“I am the Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners.” Such is the way the Mother of God introduced herself to a twenty-eight-year-old Belgian immigrant, Adele Brise, on October 9, 1859. The pious young woman was on her eleven mile walk home to Robinsonville (now Champion), Wisconsin, after attending Mass in Bay Settlement. Adele was traveling at the time with two companions, her sister and another woman, as well as a male guardian who was working for the Holy Cross Fathers at the Settlement. Our Lady had appeared earlier to Adele the day before and, again, that same morning at the same spot, but she had not spoken. Her companions did not see or hear anything. The young woman was told by Heaven’s Queen that she must pray for the conversion of sinners, and warn them, for if they do not convert, her Son was going to punish them. She was told to gather together the children in this remote area and teach them the truths they must know for their salvation; teach them the catechism; teach them how to bless themselves with the Sign of the Cross; and teach them how to approach the sacraments. Our Lady ended by telling Adele, whose faith was strong but simple, to fear nothing and be confident in her help. For the next thirty-seven years of her life, until her death in 1896, Sister Adele Brise was faithful to this mission.
Souls Are Being Lost Because Catholics Are Not Teaching the Faith
As you will see in the presentation of the story and the message, the apparition of the Queen of Heaven to Adele Brise gives a clear tone. It is chaste, challenging, and prophetic. It occurred on October 8 in a country consecrated by its bishops in 1847 to the patronage of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God. That collegial dedication was done seven years before the papal definiton, Ineffabilis Deus, of Blessed Pius IX, and twelve years before the apparition. Although Our Lady’s message was specifically for Adele, giving her a mission to catechize and warn God’s sinful children of His wrath (all of His children, religious included), it echoes again even more clearly today, in a time and place in sore need of such a message. Has there ever been a time when Catholics in America were more ignorant of the Faith or more attached to vice and lukewarmness? This message complements all of the approved messages that have come from Mary in the past two centuries, including the most important one of Fatima in 1917: conversion of hearts, penance for sin, and the threat of chastisements and eternal punishment for unrepentant sinners. “I am the Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners.” And at Fatima: “I am the Lady of the Rosary. I have come to warn the faithful to amend their lives and to ask pardon for their sins… .”
The message also complements the goals of the Crusade of Saint Benedict Center, to convert America and to defend the dogma of Faith: no salvation outside the Church. Our Lady spoke in 1859 of those “truths that must be known for salvation.” She did not speak about any “inculpability” for those with the use of reason being ignorant of the truths that must be known and believed for salvation. Rather, what she does bring up with Adele — and I will mention it again in the context of the story — is a motherly admonition concerning the young woman’s own culpability in being irresolute: “What are you doing here in idleness,” Mary asked, “…while your companions are working in the vineyard of my Son?” Adele’s “companions” were several girlfriends in Belgium, together with whom she had promised, many years earlier, to enter religious life.
Canonical Status of the Two Most Prominent United States Marian Apparitions
A little over two years ago I wrote an article for this website on Our Lady of America and the seer, Sister Mary Ephrem Neuzil. I had noted that Sister Mary Ephrem’s bishop, Paul F. Liebold, had approved of the public devotion to Our Lady of America, fostering it in every way, before his death in 1972. Archbishop Raymond Burke, as ordinary of the St. Louis Archdiocese, wrote a detailed letter to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2007, pointing out the history of episcopal support for the devotion and adding his own to theirs. However, there is a technical canonical distinction to be made that I did not know about when I posted the story. Although devotion to Our Lady of America was approved by the visionary’s bishop, and an imprimatur was given to her writings about the apparition and message, the apparition itself was not given final ecclesiastical approbation. Apparently, more supernatural evidence (miracles and/or miraculous cures, conversions) is needed for that final step. Full approbation was given, however, on this past December 8, by Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay, to the heavenly messages communicated to Adele Brise almost one hundred years earlier. In his homily on the holy day of Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception, the Bishop affirmed:
“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. I encourage the faithful to frequent this holy place as a place of solace and answered prayer.” For the past hundred years miracles, cures, and conversions have abounded at this holy site in Champion, Wisconsin. Our Lady of Good Help Shrine is now, officially, the first approved site in the United States for a Marian apparition.
