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James Martin, S.J.December 09, 2010

The church has approved (as "worthy of belief") for the first time a Marian apparition in the United States, after a two-year investigation by the local bishop.  Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay has approved the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary as seen by Adele Brise in Champion, Wis., in 1859.  Bishop Ricken stated in a letter: “I declare with moral certainty and in accord with the norms of the Church that the events, apparitions and locutions given to Adele Brise in October of 1859 do exhibit the substance of supernatural character, and I do hereby approve these apparitions as worthy of belief (although not obligatory) by the Christian faithful.”  The website for the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help has the story of the apparitions and the life of Sister Adele.

There are several notable similarities to the more well known apparitions at Lourdes, France, to St. Bernadette Soubirous, besides simply the timing.  (Lourdes: 1858; Champion: 1859).  In both cases, the apparitions were to a woman who had struggled with physical infirmities (Bernadette suffered from asthma; Adele lost an eye in an accident); in both cases the woman was at the time outdoors, in the midst of carrying out taxing physical chores (Bernadette looking for firewood for her family; Adele Brise carrying wheat to a mill); in both cases the women were poor but pious Catholics; in both cases the woman was most likely seen as on the margins of society (Bernadette's indigent family was living in a converted jail cell; Adele was a part of a poor immigrant population) in both cases the local pastor asked for an identification from the vision (Bernadette's pastor, Abbe Peyramale asks; Brise's pastor asks as well); in both cases the identification given was concise (Lourdes: "I am the Immaculate Conception"; Champion: "I am the Queen of Heaven"); in both cases Mary asks for prayers for sinners; in both cases the visionary later became associated with a religious order (Bernadette enters the Sisters of Nevers; Adele a group of Third Order Franciscans); and in both cases a chapel is built on the spot of the apparitions, which alters the original appearance of the site (in Lourdes the Grotto is paved over and the course of the nearby Gave River is changed; in Champion, the trees in which the Virgin appeared are felled to make room for the chapel); and in both cases the chapels later receive many visitors and miracles become associated with pilgrimages to the shrine. 

Here is the story from CNS:

Green Bay bishop becomes first in US to approve Marian apparitions By Sam Lucero Catholic News Service

CHAMPION, Wis. (CNS) -- Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay has approved the Marian apparitions seen by Adele Brise in 1859, making the apparitions of Mary that occurred some 18 miles northeast of Green Bay the first in the United States to receive approval of a diocesan bishop.  Bishop Ricken made the announcement during Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help Dec. 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. More than 250 invited guests filled the shrine chapel to hear Bishop Ricken read the official decree on the authenticity of the apparitions. He also issued a second decree, formally approving the shrine as a diocesan shrine.

The decree on the apparitions' authenticity comes nearly two years after Bishop Ricken opened a formal investigation. On Jan. 9, 2009, he appointed three theologians to study the history of them. "They are all theologians with a particular concentration and expertise in the theology of the Blessed Virgin Mary," said Father John Doerfler, vicar general and chancellor of the diocese. Although the three theologians were not named by the diocese, Father Doerfler said two of the three are internationally recognized and they have "general experience in examining apparitions."

Brise, a Belgian immigrant, was 28 when Mary appeared to her three times in October 1859. The first appearance took place while Brise was carrying a sack of wheat to a grist mill about four miles from Robinsonville, now known as Champion. A few days later, on Oct. 9, as Brise walked to Sunday Mass in Bay Settlement, about 11 miles from her home, Mary appeared to her again. After Mass, Brise told the pastor what she had seen. He told her to "ask in God's name who it was and what it desired of her," according to a historical account found on the shrine's website. On the way home from Bay Settlement, Mary again appeared to Brise. When Brise asked who the woman was, Mary responded, "I am the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners and I wish you to do the same." She told Brise to "gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation. Teach them their catechism, how to sign themselves with the sign of the cross and how to approach the sacraments."

Brise devoted the rest of her life to teaching children. She began a community of Third Order Franciscan sisters and built a school next to the shrine. Brise's father, Lambert, built a small chapel near the spot of the apparitions. When a brick chapel was built in 1880, the trees where Mary appeared were cut down and the chapel's altar was placed over the spot. A school and convent were also built next to the chapel. The current chapel was dedicated in 1942 under the title of Our Lady of Good Help. Today the shrine, which sits on six acres of farmland, receives thousands of visitors each year. Brise died on July 5, 1896, and was buried in a small cemetery just east of the chapel. Father Doerfler, who serves as the shrine's rector, said official recognition of the apparitions affirms "the mystery of God's providence."

