The message the Queen of Heaven gave to Adele Brise in 1859 was mission-oriented and provides a focus to the Church’s efforts of evangelization. The conversation between Adele and Our Lady is quite telling, emphasizing a two-fold dimension: prayer and action.
Since December 8, 2010, the popularity of the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wisconsin, has increased on account of Bishop David Ricken’s declaration of moral certainty, 1 that the 1859 apparitions are worthy of belief. Today, hundreds of people visit the shrine each day to pray at the site where Mary appeared, at the gravesite of the visionary, Sister Adele Brise, and to learn about Our Lady’s message and mission. While some come to the shrine on their own accord, others come as part of a parish pilgrimage, led by their priest. Given that the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help is the only place recognized as a site of an approved Marian apparition in the United States of America, it is important for priests to integrate the story of this apparition into their lives and ministry. I propose a threefold approach for clergy to understanding the importance of the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help: spiritual, pastoral, and missiological.
The Spiritual Aspect
It should come as no surprise that the Church expects of her priests a Marian character in their spirituality. The Church encourages the fostering of devotion to the Mother of God among her seminarians and priests. This is quite clear from the Program for Priestly Formation; the Directory on the Life and Ministry of the Priest from the Congregation for the Clergy; 2 from a 1997 address by Msgr. Norberto Rivera at the International Encounter of Priests; 3 and statements of the Holy Fathers. 4 Venerable Fulton Sheen in his book, Those Mysterious Priests, says that the priest needs Mary because she provides the feminine that he needs in his life.
From the person of Mary, we learn what it means to meditate on the Word of God; how to treasure the daily happenings of our life in our hearts; how to joyfully respond to God’s call; how to be people of service and generosity; how to return praise to God; how to be attentive to the needs of others and make intercession.
On the cross, the Lord Jesus entrusted his mother to the beloved disciple, and immediately John took Mary into his home. Have you taken Mary into your home? If you have been struggling with your devotion to Mary, perhaps a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help can help to renew that devotion. If it’s been a long time since you have prayed the rosary, consider beginning anew today. Ask the Blessed Virgin Mary, she who is the Lady of Good Help, to provide her assistance in this task, and in your priestly ministry.
In addition to cultivating a greater devotion to Our Lady through the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, heeding the message of Our Lady to Adele also will affect one’s spiritual life. Like Adele, we must pray for the conversion of sinners—those in our parishes, communities, the world, and yes, even for our own conversion. Furthermore, the regular confession of a priest to his confessor/spiritual director will only make him a better confessor to the people of God. The life of a priest is busy, but the story of Sister Adele reminds us that we must not put ministry before prayer, but rather, ministry should flow from prayer.
The Pastoral Aspect
The people of God are especially devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and many make pilgrimages to Our Lady’s shrines throughout the world. There are three different types of places individuals can make pilgrimages. First, many shrines to Our Lady are devotional, such as the National Shrine of Our Lady, Help of Christians in Hubertus, Wisconsin, or the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, Illinois, to name only two. They have been built because of the people’s devotion to a particular title of Our Lady.
The second type of Marian shrine is a place commemorating a Marian apparition. These shrines are, of course, popular in Europe where there was a proliferation of Marian apparitions in the 19th and 20th centuries. Such places include Fatima, Lourdes, La Sallette, Rue du Bac, and many others.
The third type of place for Marian pilgrimage is to places of ongoing apparitions, or even condemned apparitions. When it comes to these Marian apparitions, and private revelation in general, the faithful usually turn to their priest for advice. It would be important pastorally for a priest to familiarize himself with unapproved apparitions, and the Church’s position with ongoing apparitions, so as to be able to guide the faithful. A few unapproved apparitions in the United States that I am aware of include: Necedah, Wisconsin; Bayside, New York; Scottsdale, Arizona; and Conyers, Georgia. Recently, the Diocese of Cleveland clarified its position regarding the messages associated with Holy Love Ministries. This ministry now classifies itself as ecumenical since the bishop’s negative ruling.