After the apparition Adele set right to work. She was never idle again. She was not a visionary, as was Sister Mary Ephrem Neuzil, who received routine visitations of Our Lord, Our Lady, and some of the saints. No, I don’t think Adele had any more visions of Our Lady, she just put her hand to the plow and began visiting homes within a fifty-mile radius of her home and instructing children in the Faith.
But who was this intriguing woman? From what I have read these past two days, Sister Adele is Martha and she is Mary — and she is mysterious, too, in a way. What I mean is that her calling seems to have had no precursory signs. In this, it is similar to that of Saint Juan Diego, who also met Our Lady on his way to Mass. I imagine that Sister Adele had to have been extremely strong for a woman, physically strong, just to travel in the forests as she did, in that frozen tundra around the Green Bay peninsula. What was she doing when Our Lady first appeared to her? She was carrying a sack of wheat to a grist mill four miles from home. Four miles with a heavy sack in early October! Not yet winter, but Wisconsin-cold. Judging from the one photograph of her for which she posed alone in her later years, Sister Adele was not very tall but definitely stout. Too, she had to have had an endearing nature because she was always winning over the opposition to her cause. A little more on that later. I think, however, that what drew Our Lady to her was her devotion to the Mother of God and her chastity.
Adele Brise was born in Dion-le-Val in Flemish Brabant Province, Belgium, on January 30, 1830. As a child she lost vision in an eye due to an accident with lye. Our Lady of Good Help website doesn’t have very much else about her childhood other than that she had no formal education and had made a commitment with several of her girlfriends to enter a religious order that did missionary work. As I said earlier, Adele did not enter religious life in Belgium; her friends, however, did. With her confessor’s blessing, she had to obey her parents and leave her native land with them and her three siblings in 1855. The Brises became part of a wave of Belgians at that time to immigrate to the United States. Most of these immigrants settled in the Mid-West, as did the Brises. Here, her parents. Lambert and Marie Catherine, bought 240 acres of land in Red River, Wisconsin. In 1855, that real estate cost $120.00.
Other than a sketch of the Brise family’s log cabin home, there is no other information on the website about Adele’s pioneer life on the farm in Red River until Our Lady visited her — first on October 8, 1859, and again two times on October 9. All we know is that the closest church for Mass was that of the Holy Cross Fathers eleven miles away. For an exact account of what happened to Adele on these two days let us go to the shrine’s website and read from the memoirs of Sister Pauline LaPlante, a Third Order Franciscan, who was one of her closest friends and helpers.
“She [Adele] was going to the grist mill about four miles from here [Champion] with a sack of wheat on her head […]. As Adele came near the place, she saw a lady all in white standing between two trees, one a maple, the other a hemlock. Adele was frightened and stood still. The vision slowly disappeared, leaving a white cloud after it. Adele continued on her errand and returned home without seeing anything more. She told her parents what had happened, and they wondered what it could be — maybe a poor soul who needed prayers?
“On the following Sunday, she had to pass here again on her way to Mass at Bay Settlement, about eleven miles from her home […]. This time, she was not alone, but was accompanied by her sister Isabel and a neighbor woman [Mrs. Vander Niessen]. When they came near the trees, the same lady in white was at the place where Adele had seen her before. Adele was again frightened and said, almost in a tone of reproach, ‘Oh, there is that lady again.’