"He has had the Blessed Virgin Mary appear here. I do not know the reasons why," he told The Compass, Green Bay diocesan newspaper. "All of this ... has to do with God's plan to bring people to salvation through his son Jesus Christ."

Apparitions have taken place throughout history "as a sign of God's providence, to remind us of what God has already revealed," said Father Doerfler. "As a loving mother would remind her children about things that are important, so our Blessed Mother Mary has appeared throughout history to remind us of things that are important for our salvation and to draw us closer to her Son." Marian apparitions date back to the fourth century and have been reported around the world, according to the University of Dayton's Marian Library, which holds one of the world's largest collections of research on Mary. The Marian Library lists 11 Marian apparitions that have received official approval by diocesan bishops worldwide since 1900.

Karen Tipps, who has been a volunteer and caretaker of the shrine with her husband Steve for 18 years, said Bishop Ricken's decree "is the fulfillment of everything we've worked for: to make the shrine a beautiful place of pilgrimage; to try and promote the message of what happened here." While the declaration will not change the way longtime pilgrims view the shrine, it will change the way the rest of the world sees it, she said. "The shrine has had pilgrims for more than 150 years ... but in the church view and the world view, having the bishop gone to this length to get the commission going, it's what others need for affirmation of what happened here," said Tipps.

She believes that the timing of the apparitions' approval was part of a divine plan. "It's now because this message is meant for this time in history," Tipps told The Compass. "If you look at the state of our children right now, there's no hope. There's no faith. There's nothing to live for."

She said a "crisis in catechesis" exists today, much like it did when Brise was told to teach children their catechism. "The message (given to Adele Brise) is, 'Gather the children. Teach them their catechism. Teach them their faith," she said. "We need to do that. ... We're not giving them the substance of their faith. So I think that's why it is happening at this time in history. That's why Bishop Ricken was brought here. I think it's a divine plan that this needed to come to fulfillment now for the world to get this message."

Tipps said it will be a big adjustment having more people visiting the shrine. "It's been such a quiet place. But now it's for the world to be able to share ... what we've had here and what we've experienced for the last 150 years." --CNS

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Marie Rehbein
13 years 7 months ago
For what it's worth, I believe in the objective reality of apparitions, but not necessarily in the sincerity of bishops who pronounce on these things.  It's like all supernatural stuff, in that unless one is directly experiencing it, pronouncing it believable or not is just guessing. 

Unlike David, I don't think that it's an hallucination "caused by God to bring about exactly the response that we're reading about", but like Crystal, I am struck by the fact that it always seems to be Mary who is making these appearances.  Like Beth, I wonder too about the randomness of these appearances, which do not correspond to our evaluation of where they might be most beneficial.

I tend to believe that we only understand a small amount of what the universe is about.  I think it's far more likely than we want to believe that there is a cosmic battle going on between good and evil (or something like that) and that these apparitions may have some importance at a level of which we have no conception.  Just because we have a certain amount of information from God that pertains to us does not mean that there is not much more going on.
13 years 7 months ago
Ever hear of Mrs. Van Hoof of Necedah, Wisconsin? There's a doozy for you. She was exposed as a fraud but people still flocked to her "shrine." Gullibility seems to have no bounds. I am very, very glad the Church doesn't make me believe in Fatima, Lourdes, Guadalupe, Medjugorge or in Theresa Neumann. I don't believe in diabolical possession either and so far nobody has denounced me to the Inquisition. I like being a Catholic, where we have room for people who believe such things - or not. 
Marie Rehbein
13 years 7 months ago
David, that kind of overlooks the supernatural stuff of the Bible, though.  I like to think of us relative to the cosmic as more like the awareness that insects have of human life experience, not quite as random as the video suggests. 
Beth Cioffoletti
13 years 7 months ago
I will think about all of this some more, Jim, but even the "positive fruits" of this story don't quite sit well with me.  What exactly are these increases in "faith hope and love" that have come from this vision?  More people going to Church, more people "believing"?  But what about people becoming radically changed?  People taking care of the poor of their communities?  People giving up thier privilege to be with those without privilege?  When I see that kind of radical change, maybe I will be more likely to find these apparition stories "worthy of belief".
Marie Rehbein
13 years 7 months ago
Jim McCrea, how is that any different than the stuff about saints?
13 years 7 months ago
Thank you, Fr. Martin,for sharing this good news of Mary's apparitions to Adele Brise!  I am, I admit wholly biased regarding the location of the apparitions. the frigid Midwest.
Reading about the blizzards in that area, I have many memories of my first 26 years of life spent in Minnesota.  You have to have lived in that area to appreciate how very difficult life can be in the winters.  My mother taught in a one room school house and had many stories of trying to keep that room warm (less frigid) in the winter.  Then, I think about Adele and how even more difficult her life must have been as a teacher in the 1800's.  Our Lady's description; "this wild country" was apt!!  Having read your book on the saints, Fr. Jim, has opened my mind and heart to this mysterious part of our Faith.  As I grow older, I'm more and more appreciative and in awe of God's Creation and His Providence.  Even some scientists have stated that they don't even know what questions to ask when they study the universe.  AMDG
Gabriel McAuliffe
13 years 7 months ago
Beth -

I would say because Our Lord (and his Mother) already appears in the faces of those very poor ones in Haiti.  When we turn away from their faces, we turn away from God.

