Lourdes, Fatima, Guadalupe … and Wisconsin? It’s true; just northeast of Green Bay, Wisconsin, in the quiet farm town of Champion, WI is the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, home to the only approved Marian Apparition site in The United States. More than 150 years ago, Mary appeared to Adele Brise, a Belgian immigrant, while Adele was walking to Mass. Since her first appearance in 1859, Our Lady of Good Help has protected the community from natural disasters, has been the source of a number of miraculous physical healings, and has led the way in encouraging and growing the Catholic Faith in northeastern Wisconsin.
Adele Brise was born in a small town in Belgium in 1831. As a young girl, she felt a calling to religious life and, along with a few friends, pledged their lives to the Blessed Virgin and agreed to join an order as soon as they were able. Adele’s parents had other plans. In 1855, Adele accompanied her parents on their journey to America. This was a source of distress for Adele, as she saw it as the end of her dream of becoming a sister. The Brise family settled in Green Bay, Wisconsin, which at the time was known as Bay Settlement. Adele helped till the land and tended the family farm. While many in the area began to fall away from their faith, Adele held strong.
On October 9, 1859, Adele set off with her sister and a neighbor for Mass. While walking down the road, Adele saw a woman dressed in white. This was the third time she had seen the woman and this time Adele decided to ask Fr. Verhoef about the apparition. Fr. Verhoef told Adele to ask the woman, “In God’s name, who are you and what do you want with me?” Later that day, Adele saw the woman again in the same place and asked the question Fr. Verhoef had suggested. The woman replied, “I am the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same.” After these words of introduction, Mary told Adele, “Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.”
Adele’s father, Lambert, built a chapel at the location of the apparition. Within two years, pilgrimages to the chapel began. Adele traveled home to home, regardless of weather, offering to perform chores in return for the privilege of teaching the Faith to the children living there. By 1869, Saint Mary’s Boarding Academy opened at the chapel and Adele began her mission of teaching the children in earnest. Although Adele did not realize her childhood dream of joining a religious order, she founded and led a lay third order, the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi (often called the Sisters of Good Health). These sisters were a group of secular women who wore simple religious garb but did not take vows and maintained their own property and independence. These women dedicated their lives to the education of children.
Our Lady’s love and protection was displayed on October 8, 1871 when the Peshtigo Fire ravished much of northeastern Wisconsin. With flames closing in, local farmers gathered at the chapel, along with some livestock, and huddled within the confines of the five acres that were consecrated to the Virgin Mary. The fire destroyed everything in the vicinity, even charring the outside of the chapel fence, but the land, buildings, people and livestock that were gathered and praying to Our Lady, were completely spared. Mary’s intervention didn’t stop there. There have been reports of physical healings at the Shrine, some occurring as recently as 2013.
Throughout the more than 150 years since Our Lady’s first appearance, the buildings on the Shrine grounds have served a number of purposes – boarding school, a Home for Crippled Children, a High School Preparatory Novitiate and a Monastery of the Holy Name of Jesus – all while keeping the calling of Adele Brise alive and well. In 2010, after a year of formal investigation, Bishop David Ricken of the Green Bay Diocese formally approved the apparitions of Adele Brise, making the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help the only approved Marian apparition site in the United States. In 2010, the United Conference of Catholic Bishops designated it a national shrine–the only national shrine with a Marian apparition site.
In the years since, the Shrine has grown to accommodate a growing number of pilgrims, all while still maintaining its serene nature. Nestled between two working farms, the Shrine is home to not only the Chapel and Apparition Oratory, a Welcome Center – explaining the story of Adele Brise and Our Lady, as well as a cafe and gift shop. In 2020, a large event hall was added to address the need for an indoor space for conferences and Mass (previously large Masses were held outside–not always ideal in Wisconsin!). The grounds contain a beautiful walking Rosary path, as well as outdoor Stations of the Cross. Statues of St. Michael, Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Lourds, St. Francis of Assissi and Pope St. John Paul the Great are also visible during a stroll on the grounds. While many may be intimidated by the Wisconsin winter, the Shrine makes a beautiful, moving experience any time of year. Come in the spring and enjoy the fresh green shoots of new growth. Come in the summer and enjoy blue skies. Come in the fall and enjoy the beautiful red and orange leaves of a Wisconsin autumn. Our Lady wants to welcome you to this wild country and to grow and nurture your faith in the fertile farm fields of northern Wisconsin.