“Adele had not the courage to go on. The other two did not see anything, but they could tell by Adele’s look that she was afraid. They thought, too, that it might be a poor soul that needed prayers. They waited a few minutes, and Adele told them it was gone. It had disappeared as the first time, and all she could see was a little mist or white cloud. After Mass, Adele went to confession and told her confessor how she had been frightened at the sight of a lady in white. He [Father William Verhoef] bade her not to fear, and to speak to him of this outside of the confessional. Father Verhoef told her that if it were a heavenly messenger, she would see it again, and it would not harm her, but to ask in God’s name who it was and what it desired of her. After that, Adele had more courage. She started home with her two companions, and a man who was clearing land for the Holy Cross Fathers at Bay Settlement accompanied them. (sic)
“As they approached the hallowed spot, Adele could see the beautiful lady, clothed in dazzling white, with a yellow sash around her waist. Her dress fell to her feet in graceful folds. She had a crown of stars around her head, and her long, golden, wavy hair fell loosely around her shoulders. Such a heavenly light shone around her that Adele could hardly look back at her sweet face. Overcome by this heavenly light and the beauty of her amiable visitor, Adele fell on her knees.
” ‘In God’s name, who are you and what do you want of me?’ asked Adele, as she had been directed.
“ ‘I am the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same. You received Holy Communion this morning, and that is well. But you must do more. Make a general confession, and offer Communion for the conversion of sinners. If they do not convert and do penance, my Son will be obliged to punish them’
“ ‘Adele, who is it?” said one of the women. ‘O why can’t we see her as you do?’ said another weeping.
“ ‘Kneel,’ said Adele, ‘the Lady says she is the Queen of Heaven.’ Our Blessed Lady turned, looked kindly at them, and said, ‘Blessed are they that believe without seeing. What are you doing here in idleness…while your companions are working in the vineyard of my Son?’
“ ‘What more can I do, dear Lady?’ said Adele, weeping.
“ ‘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?’ replied Adele.
“ ‘Teach them,’ replied her radiant visitor, ‘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.’ “
Setting Out on a Mission
The pioneering communities in the Green Bay area at that time were mostly Belgian and all of these were French – or Flemish – speaking. Several single women offered to assist Adele and, before long, although they did not take vows, they formed a religious community called the Sisters of Good Help. For immediate religious affiliation, however, the sisters were accepted as Third Order Franciscans. In 1865, a devoted priest, Father Philip Crud, was appointed pastor to the Belgian colony. He advised Sister Adele to do some serious fund-raising while visiting other communities and to seek financial help from English-speaking Catholics. This would relieve the sisters of the crippling effects of hazardous traveling and enable the children to come to them rather than their always going to distant outposts. By 1867, Sister Adele was able to open a school. The sisters also had a tiny shrine chapel, ten feet by twelve, that had been built by Mr. Brise on the site of the apparitions. A larger one was completed before the opening of the school. The chapel that currently crowns the shrine was built in 1942. By 1871, the school, St. Mary’s Academy, had ninety-five boarding students, many of whom were orphans. The last thing the sisters had built was a convent.
On one of her fundraising tours Sister Adele, accompanied by Sister Marguerite Allard, an English speaking companion, went to Green Bay and met with Eliza Allen Starr, who had authored a book on patron saints. Starr described the visit with Sister Adele:
“On one of the warmest days of this last summer, coming into my little parlor, I saw two women seated there, dressed in black serge gowns and cloaks, and wearing bonnets exactly like the cape-bonnets that little girls wear. Theirs were made of black berège with narrow strips of pasteboard run in, to make them stand out from the face. It gave an air of rustic humility to their costume. I welcomed them as ‘Sisters’ of some order unknown to me, and found that only the youngest one could speak English; but a letter in choice French from Rev. Father P______ from Robinsonville (Champion), near Green Bay in Wisconsin, gave me a clue to the mystery before me. It introduced me to Sister Adele, a humble Belgian woman to whom had been granted undoubtedly, an apparition of our Blessed Lady, leaving her to tell me, through her young interpreter, the story of her graces and of her labors.
