The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, a chapel and complex amidst dairy farms in Champion, Wisconsin, has become one of only about a dozen sites worldwide—and the first in the United States—where apparitions of Mary have been officially validated by the Roman Catholic Church.
In 1859, the year after Mary is said to have appeared at Lourdes in France, a Belgian immigrant in Champion named Adele Brise said she was visited three times by Mary, who hovered between two trees in a bright light, clothed in white with a yellow sash around her waist and a crown of stars above her head. As instructed by Our Lady, Brise devoted her life to teaching the Catholic faith to children. By all reports Brise was humble and honest and faithfully carried out Mary’s mandate to serve the church throughout her life.
On December 8, after a two-year investigation by theologians who found no evidence of fraud or heresy and a long history of shrine-related conversions, cures, and other signs of divine intervention, Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay declared “with moral certainty” that Brise did indeed have encounters “of a supernatural character” that are “worthy of belief.”
Catholic leaders described the decree as a piece of joy at a trying time for the church, “This is a gift to the believers,” said the Father Johann Roten, director of the International Marian Research Institute at the University of Dayton.
The Vatican gives primary responsibility for evaluating apparitions to local bishops. Wary of fraud, the church is generally reluctant to even investigate such claims. During the 20th century, Roten said, 386 major apparitions of Mary were reported at a level beyond local rumors. About 75 of those were studied, and at most a dozen were recognized as valid, he said.
Local officials may now have to ask themselves whether they thought too small when they designed the Shrine’s parking lot—planned well before the decree—to fit only 75 cars.
Bishop David Ricken reads the declaration approving the apparitions given to Adele Brise in 1859: