In 1859, a Belgian immigrant named Adele Brise claims to have been visited by Mary three times. The Blessed Mother instructed Brise to devote her life to teaching the Catholic faith to children, which she did:
On Dec. 8, after a two-year investigation by theologians who found no evidence of fraud or heresy and a long history of shrine-related conversions, cures and other signs of divine intervention, Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay declared “with moral certainty” that Ms. Brise did indeed have encounters “of a supernatural character” that are “worthy of belief.”
Now, a little chapel among the dairy farms here, called Our Lady of Good Help, has joined that august company in terms of religious status, if not global fame. This month, it became one of only about a dozen sites worldwide, and the first in the United States, where apparitions of the Virgin Mary have been officially validated by the Roman Catholic Church.
Although crowds of people have not poured into the town of Champion yet, numerous pilgrims have made their way to the shrine to pray over the years. There were enough stories for the bishop to finally investigate further:
Bishop Ricken, in an interview at his office in Green Bay, noted that the church has a tradition of taking its time with such cases. Over the years, he said, his predecessors had implicitly endorsed the shrine by holding services there and encouraging people to visit.
When he moved to Green Bay in 2008, he said, “I was struck by how many stories I heard of answered prayers” — resolved family and employment problems as well as medical cures — and he decided to start a formal investigation.
“People have a hunger for the spiritual, and right here in our backyard was a source to meet that need,” Bishop Ricken said. The church’s scandals did not influence his decision, he said, but if the shrine can become a source of hope and healing for people, including victims of errant priests, “that would be beautiful.”
Guidelines set by the Vatican in 1978 were used to examine the claims of Brise and subsequent reports of graces and favors:
By all reports, he said, Ms. Brise was humble and honest and faithfully carried out Mary’s mandate to serve the church throughout her life. In one striking sign of a divine presence, he said, the shrine’s grounds and the terrified crowd who gathered there were spared the flames of the Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871, which devoured the surrounding lands and homes and caused more than 1,200 deaths. Her account of Mary’s apparition and message was consistent with accepted cases.