“…Sister Adele had no ‘price’ for teaching … no tuition bills to make out to her pupils, even at the end of a whole year; and their parents, finding the school a free school, were glad to send their children. Once started, there was no lack of scholars; and, very soon, Adele found her room was too small for her school. Then, this courageous woman undertook to beg, from more favored communities, the money necessary for building a large schoolhouse, then a Chapel, and, finally, to raise a home for the religious, whom she hoped to persuade to assist her in her great work. It was on this errand that she had come to our city, where churches and schools and sisterhoods flourish, and there were few hearts on which her appeal fell unheeded … Sister Adele does not yet belong to any religious Order, but if she ever does, I hope she will wear her simple cape-bonnet as a memorial of the rustic garb in which she met the Queen of angels and of saints, and received her commission to teach the little ones of the ‘household of faith’”.
The Great Peshtigo Fire
“If [sinners] do not convert and do penance, my Son will be obliged to punish them.” The fall of 1871 saw numerous forest fires in upper state Wisconsin and Michigan. Weather historians say that it was a very dry year. The human causes for these forest fires in the days of the American settlement migrations were 1) irresponsible campers leaving smoldering embers, which were easily picked up by the wind and 2) the slash and burn practices of pioneers. Dead wood and sawdust make for excellent tinder. But, more often, fires were ignited by sparks from the wheels of the big trains hitting the brush along the tracks. Natural causes were, and still are, lightning strikes or, especially in the early autumn, hot weather, wind, and drought , which produce the perfect tinder of dry fallen leaves and pine needles.
What happened on October 8, however, the twelfth anniversary of the Champion apparition, was the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States. Approximately two thousand square miles of northern Wisconsin and Michigan were destroyed by several raging infernos. That is twice the area of the state of Rhode Island. One town, Peshtigo, lost about half of its two thousand inhabitants. Estimates of the number of casualties in the affected areas range from 1400 to 2500. A wall of fire, a mile high and five miles wide, leveled forests and towns as it raced along, sucking in the fueling oxygen from an incoming cold front, and causing what is called a “firestorm” with hurricane-force winds of 90-100 miles per hour. Survivors describe people dying even in the Peshtigo River who were stuck in the burning marsh too close to shore. Others died of hypothermia from the frigid waters. Eye-witness accounts of the fire are shuddering to read. By evening, the settlers in the village of Robinsonville, not too far away, could see the fire in the east and it was heading their way, rapidly. There was no outrunning it, no escape. Terrified, they ran to the shrine where they prayed with Sister Adele to the Queen of Heaven for a miracle. All during the night they processed around the grounds with Sister Adele carrying a statue of Mary. The air grew hotter and hotter as they prayed and prayed into the ghastly-lit night. Suddenly, the sky grew less brilliant and a cooler wind rushed in from the west. With the rising of the sun it began to rain and the rain became a downpour. They were all saved. The fire was extinguished from heaven. Every year there is a procession at the shrine in commemoration of this event.
Meanwhile, two hundred miles south, that very same day, another fire was raging in Chicago. History calls it the Great Chicago Fire. It destroyed four square miles of the city and took over two hundred and fifty lives, leaving ninety thousand people homeless. The holy Dutch Jesuit, Father Arnold Damen, was pastor of Holy Name Church on the city’s north side. At the time of the fire, the converter of thousands was preaching a mission in Brooklyn, NY. When a call came from his assistant informing him of the conflagration and that the parish and church was in the projected path, he was hearing confessions. Having been given a note in the confessional, he took a break and went before the altar, to beg Our Lord to spare his parish. As he was praying the winds shifted, sending the inferno in another direction. The church, and the homes of every one of his parishioners were spared.
We all have trials. Those entrusted by God with a special mission get a heavier share for sure. Reading the lives of the saints assures us of that. But, as Our Lord said to Saint Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you.” Sister Adele endured all kinds of trials. Her worst, no doubt, was losing more than half of her sisters’ community in 1890, when, at the age of sixty, and in declining health, she appointed a young sister as administrator for the convent. This appointment proved to be more than the older sisters, who were the majority, could take; so they left. In the last year of her life, 1896, there were only three sisters with her.
