For more than 150 years, Catholics have sought solace and miracles at a site near Green Bay, Wis., where Mary, the mother of Jesus, is said to have appeared to a young Belgian woman in 1859.
MILWAUKEE — For more than 150 years, Catholics have sought solace and miracles at a site near Green Bay, Wis., where Mary, the mother of Jesus, is said to have appeared to a young Belgian woman in 1859.
On Wednesday, Green Bay Bishop David Ricken sanctioned the visions as worthy of belief, making them the first authenticated apparitions of Mary in the United States, according to the diocese and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The decree puts the shrine theologically on par with such well-known pilgrimage sites as Lourdes in France and Fatima in Portugal, said Father Emery de Gaal, who teaches Mariology at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Ill.
Ricken made the announcement at an invitation-only Mass that drew 250 supporters to the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help near Champion, Wis., 17 miles northeast of Green Bay. He commissioned a study of the apparitions by three Marian experts in 2009.
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Tradition holds that Mary, ablaze in light and clothed in dazzling white, appeared to Adele Brise three times in October 1859, telling her to pray for the conversion of sinners and to teach children about the faith.
Brise responded by traveling the region preparing children to receive the sacraments, according to the shrine’s website. She later established a Catholic school and a religious community known as the Third Order of Franciscan women.
Initially vilified as a fraud, she was threatened with excommunication and examined to gauge her sanity.
No miracles have been officially attributed to Brise. But the shrine’s history includes stories of faith healings and miraculous events.
One tells of the Peshtigo, Wis., fire of 1871 when Brise, her fellow teachers and nearby families huddled in the chapel to pray as the blazes raged around them. When the fire ended, the entire area was decimated, it says, except for the chapel, school and convent and the 5 acres consecrated to Mary.
To substantiate an apparition, investigators must weigh a number of factors including the content of the revelation; the receiver’s moral character, mental state and obedience to church authority; and the resulting devotions and spiritual work it inspires.