Carry the Message and the Mission Forward
from 7:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M.
More than 150 years separate Adele’s visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Church’s official approval of the apparitions.
When the news of her visions first began to spread, some settlers were skeptical. Yet, the apparitions inspired others; it lifted their spirits and confirmed their hope. Despite adversities and misconceptions, Adele held herself accountable to our Holy Mother’s commands and embraced her mission.
The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help is now the only Marian shrine in the United States on the site of an approved apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Our Holy Mother had already appeared twice to Adele between two trees – one a maple, the other hemlock – along a rural trail. When she appeared for the third and final time, young Adele asked, “What more can I do, dear Lady?” Mary’s direction was simple: “Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.”
“But how shall I teach them who know so little myself?” Adele asked.
Mary replied, “Teach them their catechism, how to sign themselves with the sign of the Cross, and how to approach the sacraments; that is what I wish you to do. Go and fear nothing. I will help you.”
Adele devoted the rest of her life to spreading Mary’s good news. Her commitment continues to be as inspiring as it is humbling to the thousands of visitors that journey to the Shrine every year.
Some journeys demand determination. Some are inspired by hope. And others arise from curiosity. While every journey to the Shrine is unique, we encounter an even greater experience when we celebrate together.
For over 150 years, pilgrims have found their way to the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help to join in celebrating our faith and the warmth of Mary’s open arms.
Among the many events and retreats that take place at the Shrine, the Festival of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary has always been the largest gathering. It is a glorious day that draws hundreds, if not thousands of faithful to the Shrine annually.
During the celebration, a statue of Our Lady is carried from the chapel in procession around the grounds. It recalls the procession of the statue on the evening the Peshtigo Fire raged around the boundary of the chapel grounds. It also remembers the day when the original statue of Our Lady, arrived on a steamship from Belgium and was carried from Dyckesville, Wisconsin to the chapel among hymns and prayers.
Appleton Post-Crescent Reporter Maija Penikis once wrote, “Here in this humble farm field, in the heat of the day, and despite the odor the slight breeze brings in from the dairy herds, there is more piety than in the grandest cathedral. There is more prayer, more concentration on the reason for the Mass.”
12 years after the apparitions, the same firestorm that devastated Peshtigo, Wisconsin threatened the Shrine. Its story reminds us that journeys are not always what we expect. Forests can become thick and paths uncertain. But, if you listen closely for a soft breeze, glimmers of sun will break through the rustling canopy of leaves. It will cast a brilliant, and perhaps unexpected light upon your path.
The Sisters, the children, area farmers and their families fled to the Shrine’s chapel for protection from the unprecedented fire. In defiance of the inferno, they lifted the statue of Mary and carried it around the sanctuary. When wind and fire threatened suffocation in one direction, they turned in another direction to pray.
Hours later, a downpour began to extinguish the raging fire. The area surrounding the Shrine’s grounds was destroyed and desolate. Though the fire charred the chapel fence, it had not harmed the chapel grounds. The only livestock to survive the fire were the cattle farmers led to the chapel. Though the chapel well was only a few feet deep, it gave the cattle outside all the water they needed to survive the fire, while many deeper wells in the area went dry.
Adele asked those assembled at the chapel to retire to the convent. There, they were made as comfortable as possible for the rest of the night. The Belgian pioneers needed no more proof that Mary’s promise to Adele was genuine.
How hopeful it is to be welcomed into a rural haven. Here the Shrine is nestled among peaceful farms and fields that nurture its grounds. This may seem like an unexpected place for healing and celebration. But its peace and seclusion is a reminder of the reach of God’s embrace. It offers quiet reflection and unabashed support for pilgrims of all ages to discover and grow in their Catholic faith.
Beginning with the first humble oratory to today’s sizable chapel and expansive grounds, every change has taken place to meet the needs of more and more pilgrims. Yet, through its many changes, the Shrine has remained a sanctuary with open doors for all who seek a deeper relationship with Christ.
Adele’s father built the Shrine’s first chapel near the spot of her visions. Its presence was slight with a meager 10´x12´ oratory. Its appearance was simple. The only adornment was a small picture of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
The need for larger facilities at the Shrine became necessary several times over the next 100 years. As the story of Adele’s vision circulated, pilgrimages continued to grow in size and number, and religious celebrations began to take place on the chapel grounds. In order to meet the needs of more visitors and events, land was donated, and new, larger chapels eventually replaced their smaller predecessors.
The brick Tudor Gothic chapel, dedicated in July of 1942, finally received the title from the inscription over the 1861 chapel’s entrance: “Notre Dame de bon Secours, priez pour nous.” (Our Lady of Good Help, pray for us.)