I can only surmise that she appears in Guadelupe, Lourdes, and possibly Wisconsin because our Lord wants us, on a local level, to see her face as it appears to the least among us, like Bernadette, like Juan Diego, and possibly here like Adele.
Jim McCrea
13 years 7 months ago

Well, THIS news ought to have folks flocking back into the pews again.  Closed churches will be opened!  Vocations to religious and priestly life will burgeon!!  Money will flow to the coffers in excessive amount.  God will smile down on Green Bay 

Yeah, right.  Glad to see that the good bishop is focus on the really important essential matters of  the faith.

God will smile down on Green Bay and say:  Hey, far out! Glad to see that you are Really Concerned about the essential truths of My Church.  Way to go. 
Gail Grazie
13 years 7 months ago
Whether one believes the apparition or not, the message is very simple and very important today - Teach the children. Parents are very busy and are caught up in providing for their family, How many are so busy that they lose focus and neglect to teach their children about God? How many Catholics stopped learing about their faith when their school days ended and are not equipped to teach their children? Catholic education is suffering - The schools are closing and the religous education classes for the public school students are often without teachers. We need to respond to this call from Mary as a community. It is our responsibility to pass the faith to the next generation.
Crystal Watson
13 years 7 months ago
I guess I'm one of the few who feels skeptical about Marian apparitions.   Maybe because I wasn't raised a Catholic I don't really understand the devotion to Mary, as opposed to Jesus.  Are there recorded (and accepted) apparitions of Jesus too?
Beth Cioffoletti
13 years 7 months ago
Although I don't mean to be second guessing the Mother of God, maybe Mary should try a different message, like: slow down, don't work so hard, take the time to note the sacredness of life and each other, say "no" to the culture of monetary profit.  Then the children will be taught all these things by default.

I mean, why "teach the children"?

I'm half tempted to think that this fostering of miracles and piety is another attempt by the Church to keep our faith in check.  God forbid we should grow up.  But my own father was this type of Catholic.  He went to all the shrines, tried all the water, and I think that it is from him that I found my own mystical way.

I've thought about the possibility of strange mental states causing apparitions, David - many people with mental disorders have hallucinations all the time.  So it's a big deal to call an apparition of Mary "worthy of belief", something beyond an accident of neural wiring. 

I even think that most of us could probably fall under the power of suggestion.  That's what I saw in the documentary about the apparitions somewhere in S. America.  A lot of people were gathered, and a lot of people saw this vision of Mary.

Historically (I think that's the right word), Mary watched her son carry his cross up the road to Calvary and did not interfere.  She was silent.  I have known mothers who have had to watch their children suffer terrible fates.  WHen they share with me their own pain I feel like I am standing next to the Mother of God as she watches her son carry his cross.  That's about as close to Mary as I think I will get in this lifetime. 
ed gleason
13 years 7 months ago
 " how to sign themselves with the sign of the cross and how to approach the sacraments."
If we could just do that well we may have the renewal that all sides are yelling/praying for.
Thomas Piatak
13 years 7 months ago
Thanks for sharing this wonderful news, Father.
Beth Cioffoletti
13 years 7 months ago
Though I believe that all things are possible, and I agree with Ed that signing ourselves and learning how to approach the sacraments may be at the heart of Catholic renewal ... I still approach with skepticism the apparition stories.  Maybe they are just not for me.

When I was in Haiti and saw the profound faith of those Catholics there, I wondered why Haitians were not given an apparition like France or Mexico or Portugal.  Right there in Cite Soleil, the largest slum I had ever experienced, Mary the Mother of God could appear.  They could build a Church.  Pilgrims would come from all over the world and Haiti would be lifted from her place at the bottom of the barrel.  Why not?  Why was Mary appearing elsewhere, but not Haiti?

And then one time I heard on a documentar some people from South America describing an appearance of Mary.  "The wind that blew through our hair was blowing through her hair", they said, and I don't know why, but I believed them.

I certainly believe that the Mother of God is real and present in our world, I just am not comfortable with the selectivity of these apparition stories.

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