Another great cross that came early in the devotion’s history was an interdict placed on the shrine by Bishop Melcher, the first shepherd of Green Bay, forbidding Catholics to go there. No reason was given, other than that the apparitions were never approved. And, as with just about every approved Marian apparition, there were some priests who thought the visionary was lying about the whole thing and, furthermore, the fact that vendors were setting up shop near the property during the big August 15 pilgrimage of the Assumption proved it. Of course, Sister Adele had no control over the vendors. Under personal sanction, Sister Adele was forbidden to receive Holy Communion and no priest could hear her confession. She was also threatened that if she spoke about the apparitions anymore she would be excommunicated. Even worse, she was ordered to hand over the keys to the shrine and close the school. Once, when she attempted to attend Mass at the local church, she was denied a seat. Did I say she was tough? Yes, she was a strong Belgian woman. If there were no room for her in a pew, then she would worship kneeling in the aisle. Always obedient, always humble, she was also wise as a serpent and simple as a dove. No one at that church dared bother the woman who had spoken face to face to the Mother of God. It was the closing of the school, however, that inflamed her righteous indignation. She warned the bishop that he would be responsible for the damage done to the souls of any of her children who were being deprived of a Catholic education. That rebuke was, apparently, what caused him to reconsider. The interdict was lifted, the school was allowed to reopen, and the keys to the shrine were returned. Under the next bishop, Francis Xavier Krautbauer, who was skeptical of Sister Adele at first, the pilgrimages were also allowed to resume.
Other trials, and they were desperate ones at times, involved lack of funds to keep the free school going and the food pantries supplied. Sometimes food and monetary donations came at the last minute when it seemed all hope was lost. Sister Adele never doubted God’s providence and Our Lady’s promise, “I will help you.” The school’s enrollment had greatly dwindled in the years after 1890. Nevertheless, she stayed true to her mission to teach whatever children she could. Sister Adele always reserved to herself the joy of teaching the catechism and religion to the French, and Belgian-speaking little ones.
A Place of Pilgrimage and Miracles
Sister Adele’s favorite feast day was Our Lady’s Assumption. In fact, in her breviary, the pages devoted to that feast’s Vespers are the most worn. From the day that the villagers and the shrine were rescued by the Blessed Virgin from the great fire, August 15 became a day of holy festivity and liturgical solemnity. At first, it was only the Belgian community around the Green Bay area that came as pilgrims on that day, but in Sister Adele’s own lifetime the pilgrimage grew popular in other areas of northeast Wisconsin as well. One of sisters approximated that before the interdict there were about fifteen hundred faithful who came annually to the shrine for the feast of the Assumption. After the interdict was lifted, pilgrimages to the site rebounded and the numbers of devotees grew even more. Father Vojtech Cipin, a Czech priest who served frontier parishes in the upper peninsula, organized many pilgrimages to Our Lady of Good Help shrine in the late 1800s. He estimated the number of pilgrims to be about three thousand for the Assumption feast. He related the story in a Czech newspaper of a miraculous cure that he witnessed during his first multi-parish pilgrimage in 1887. The account is so vivid that it must be read in full:
“In the year 1887, before the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, I was urged by devout settlers that I should announce in my communities a pilgrimage to the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin, that we will make a great procession. And so a large procession went from Carlton and Stangelville. We went early in the morning after Mass. Along the way we prayed and sang Marian songs. Old Mr. Pribyl was song leader and led us in song and prayer. When we came to the road leading from St. John, another procession joined ours, led by singer Jakub Novak. Many Polish people came on foot, as well as on carts. At noon we stopped in the church of St. Mary in Luxemburg, where we did some devotions and where we rested and refreshed ourselves. In the afternoon, we went on farther and stopped at the church of St. Peter in Lincoln. From there we had to go only 5 miles to our goal.
