, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops named it a “national shrine.”
“I'm excited especially as the rector here for the official name change,” Father of Mercy Joseph Aytona told the Register. Explaining reasons for the name change, he pointed out that usually in approved apparitions the place where the Blessed Virgin Mary appears becomes part of her title, such as Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal (where Mary identified herself as Our Lady of the Rosary) and Our Lady of Lourdes in France. Consequently, the new name makes it “align more closely with other beloved Marian apparition sites around the world.”
“To keep the names similar to those and the spirituality and connection, people are going to know what happened in Champion and the miracle from the fire in Peshtigo, as opposed to ‘Good Help,’” he continued. “It’s a blessed area [with the] protection of Our Lady.”
That miracle happened exactly 12 years after Mary’s appearance in the early morning hours of Oct. 9. The Great Peshtigo Fire, the worst in United States history, was engulfing everything in sight. Seeking Our Lady’s protection, the local people fled to the chapel on the grounds of the apparition to pray the Rosary and sing hymns as Sister Adele and the other sisters were praying for Mary’s protection. Then came rain. The local priest of the area wrote: “The fervent prayers to the Mother of God were heard. The fire was extinguished, but dawn revealed the ravages wrought by the conflagration. Everything about them was destroyed; miles of desolation everywhere. But the convent, school, and chapel on the holy land consecrated to the Virgin Mary shone like an emerald isle in a sea of ashes … the fire had not entered the Chapel grounds.”
Bishop Explains Reasons
At a press conference held April 20 to announce the name change, Bishop Ricken mentioned how Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Fatima and Our Lady of Knock “were all apparitions of the Blessed Mother usually to young people. Adele was a young-adult woman. She had really hoped to be able to join a religious community” near her hometown in Champion, Belgium.
Instead, Mary came to her in rural Wisconsin. When the community asked Adele what the new town name should be, she suggested Champion, after that hometown.
Mary “comes to out-of-the way places, and she makes a huge mark, very quietly, very humbly,” the bishop said. “And one of the fruits that you know she’s around is the gift of peace, healings that people report.”
Bishop Ricken explained the “wonderful way she brings families together here” — how young couples over the years would become engaged “right here at the shrine. What a beautiful custom. There’s so many beautiful things that have happened here over the years, and this new stage of calling Our Lady of Good Help by the title Our Lady of Champion will really help make it more concrete. … I think this will be very helpful, not just to people here, but around the world, to understand that this is a great invitation. … She’s the Mother of God. She knew him best. What better person to go to who we know is in heaven and the Mother of the Son of God.”
Shrine’s Time and Place
Speaking of the name change, Father Aytona told the Register he sees the name change being “more exact in what the Church has done in the past and also to speak of this time and the place — Champion — where Adele lived” and received the apparition. He also noted that she received her first Holy Communion in Champion, Belgium, before immigrating to Wisconsin.
The original name of Our Lady of Good Help traces to the early Belgian community who referred to the Blessed Virgin Mary as “Notre Dame De Bon Secours.” They even put a sign above doors of the first chapels on this site that read “Notre Dame De Bon Secours, Preiz Pour Nous” — “Our Lady of Good Help, Pray for Us.”
Saying “Our Lady of Champion” is also fitting, the priest added, “because there are other Our Lady of Good Helps outside this place. When you say ‘Our Lady of Champion,’ you’re referring to this [specific] place.” It stresses the “whole spiritual nature” when people say, “Let’s make a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Champion.”
Shrinegoer Walter Fountain, a knight with the local Wisconsin Order of Malta, regularly helps shrine visitors as part of the order’s mission. Every August, the order brings pilgrimages to the shrine. “We anticipate we will have 400 or more this year to seek healing,” Fountain told the Register.
“Since I became attached to the shrine for my own spiritual growth, I always recognized it was like Fatima and Lourdes,” he added. “It’s all one Blessed Mother. Now, I see it is a very appropriate time to make this name change. … It’s a maturation process as more people understand what happened in Champion.”
From his experiences with the knights, Fountain said, “We’ve seen steady growth over the years, as more people understand the beauty and the peace that awaits you here at the shrine.”
Gina Hartliep told the Register, “The shrine has been a backbone and a blessing for our family.” The family moved to the Green Bay area 10 years ago. “We’re there regularly and feel such a sense peace. We bring a lot of health issues and the things Our Lady tenderly cares about. She is there to really help us. We look for a lot of help from heaven.”
She sees a great message in the name change. “In these times of darkness and confusion we live in, it’s fitting this shrine be called Our Lady of Champion because Our Lady really champions us and really supports us in the battles so that we can fight for the truth. Mary leads us to Jesus and to the heart of her Son. She takes all our prayers and makes them beautiful before her Son. It’s a beautiful place to have your prayers answered. Mary ‘champions’ all our causes and loves us tenderly, and she wants us close to the heart of her Son.”
At the press conference, Father John Girotti, vicar general of the Diocese of Green Bay and president of this national shrine, pointed out that 150,000 people coming to the shrine last year, and “we expect soon that number to surpass 200,000.”
Father Aytona also told the Register, “I foresee more pilgrims, God willing,” who come to honor Our Lady’s “remarkable message for the world today.”
Bishop Ricken concluded, “When people come here, they feel a sense of the Blessed Mother’s presence. And she always leads us to Jesus. Her whole mission in life was to lead people to Jesus, and she constantly does that right here. And as we grow closer to her, we want to share that good news with people from throughout the country so that they know this is a refuge. It’s a wonderful place to come to find peace and to be able to pray.”