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Sainthood cause takes steps forward

(Courtesy photo) This is a depiction of Adele Brise’s encounter with the apparition identified as Mary, which occurred in northern Wisconsin.

MARQUETTE — The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voted June 14 to support the opening of a cause to declare Adele Brise, a Belgian immigrant whose family settled in northern Wisconsin in 1855, a saint.

Brise witnessed the first and only church-approved Marian apparitions in the United States.

Adele experienced several apparitions of a woman dressed in white, who she later identified as Mary, Queen of Heaven. These visions occurred near Champion, Wis., about 18 miles northeast of Green Bay. After Brise reported seeing the first apparition, her parish priest advised that if she were to appear again she should ask: “In God’s name, who are you and what do you want of me?”

The apparition told her to pray for the conversion of sinners and to “Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.”

The lady in white admonished her to teach the children how to make 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.”

This is why the apparition had been dubbed “Our Lady of Good Help.”

Adele gathered a community of devout women, known as the Sisters of Good Help. They would go door to door teaching religious education to children.

Adele’s father built the first chapel on the site. The immigrant community faced many challenges. Adele and the sisters became a refuge for people during the Peshtigo fire of 1871.

It was one of the deadliest fires ever recorded, claiming an estimated 1,500 lives and scorching 1.2 million to 1.5 million acres. People from the area fled to the chapel and school. Sister Adele, carrying a statue of Mary, marched around the chapel as people followed praying the rosary.

Their prayers were answered when after midnight a heavy rain came down. Everything was destroyed for miles around, but the chapel and school and the fenced land surrounding it was completely spared. Accounts from the time show that people, even many who were not particularly religious, believed it was an act of divine intervention.

Adele continued teaching and catechizing children faithfully until her death on July 5, 1896. Her devotion and service is summarized by the inscription on her headstone: “Sacred Cross, Under thy Shadow I Rest and Hope.”

The Marian apparitions experienced by Adele in 1859 were given formal and official approval by Bishop David L. Ricken of the Diocese of Green Bay in December 2010, and the site of the apparitions was designated as a national shrine by the U.S. bishops in 2015, now known as the Nation Shrine of Our Lady of Champion.

The Vatican gave its formal stamp of approval to the apparitions Brise witnessed, recognizing the newly named Nation Shrine of Our Lady of Champion as an approved apparition site.

Ricken said the number of pilgrims traveling to the shrine has increased from 10,000 a year to over 200,000 a year since the apparitions were approved.

According to Ricken, the National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion is serving as petitioner for Adele’s cause. There are many steps along the path to canonization, and a diocesan investigation and Roman phase are needed before declaring her Venerable.

When a sainthood cause is officially opened, the candidate receives the title Servant of God.

There are three major steps on the road to canonization, or being declared a saint. First it the declaration of the person’s heroic virtues after which the church gives the candidate the title Venerable. Second is beatification, after which he or she is called Blessed. And thirdly is canonization or being declared a saint. Generally, two miracles need to be vetted and accepted by the church as having occurred through the intercession of the prospective saint, one for beatification and a second miracle for canonization.

In the Catholic Diocese of Marquette, a cause for canonization is open for Bishop Frederic Baraga, first bishop of Marquette. He has been declared Venerable. There is also a cause open for Irving “Francis” Houle, a married man and father from Escanaba who died in 2009.

To learn more about these potential saints from the U.P., go to https://bishopbaraga.org/ and https://www.irvingfrancishoule.com/.

For more on the potential Wisconsin saint, go to https://championshrine.org.

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