CHAMPION -- This is the story about a miracle that took place in what is now Champion, Wis., in 1859. The Council of Catholic Women (CCW) of St. Joseph Parish in Fort Atkinson is planning a pilgrimage there on Sunday, Oct. 16.
The miracle received full Church approbation by Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay on December 8, 2010, after a long and rigorous study by a special diocesan commission.
The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help becomes the first approved Marian apparition site in North America. It has become a place of pilgrimage for people around the United States and beyond. In July, ABC Tonight featured the shrine in a television special.
Apparitions of Mary
Here's the story. In 1859, a third order religious named Adele Brise reported three apparitions of the Blessed Mother.
During the third apparition on October 9, 1859, Mary identified herself to Brise as the Queen of Heaven. She commissioned Brise to teach the young what they needed to know for salvation. She also warned of a coming chastisement.
On October 8, 1871, 12 years later almost to the day, a horrific wildfire destroyed tens of thousands of acres, sparing only the spot of the apparition, when it swept through that locale northeast of Green Bay.
When the Peshtigo fire spread across the Green Bay area, residents walked around the chapel grounds all night praying the Rosary and carrying a statue of Mary. Everything outside that five-acre area was burned.
The catastrophe destroyed massive swaths of northeastern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan and indeed was the worst recorded forest fire in American history. By the time it was over, 1.2 million acres had been consumed and several thousand were dead.
Chapel and grounds saved
Remarkably -- miraculously -- Brise who was in the heart of the fire, escaped unharmed. Seeking refuge in the chapel, she and other farmers, nuns, and companions made the dash there as the fire raged in every direction.
After hours of horror and suspense, heaven sent relief by way of a downpour. The fire was extinguished. When they looked out the next morning, there was literal desolation for miles.
But the convent, school, chapel, and five acres of land consecrated to Mary shone like an emerald isle in a sea of ashes.
Pilgrimage on Oct. 16
People are invited to join St. Joseph CCW on Sunday, Oct. 16, for their pilgrimage to the shrine. The trip includes deluxe motorcoach transportation, Mass at Our Lady of Good Help, a meal of baked chicken and ham, and a self-guided tour of the shrine's crypt and grounds. The motorcoach will depart at 7:30 a.m. from Fort Atkinson and return at 5:30 p.m.
The price is $35 per person. For more information or to reserve a seat, contact Betty Meier, at 920-563-6760 or Mary Strohbusch at 920-568-3634. Make check payable to CCW and mail to: Mary Strohbusch, 1243 Lillian St., Fort Atkinson 53538.