“Our Lady of Good Help”
CHAMPION, WISCONSIN, USA (1859)
The Brice family emigrated from Belgium to the United States on July 23, 1855. On August 7, 1855, Lambert and Marie Brice purchased 240 acres of land in the Red River, Wisconsin region to establish their family farm. Daughter Adele would walk the 11 miles by herself to the nearest church every Sunday.
In early October of 1859, Adele Brice, age 28, was taking some wheat to a grist mill along a four-mile Indian pathway. Just as Adele came to a clearing between a maple tree and a hemlock tree, she saw someone standing between the two trees. As she approached, her heart filled with fright, and she froze as she looked at the woman. The woman was all white with a yellow sash at her waist. Around her head was a crown of twelve stars. She was standing on a small cloud. She had yellow hair, blue eyes, and was surrounded by a bright light. Adele watched until the woman disappeared, and then she saw the cloud disappear as well. When she arrived at the mill, the miller could tell that she was very upset. She was also very nervous on her return trip home, but nobody was between the trees this time. When she arrived home, she told her parents what had happened. Her father suggested that it might be a poor soul that needed prayers, “so pray for her if you see her again.”
On October 9, 1859, Adele, her sister Isabelle (age 24), and their good friend, Mrs. Theresa Vander Niessen, were walking the eleven miles together to the Sunday Mass at the nearest church in Bay Settlement. As the three women approached the spot where the two trees stood, Adele again saw the lady in white. She got excited and told her sister what she was seeing. Adele froze, staring at the woman, but the other two could see nothing. But they could see that Adele was indeed staring at something, and they could see fear in her eyes. Then the lady disappeared, and they all agreed to pray for the “poor soul.” Adele confessed to the priest what she had seen, and he spoke to her about the matter, suggesting that she ask the lady who she is and what she wants. Adele felt comforted and believed by Father Verhoeff. On the way home the three women were joined by a man who was clearing the land for the Holy Cross Fathers.
When they came to the place with the two trees, Adele stopped because she saw the lady again. She could clearly see that she was dressed in a white gown which fell to her feet in graceful folds. There was a yellow sash around her waist. Long wavy golden hair fell loosely over her shoulders. On her head was a crown of twelve stars. The bright light surrounding her made it difficult for Adele to look at her for very long. Adele saw that the lady had a very sweet, gentle face. Surprisingly, she felt no fear this time. Instead, she was completely filled with joy and peace. She walked closer and fell to her knees before her.
A: “In God’s name, who are you, and what do you desire of me?”
VM: “I am the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same.” (She spoke in a soft, sweet voice – “the sound was heavenly.”) “You were at Holy Communion this morning.”
A: “Yes, dear lady.”
VM: “You have done well, but I wish you to do more. Pray for nine days. Go and make a general confession and offer your Holy Communion for the conversion of sinners. If they do not convert themselves and do penance, my Son will be obliged to punish them.”
Meanwhile, the others could tell that Adele was seeing someone and talking with her. They kept asking her, “Who is she? What is she saying? Is she the poor soul from Belgium? Who is it?” Adele heard her friends and told them to kneel because “she said she was the Queen of Heaven.” When Theresa complained about not being able to see her, Adele saw the Virgin Mary look kindly at Theresa and say,
VM: “Blessed are they that believe and do not see. (then back to Adele:) What are you doing here in idleness, while your companions are working in the vineyard of My Son?”
A: (crying) “What more can I do, dear Lady?”
VM: “Teach the children.”
A: “How can I teach them when I know so little, myself?”
VM: “I do not mean the science of the world. Teach them their catechism, how to sign themselves with the sign of the cross, and how to approach the sacraments, that they may know and love My Son; otherwise, the people here will lose their faith.”
A: “With God’s grace, and the help of your intercession, I promise, dear Lady, to be faithful to what you bid me.”
VM: “Go and fear nothing. I will help you.”
With that said, the Blessed Mary raised her eyes and hands toward heaven and slowly rose upward. She was surrounded by a light smoke-like incense. She looked like she was asking for a blessing for all of those kneeling before her. Adele, overwhelmed with emotion, collapsed to the ground in exhaustion. The man brought a cloth, soaked from a nearby stream, to help revive her from unconsciousness. Then the four walked home, and Adele told everyone about her encounter. Because of her character, most people believed her words. Her father had always believed her because she had always been a truthful girl. To show his support for his daughter and his love for the Virgin Mary, he decided to honor the location of the apparitions with the building of a very small chapel (10 feet x 12 feet) on that very spot. Father Verhoeff gave Adele a picture of Mary to hang there.
