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US bishops to consider sainthood cause of Wisconsin Marian visionary

When the U.S. bishops gather for their plenary assembly this month, they will vote on the canonization cause of Servant of God Adele Brise, an illiterate religious sister who received apparitions of Mary in Wisconsin nearly 200 years ago.

Adele Brise. Credit: The National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion.

The life of Brise will be discussed at the June plenary meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, part of the required process to move forward with her sainthood cause.

Brise was born Jan. 30, 1831 in Belgium. Although she desired to join a community of Ursuline sisters in her home country, her family immigrated to America, and she joined them at a settlement in Wisconsin.

In October 1859, Brise experienced a series of three visions of a beautiful lady dressed in white. She later described the woman as wearing a crown of stars and emitting a heavenly light.

When Brise asked the woman who she was and what she wanted, the woman replied, “I am the Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same.”

The woman went on to instruct Brise to teach the local children about the Catholic faith, specifically, “their catechism, how to sign themselves with the sign of the Cross, and how to approach the sacraments.”

Though Brise herself was not well-educated, she obeyed the instructions she had been given. At that time in Wisconsin, there were few opportunities for religious instruction for children in the local Catholic community.

For seven years, Brise traveled house-to-house throughout the Green Bay Peninsula, offering religious lessons to the children of local families.

After that, she fundraised to establish a school near the site of the visions. A chapel was built there as well. Joined by several other women who felt called to participate in her mission, she also founded the Sisters of Good Help – third order Franciscans – and built a convent for them to live in.

Throughout her life, Brise faced challenges including poverty, illiteracy, and even the loss of sight in one eye as a child. But despite these obstacles, she was known for her joy, piety, and trust in God’s providence.

She had the words “Our Lady of Good Help, Pray For Us” inscribed above the entrance of the chapel built at the site of the Marian apparitions.

Even during her life, Brise was associated with miracles, most prominently during the Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871.

The fire, which ultimately burned more than 1 million acres, tore through the countryside toward Brise’s community.

With the fire rapidly approaching, Brise led the children from the school and other local residents in a procession with a statue of Mary, praying for deliverance.

Eyewitnesses report that just as the fire approached the grounds of the convent, school and chapel, the sky opened up in a downpour that extinguishing the blaze. It was October 9, the anniversary of Brise’s first vision of Mary. While the fire had destroyed the surrounding land, it stopped at the fence of the chapel grounds.

Brise died July 5, 1896, after more than 30 years of teaching the Catholic faith to children in the Green Bay area.

Today, the National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion - previously known as the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help - stands at the site of the 1859 apparitions, which were declared as “Worthy of Belief” by Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay in 2010, making them the first approved Marian apparitions in the United States.

The shrine welcomes thousands of pilgrims each year, and is the site of numerous reported miracles.

The National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion. Credit: The National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion.

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