Lex Cordis Caritas - The law of the heart is Love

by Bishop Thomas John Paprocki

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

A rather significant news item occurred earlier this month that did not get reported in the secular media, so I would like to call it to your attention. Bishop David Ricken of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wis., announced on Dec. 8 that he officially approved the Marian apparitions known as “Our Lady of Good Help” at Champion, Wis., near Green Bay. This is significant because it makes Our Lady of Good Help at Champion the first and only site in the United States of an approved apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Bishop Ricken’s Decree on the Authenticity of the Apparitions of 1859 at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help relates that in October 1859, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared on three occasions to Adele Brise, a young Belgian immigrant. Brise stated that a lady dressed in dazzling white appeared to her and said that she was the “Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners.” The Lady asked Brise to pray for sinners, as well as to gather the children and teach them what they should know for salvation. The Blessed Virgin followed the commands with these words of assurance to Adele Brise, “Go and fear nothing, I will help you.”

After receiving the apparitions, Adele Brise immediately began to fulfill the obligations that the Blessed Virgin entrusted to her. She gathered local children and taught them how to pray, make the Sign of the Cross, and to give love, thanks, and praise to the Lord. As part of her commitment to the Blessed Virgin, Brise set up a Catholic school and began a community of Third Order Franciscan women. Eventually, a school and convent were built on the grounds to further the mission entrusted to Brise.

In 1871 a fire in Peshtigo, Wis., engulfed the surrounding area, but the entire five acres of land consecrated to the Blessed Virgin remained unscathed after Brise organized a prayer vigil that circled the area.

Since 1859, countless faithful have made the pilgrimage to Champion to offer prayers of thanksgiving and petition to Jesus and to ask for intercession from Our Lady of Good Help. The 151-year history of the shrine is rich with written and oral accounts of prayers that have been answered at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help. The sources document physical healings and conversions that have taken place as a result of pilgrimages to the shrine.

Three Marian experts studied the history of this alleged apparition as well as documents, letters and written testimonies, and determined that the apparitions and messages were free from doctrinal error and consistent with the Catholic faith. Therefore, Bishop Ricken concluded that “the events, apparitions and locutions given to Adele Brise in October of 1859 do exhibit the substance of supernatural character,” and he approved these apparitions as worthy of belief (although not obligatory) by the Christian faithful. He further encouraged the faithful to visit this holy place as a “place of solace and answered prayer.” I echo his words of encouragement.

Up until now, people have had to travel far to make a pilgrimage to a site of an officially approved Marian apparition, such as Lourdes in France, Fatima in Portugal or Guadalupe in Mexico. Many people have also traveled to Medjugorje, even though to date it has not received the approval of the local bishop. Now it is possible to make a pilgrimage by an eight-hour drive to the site of an approved apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wis.

It is significant to note that this apparition in Wisconsin occurred in 1859. Just one year earlier, the Blessed Mother had appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France, and there identified herself as the Immaculate Conception. It is under the title of the Immaculate Conception that the Blessed Virgin Mary is honored as the patroness of the United States of America. She is also the patroness of our Diocese of Springfield in Illinois and of our Cathedral.

We need to remember that apparitions such as these bring no new revelation about God, heaven or hell. Revelation was complete with the incarnation of the Word. Mary points to that Word, her Son, Jesus Christ, and through her messages calls us to a deeper conversion and greater commitment to the practice of our faith. As we celebrate the incarnation of God made man on Christmas, it is good to take Mary’s message to heart.

I wish all of you God’s fullest blessings during this Christmas season and throughout the New Year.

May God give us this grace. Amen.