Adele offered to work hard for the busy pioneer families if they would let her teach their children the catechism and the rosary in spare moments. She did so for seven years, bringing each child that was ready to Father Daems in Bay Settlement to test their knowledge before each one’s First Communion. In 1861, the community built a larger chapel (24 feet x 24 feet) that could hold a hundred people – and often did. Mrs. Isabella Boyer donated the five acres that contained the holy site.
When doubters began to give Adele a hard time, miracle healings began occurring in the chapel when Adele asked for divine assistance. Blind visitors regained their sight, deaf people regained their hearing, the desperately sick were healed, and cripples would walk again, leaving their canes and crutches behind as evidence. Word spread across the Midwest of these divine healings near Robinsonville (later called Champion). Adele acquired a beautiful, hand-carved statue of Mary from Belgium, and there was a glorious procession from the boat to its final resting spot in the chapel. However, some time later, the statue was severely damaged when it caught fire from candles placed too close to it. But farmers and other settlers took up a collection to replace it with a new statue.
In 1864 Adele and the other religious women helping her became the Sisters of Good Health – and were accepted by the Bishop of Green Bay. In 1867, Adele opened a school next to the chapel and a boarding school, the St. Mary’s Academy, in 1869.
On Sunday, October 8, 1871, a most deadly fire was created by a gale force wind that turned the prairies and forests of Wisconsin into a raging inferno. Fire tornadoes ripped through the area causing death and destruction everywhere. Flames jumped rivers, embers rained down, and small fires were whipped up into a giant fireball that destroyed homes, buildings, farms, factories, and entire towns. It was described as “a wall of flame a mile high, five miles wide, traveling 90-100 m.p.h., hotter than a crematorium, turning sand into glass.” The heat was so strong that it killed people before the fire ever got to them. Approximately 2,500 people died, 12 towns destroyed, and 1.2 million acres devastated – the deadliest fire in American history. The ground was burned to a depth of two feet deep in some places. Hiding in brick homes or underground basements did not help. Only those hiding in rivers had the best chance of survival.
Father Pernin of a local church made every effort to save the tabernacle from his church, but at the river his cart dumped, and it floated away as he watched helplessly. Many people lined the river banks, but the only ones who survived were those who jumped in the water with Father Pernin. Three days later, among the blackened terrain and black ashes of everything destroyed, a pristine white tabernacle was discovered sitting upright on a log in the river. Its contents were unharmed from water or heat, and the people saw it as a miracle and a sign of hope.
Sister Adele decided it was impossible to flee the fire, so the sisters, the school children, and frantic neighbors gathered in the chapel on the five-acre grounds and prayed to Mary for help. Then Adele led a procession around the perimeter of the chapel grounds, carrying a statue of Mary. The procession continued all night, praying the Rosary, all around the grounds. Everyone believed a miracle had occurred: the wind cooled, a heavy downpour drenched the fires, but this was long after the fires had stopped right at the fence line surrounding the five acres. The outer side of the fence posts were charred while the inside was untouched. Everything surrounding their five acres, including the lush green forest, farm buildings, and homes were blackened, obliterated, and gone. Only the people and animals that had come to these grounds survived. The five-acre grounds that had been dedicated to Mary were green and untouched – “a glorious sight.” Exhausted from their fears and night-long processions of prayers, the people praised God and retired to sleep. Twelve years ago, on this exact day, Mary had warned of a potential punishment.
Another miracle on the chapel grounds had to do with the chapel well. The weather had been extremely dry all summer with the deepest of wells in the region barely containing any water left. The chapel well was only a few feet deep, and yet it was always providing plenty of water. All the neighbors, their surviving livestock which they had brought to the grounds, and everyone else living on Mary’s five acres had plenty of water from this shallow well. There was no explanation or logic for this small well to serve so many for so long under the dry conditions. People started taking some of the well water home as it was believed to have led to some healing miracles.
Many other miracles were documented. A seventeen year-old boy developed pleurisy from double-pneumonia. Despite his lungs becoming extremely weak, he said a novena at the chapel, and he was completely healed. Another boy, Michael Fonde, age nine, fell from a barn and was crippled. Four years later, a group of women prayed a novena with him at the chapel, and he walked out healed, leaving his crutches behind. A little girl with bleeding sores, who had been treated by doctors for years, was completely healed after she and her Mom made the pilgrimage to this chapel. Another small girl had become blind from a severe case of measles. When her mother brought her to this chapel to pray, she was instantaneously healed. And a deaf boy brought by his Mom to the chapel completely regained his hearing.
On December 8, 2010, a historic event took place in this Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help near Champion, Wisconsin. Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay formally announced the approval of these apparitions:
“I declare with moral certainty and in accord with the norms of the Catholic Church that the events, apparitions, and locutions given to Adele Brice in October of 1859 do exhibit the substance of supernatural character, and I hereby approve these apparitions as worthy of belief by the Christian faithful.”
This becomes the first approved Marian apparition in the United States of America.