MONUMENT. My husband Bill and I, who were invested as a Knight and Dame in the Order of Malta Western Association in 2016, were blessed to attend this year’s three-day personal spiritual pilgrimage to the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in New Franken, Wisconsin.
The National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help is the site where Adele Brise, a Belgian immigrant, experienced three apparitions of the Blessed Mother in October 1859, when she was 28. The first appearance took place while Brise was carrying a sack of wheat to a grist mill; the second and third times when she was walking to and from Mass.
Brise, who had aspirations to become a nun as a child, became a secular Franciscan, donned a habit (although she never took vows as a religious) and spent the rest of her life catechizing communities — particularly children. She opened a school and a convent next to a shrine built over the apparition site.
Soon after Brise’s apparitions, a popular pilgrimage to the shrine on the Feast of the Assumption (Aug. 15) took hold, drawing thousands of people from around the country. Over the years, physical and spiritual healings have been claimed, and the shrine today contains some of the crutches and braces left by pilgrims between 1859-61. Brise died July 5, 1896.
Bishop David Ricken of the Diocese of Green Bay opened a formal investigation into the apparition claims on Jan. 9, 2009. On Dec. 8, 2010, Bishop Ricken announced that he found the apparitions to be authentic. Compared to other apparitions, the time needed for approval was relatively short.
Brise’s ministry focused on simple catechesis about the faith, 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. We need to have that same zeal for souls that Adele Brise had,” he wrote in the decree granting his approval.
Beginning in 2015, the Order of Malta associations have established an annual three-day pilgrimage to the shrine for members and their families that takes place the first weekend in August. This year, about 260 members of the order’s Western, Federal and American associations participated in the pilgrimage.
Our days of pilgrimage consisted of prayer, daily mass, participation in the sacrament of reconciliation, laying of hands and anointing of the sick, exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, Stations of the Cross, great talks and a rosary procession around the beautiful grounds of the shrine. It is a very special place for all those who seek solace, comfort and peace through prayer. One can feel the presence of heaven on earth and ask for the help of our Blessed Mother.
With the building of a welcome center at the shrine, called the Mother of Mercy Hall, Order of Malta associations are now part of hosting the center. They will serve the welcome center much as they have served the first aid centers at four major basilicas in Rome. During the Year of Mercy in 2016, Pope Francis asked the Order of Malta to staff these centers with a doctor, nurse and two runners.
The order plans to serve at the center during the peak visiting times at the shrine. These include the Solemnity of the Assumption of Our Blessed Mother on Aug. 15 and the nine days leading up to Oct. 9, which is the anniversary of the apparition of 1859 and the miracle during the 1871 Peshtigo Fire, which killed thousands but spared the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help.
This is the only church-approved Marian apparition site in the United States. It was designated a national shrine in 2016 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
Ever since returning from the three-day pilgrimage, my husband and I have felt that the Blessed Mother is now calling us to bring others to the shrine and to spread the word about this beautiful gift the United States has been given.
We will be making a video presentation on Sept. 21 from 7-8 p.m. at St. Peter Parish in Monument, and we invite everyone in the diocese to learn more about this most blessed place of peace where miracles still happen. There will be materials handed out that evening so people can spread the word to others of this most holy place. We hope you can join us.
For more information, visit www.shrineofourladyofgoodhelp.com.
(The Colorado Catholic Herald and Catholic News Service contributed to this story.)