“It was a beautiful day and the sun was warm. I was very sweated! and they urged me to take a ride on a wagon on which a Polish man and his young wife rode. She had a small child. I sat next to the Polish man about 35 years old. In the great heat, he had around his neck a heavy woolen shawl. I saw that he breathed with difficulty. I asked what was wrong, and he replied that he had diphtheria and that his throat was choked up. It was difficult to understand him; his heavy, wheezing breath underscored the truth of his words, likewise the smell coming from his mouth. I said, ‘What occurred to you with such a dangerous illness to travel? You should have stayed home and sent for a doctor’. With difficulty, he replied, ‘Your Reverence, for this reason I am on pilgrimage, that the Mother of God would heal me.’ His confidence brought me joy. But the worry about what would happen to this very sick man never left me.
“The last mile to the chapel, I went on foot. In the chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary we did our devotions. Our song leader, Jakub Novak, intoned the hymn, ‘We Run to Your Cloak.’ But in a moment, he fell to the ground, overcome by heat and effort. We raised him up and continued the devotions. I, in turn, went to the convent to check on the sick Polish man. He lay on the floor on a straw mat and was feeling bad. Sister Adele was standing near him and I said, ‘How does he dare make such a journey when he is so sick! What are we to do with him? Do you have here some sulfur powder? We will try to blow it into his throat.’ ‘His jaws are already set; he cannot open them,’ said Sister Adele. I said, ‘Just bring the sulfur and a spoon with a strong handle.’ I made a small tube from paper and dropped crushed sulfur onto it. Sister Adele, with all her might, forced the handle of the spoon between the teeth of the Polish man and with strong leverage opened his jaw. Some small amount of sulfur I blew into the mouth of the sick man, who lay as if dead and who breathed with difficulty. I left the sick man, intending that if he were not better, I would give the last sacraments. I went to the small sacristy behind the chapel. I still had a large portion of the breviary to pray. That took about an hour. During my prayers, I remembered the sick man, and the thought recurred to me, why a man with such sickness would dare make such a pilgrimage! To my ears came the woeful cries of the unfortunate wife of the sick man, who, with the baby on her arm, walked about and called to the Blessed Mother of Good Help. It was sad to listen to it, and again she returned to her husband.
“After I finished my breviary, I was called to the convent. When I entered the dining room, I could hardly believe my eyes. The Polish man, just recently so sick, sat at the table healthy, and he breathed freely. When Sister brought him a cup of tea, he ate and drank. This man, who shortly before could not swallow or even open his mouth, whom death threatened by choking, sat at the table entirely recovered. ‘The Blessed Mother helped,’ I said to him. ‘For this I went on pilgrimage,’ he answered, ‘that the Virgin Mother would heal me.’ This he spoke without wheezing or rasping voice, as was the case when I sat with him on the wagon. Now he spoke with clear and intelligible voice. We can imagine how happy was his wife, and how devoutly she thanked the Lord and his powerful intercessor, the Mother of God.”
Father John Doefler, the shrine’s current rector and the vicar general and chancellor of the Green Bay diocese testified that there are “seemingly endless stories of terminal ailments disappearing and longstanding feuds and family struggles evaporating.” Some of the more astounding of them are posted on Our Lady of Good Help website. In today’s LATimes (Dec. 16) article, “Church Affirms Virgin Mary Apparition in Wisconsin.” Michael Lee of Green Bay related the story of his brother’s cure fifty years ago to columnist Rick Rojas. Here is the clip: “The boy couldn’t walk because the tumor had taken away his balance. Lee’s parents drove to the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help and, for nine days, walked on their knees around the altar of the shrine, petitioning for their son’s tumor to heal. A few days after their return, Lee said, his brother’s balance returned. He could walk again. His doctor was dumbfounded by what medical tests revealed: The tumor was gone. Lee said the doctor wrote to the bishop at the time, calling the recovery ‘medically unexplainable.’” If only complete cures qualify as actual miracles, this one certainly passes the test. So do many others. Although the diocesan authorities haven’t examined all the claims of the cures to judge whether they were miraculous or not, the fact that Bishop David Ricken has given full approval to the devotion and apparition lends strong support to the testimony that the dozens of crutches left behind at the shrine (and displayed in the chapel) give witness to.