There are people in the pews who are devoted to these unapproved apparitions, and make pilgrimages to these “holy” sites. Since the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help is the only approved Marian apparition in the United States, it would be best for pastors to recommend pilgrimage to this site of approved Marian apparitions. Consider preaching about Our Lady’s apparition from the pulpit, advertise the shrine in your parish bulletin, or plan a parish pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help. 5
The Missiological Aspect
The message the Queen of Heaven gave to Adele Brise in 1859 was mission-oriented and provides a focus to the Church’s efforts of evangelization. The conversation between Adele and Our Lady is quite telling, emphasizing a two-fold dimension: prayer and action. The first words of Our Lady were, “I am the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same.” Our Lady went on to affirm Adele’s reception of Holy Communion earlier that morning, but Our Lady told her she had to do more; she was to offer her Holy Communion for the conversion of sinners, and to make a general confession. Finally, Our Lady told Adele to gather the children, and teach them their catechism, how to make the Sign of the Cross, and what they need to know for salvation.
We can look back on a time when catechesis was lacking. In 2010, when the shrine was catapulted into the spotlight with its approval, much attention was given to the catechetical component of the message. We should not overlook or divorce the first part of Our Lady’s message from the mission component, for they are interconnected. Before Adele was to go out and teach the children, she first had to pray and go to the sacraments. If she was going to labor for the conversion of sinners, she first had to pray for the conversion of those to whom she would minister. Adele needed to be converted herself before she could convert others.
Our Lady’s apparition reveals to us the significance of prayer, and the practice of the sacraments, as part of evangelization. If we want successful catechesis programs in parishes, we must form our catechists in prayer. We cannot give what we do not have, so we first must be evangelized before we ourselves can evangelize. We must first come to know Jesus before leading others to know Jesus.
Some people may not be called to become catechists, but handing on the faith is not restricted to a CCD classroom. Catechesis can happen in the ordinary and the mundane. The simple action of praying before a meal in a restaurant can be a teaching moment. In the Office of Readings for the feast of St. Anthony of Padua, we read, “let your words teach and your actions preach.”
The priest is central to the message that Our Lady gave for he is the one who offers Mass and hears confessions. Even more so, the priest works towards fulfilling Our Lady’s message in his daily ministry. The priest prays daily for the people of God in the recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours; and in his homilies, the people of God are instructed and exhorted to live Christian values and grow in virtue.
The message of Our Lady to Adele speaks to the priest, because like Adele, he, too, must be converted in his own life, and experience a daily conversion of heart. He, too, must approach the sacraments worthily, and regularly go to confession. Lastly, in order for Our Lady’s message to Adele Brise to be fully realized, the priest must make the sacraments available, as well as opportunities for catechesis. In so doing, people will be able to offer their communion for the conversion of sinners, confess their sins, and know what they need for salvation.
It has been more than three years now since Bishop David Ricken declared, with moral certainty, that the apparitions received by Adele Brise are worthy of belief. Before reading this article, were you aware of this shrine? If not, familiarize yourself with its miraculous history which includes the miraculous preservation from the Peshtigo Fire in 1871.
Our world needs to encounter the divine and miraculous. Many people are longing to come to know God in a deeper way, and grow in devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Many people are searching for a miraculous healing for themselves or a loved one. They do not need to go too far-off places in Europe; they can now make a pilgrimage, and seek a prayerful refuge, in the countryside of Northeastern Wisconsin. Invite them to the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help where the Blessed Virgin Mary continues to provide her intercession and good help to those who flock there, and offer their “Aves.” When they enter the property of the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, they will find a peaceful and tranquil place, where in 1859, God sent his Mother with a special message and mission for Adele Brise, which was not limited only to her, but still extends to the world today. As Adele was sent by the Blessed Virgin to go and fear nothing, because Our Lady would help her, the same is true for us in the ministry God calls us to.
- The full text is available online in this PDF. ↩
- Available online here. ↩
- Available online here. ↩
- Such statements can be found in many addresses, homilies, and writings of the Holy Fathers. One such example is John Paul II’s Pastores Dabo Vobis. ↩
- A good time to preach on the Shrine or organize a pilgrimage would be during the month of May, regarded as a month dedicated to Mary. The Shrine also has special celebrations throughout the year, including two outdoor Masses: one on the last Sunday of May and the other on August 15th. The appellation of Our Lady to Adele was as the Queen of Heaven. Preaching on the feast of the Queenship about Our Lady’s apparition would also be fitting. ↩