Adele never swayed from her mission to teach the children the Catholic faith, no matter the hardship. She carried the messages of salvation, healing and grace on the back of her perseverance. This awe-inspiring determination continues to captivate the faithful, guiding them to the Shrine on their spiritual journeys.
Less than a decade after the apparitions of our Holy Mother, Adele had already established her mission in the Bay Settlement. Along with the early chapel, Adele was able to raise the funds to build the Shrine’s first school. By 1868, the St. Mary’s Boarding Academy was in operation under the direction of the Sisters of Good Health. This school enrolled 60 pupils, with 40 boarded and cared for at a rate of one dollar per week per student for board and tuition.
The sisters of the chapel were a group of tertiary seculars that did not belong to a religious order or congregation. Under Adele’s charge, the sisters adopted a distinctive, simple religious garb, took no vows and retained their property and independence. The main contribution of tertiary seculars was to the area’s parochial education.
Beginning as the boarding school, then the Home for Crippled Children (1933), the High School Preparatory Novitiate (1953) and the Monastery of the Holy Name of Jesus (1992), the Shrine has always safeguarded Adele’s mission. Even through frequent struggles, misconceptions, leadership changes and several builds and renovations, the Shrine has always overcome hardship and remains a sanctuary for those who wish to explore and deepen their faith.
The Champion Shrine has experienced the graciousness of many good hearts and hands since the very first chapel was built in 1859. It still stands today, helping to spread the Blessed Virgin Mary’s good news because of the efforts of these faithful people. Below we celebrate the lives and energies of Adele Brise and Sister Pauline in their constant work to ensure the Shrine’s mission sustains for future genera
Like trees providing shade from the summer’s heat, Adele’s quiet conviction to her mission fostered a refuge for the faithful. And her kindness and grace softly lit the way like slender sunrays through the spaces between the trees’ leaves.
Since the apparitions in 1859, Adele’s mission has helped the faithful discover the all-loving Mother’s nurturing embrace, so we might continue our journeys with greater strength.
From the time of the vision until her death, Adele devoted her life to the work our Holy Mother gave to her. Adele was charming and she was persistent. Undeterred by weather, fatigue or ridicule, she would venture as far as fifty miles from home seeking funds and sustenance for the chapel and school. Even when Adele’s fellow Sisters did not know where their next meal was coming from, Adele would gather her companions in the chapel and ask for Mary’s help. Before morning, someone would undoubtedly drop off a bag of flour or supply of meat at the door.
As misconceptions prompted several closures of the chapel and school, Adele’s confidence in Mary’s promise and dedication to her mission endured. And when Adele attended Sunday Mass with the children, finding the pews closed against her, she would still hear Mass kneeling in the aisle. Her determination was so strong and her faith so bright that her mission continues to inspire today.
Sister Pauline remembered near the time of Adele’s death, “We went into the chapel and prayed. I can still see the calm, serene and happy look on the face of the good Sister as if a light from heaven shone upon her.”
On July 5, 1896, Adele Brise said her last words: “I rejoiced in what was said to me. We shall go into the house of the Lord.”
Recalling her childhood encounters with Adele, Sister Pauline once wrote, “Adele had a sweet voice and possessed a charm that drew the young to her. I would kneel behind her with a burning desire to follow her.” Sister Pauline accepted this quiet invitation to discover a deeper relationship with Jesus. When the time came, she led the Shrine with the same unwavering determination that guided Adele.
Seeking advice on dedicating their lives to serving God, Father Daems directed Pauline and her friend, Christine Rousseau to the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine’s Convent in Racine. Pauline and Christine eventually joined with Sister Pius Doyle to open Holy Cross School in early 1868. They later formed a community of Tertiary Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis. These three women, along with Mary Van Lanen, established the first Franciscan community in the Bay Settlement in 1874. In 1881, the order received Episcopal approval, and, in 1893, the community was incorporated as an educational and charitable institution named the Sisters of St. Francis of Bay Settlement.
Upon her arrival at the Shrine after Adele’s death, Sister Pauline wrote in her diary, “I found two Sisters, twenty children, and 42 cents. Bishop Messmer, bishop of Green Bay, sent the Bay Settlement Sisters to the chapel to continue the work of instruction.”
Sister Pauline’s solicitation for funds around the Green Bay peninsula saw the chapel and school through those lean times. “We were out of bread, and I sent the children into the Chapel to tell our dear Mother that we were in need of bread. When our prayers were ended, there came a letter from our good Bishop and 25 dollars. All I could say was God bless and keep him. From that time on, we never wanted for anything.” Within a year of her arrival, more than a thousand dollars of debt was satisfied, and tuition and board remained low.
For 24 years, until her death in 1926, Sister Pauline carried Adele’s mission forward to new generations.