Teach the Faith
The heart of Our Lady’s mandate to Adele Brise was to teach the children what they “should know for salvation” and to call sinners to repentance by prayer, word, and offering Holy Communion for them. Commenting on the timeliness of the apparition’s message for today, Bishop Ricken said: “We need this message today as much as they needed it 150 years ago; the message to proclaim the Gospel, each one of us, in our families and in our workplace.” He stressed also that children must be provided with “adequate catechetical formation” so that they can “defend and explain the teachings of the Church.” “For the last few decades in the Church we have been wandering about,” he said, “in our efforts to educate people in the faith, . . . some of the basics are being forgotten, and youth especially are deprived of the Gospel and hungering for it.”
Karen Tipps, who volunteers at the shrine and has lived on the grounds for eighteen years with her husband Steve, who is the caretaker, is delighted with the approbation. “I think the Blessed Mother wanted this message out now — teach children the Faith; make sure we don’t lose any more generations; now is the right time to evangelize the world,” she said.
Last Years and Death of Sister Adele
As a result of an accident in which she was thrown from a carriage, Sister Adele suffered great physical pain for many years even until her death. Over time, as her ailments worsened, she had to rely more and more on two of her most able fellow tertiaries, Sister Mary Gagnon, who was the school’s first teacher, and Sister Margaret Allard. Sister “Maggie” Allard was given all administrative duties over the chapel and school. It was the death of this sister in 1890, and Sister Adele’s appointment of a young replacement, that led to the exodus of the older sisters that I mentioned earlier. Sad as this was, it must be remembered that the sisters were only tertiary lay Franciscans and were under no obligation of a vow.
Sister Pauline, whom I introduced as the chronicler of the apparition story at the start of this article, had been a student of Sister Adele’s in the foundational years of the school. In fact, as a young girl, Sister Adele was her only teacher. She did not join the sisters at the shrine, but, at the request of Father Daems of Holy Cross parish in Bay Settlement, she and two other young women founded a teaching order, the Sisters of Saint Francis, in that town. Sister Pauline would often go to Champion with companion sisters to see Sister Adele and ask her to tell them the story of Our Lady’s visit. Shortly before the death of her mentor she went to see her for the last time:
“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.”
Before her death, on July 5, 1896, Sister Adele Brise uttered these final words: “I rejoiced in what was said to me. We shall go into the house of the Lord.”
Sister Adele Brise was laid to rest near the Shrine Chapel. A simple tombstone bears the following in French: “Sacred Cross, under thy shadow I rest and hope.”
In 1902, Bishop Messmer of Green Bay appointed the Sisters of Saint Francis from Bay Settlement to take over the shrine at Champion. The sister chosen as custodian was Sister Pauline. She would serve at the shrine for the next twenty-two years. In a letter she wrote eleven years after the death of Sister Adele, Sister Pauline fondly remembered her friend and mentor: “Dear Sister had a great deal to suffer from some misunderstandings, especially from the clergy; but all this was to make her feel that this is not our true home, and she took it in good faith. I never heard her say an unkind word against them. She was always charitable and obedient. Her work prospered, and she did a great deal of good…. Dear Sister Adele, from your happy home above, remember us.”
Our Lady of Good Help, pray for us.
Note 1: In keeping with our history of the Church in America theme, I wrote an article two years ago for our website about another “strong Belgian,” Father Charles Nerinckx, missionary to Kentucky. He died six years before Adele Brise was born.
Note 2: Archbishop Sebastian Messmer: This strong anti-Americanist prelate, who ordained Venerable Solanus Casey to the priesthood, was the the fourth bishop of the Diocese of Green Bay at the time of his involvement with the Shrine. He went on to become the fourth archbishop of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, being appointed to that post by Pope St. Pius X. He has been favorably mentioned on our web site. There is a brief Wikipedia article on him, with external links to other sources.
Note 3: For pictures of Sister Adele, Sister Pauline, the school children, chapel, and other sites and persons referenced in this article go to the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help website.