“Our Lady of Good Help” is the first and only approved appearance of Mary in the USA
By Linda Clerkin
It is a strange, almost hidden story, which transports us back to another America, a raw new land tentatively settled by poor immigrants seeking to rebuild their lives. It begins 158 years ago when the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to a young Belgian immigrant Adele Brise, one autumn day in the primeval forest of northeastern Wisconsin.
Adele stood perfectly still and spoke to the Vision.
‘In God’s name, who are you, and what do you want of me?’ asked Adele, as she had been directed by her confessor.
Now, 117 miles nearly due south of that spot, the Apparition of Our Lady of Good Help has come to St. Stanislaus Oratory, the mother church of the south side of Milwaukee.
The only one of its kind in the world
Part of an ambitious restoration spearheaded by the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest (ICKSP), the very first restored stained glass window in the nave of their Milwaukee Oratory church is of Our Lady of Good Help. It is thought to be the only one of its kind in the world, and is faithful to the account of the moment when Our Lady spoke to Adele in the dark woods that October Sunday in 1859.
St. Stanislaus is home to the daily Latin Mass – and now it’s home to Our Lady of Good Help, too.
One upon a time, in the primeval woods
Conrad Schmitt Studios commissioned for the ongoing artistic restoration of the church, researched the apparition of Oct. 9, 1859, and the days leading up to it, to render an image faithful to what that visit from the Queen of Heaven must have looked like in the woods at the base of the Green Bay peninsula.
And they got it right.
Adele is in a long black wool gown and cloak with a stiff bonnet. There is a yellow sash about Blessed Mother’s waist and Her golden hair is falling loosely about Her shoulders.
And the trees.
“We wanted to capture the leaves that were there in October, because Our Lady appeared between two trees, specifically, a maple and a hemlock,” said Heidi Emery, vice president of Conrad Schmitt Studios.
And so, the needles of the hemlock and October maple leaves arch above Our Lady. The forest path and the deep forest look like something out of ‘Hansel and Gretel.’
Vincent Zager, studio glass artist who helped research the apparition and then helped make the window, along with many others, removed some of the blue sky glass from between the trees, to render the gloam and depth of the woods.
“I saw that there was just too much blue sky there, and took some out so that the woods looked deeper and denser, like it would have looked on that day,” he said.
Native plants, realistic detail
Rev. Canon Benoit Jayr, rector of St. Stanislaus, asked that plants native to the northeastern woodlands of Wisconsin be included in the window, so Zager included blue skullcap and lady fern in the scene.
The window’s Blessed Mother is crowned with twelve stars and is luminous on the dark path, as Adele said She was.
“The stars in Mary’s halo are represented by 12 jewels of glass. Flora included in the scene are indigenous to upper Wisconsin and include the hemlock and maple trees, as well as blue skullcap and lady fern.
The window is made up of a variety of antique and new opalescent glass from a variety of manufacturers from across the country. In selected areas “fracture” and “streamer” glass was plated on the back of the window to create additional depth to enhance the heavily wooded appearance. Mouth-blown glass from Germany was used for the drapery and flesh tones. Whenever possible, the border glass, which had been matched to the fragments of the original windows (note: fragments of the original stained glass windows were kept and preserved by a former parishioner in the 1960s), was sourced from the original manufacturer.
The floret at the top of the arch is a salvaged piece from the original windows.” CONRAD SCHMITT STUDIOS
Other than a highly stylized modernist work inside the Shrine church in Champion, Wisconsin, there is no other known stained glass window of Our lady of Good Help anywhere in the world. Until now.
The only approved Marian apparition in the USA
Canon Jayr, rector of St Stan’s, wanted to include this in the restoration of the 150-year-old St. Stanislaus Oratory to the beauty of its Roman Catholic patrimony.
“I think it’s nice to have here at St. Stanislaus a page of Her intervention in Wisconsin,” he said.
Abbe George Baird, oblate and assistant at the parish, who visited the Shrine while in formation in Green Bay some years ago, said it was an easy decision to include Her in the restoration at St. Stanislaus.
“It’s the first and only approved Marian apparition in the U.S., and She’s right up the road,” he said.
The window is on the north wall of church nave, as will be the other three stained glass windows of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is an ancient tradition in Holy Church to give the north walls of church buildings to the Blessed Mother, to be protectress against evil that comes out of the north, mentioned often in scripture.
At press time, the stained glass window of Our Lady of Fatima was installed next to Our Lady of Good Help. And in it, the miracle of the sun, when fire appeared to fall from the sky on Oct. 13, 1917, more than 100 years ago.
Both now on the north wall of the tranquil nave at St. Stanislaus.
Adele’s Story and the Strange Fire
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Adele Brise did not speak English. It is unclear whether Our Lady spoke to Adele in French or in Adele’s native Belgian dialect, Walloon. Adele spoke both easily.)
The Account of What Happened
“It was the early part of October 1859 that Adele is said to have seen our Blessed Mother the first time. She was going to the grist mill about four miles from here (Robinsonville) with a sack of wheat on her head. She followed an Indian trail that passed where the Chapel now stands. The trail led toward Dykesville and branched off to Bay Settlement. At this time, this was all wilderness. As Adele came near the place, she saw a lady all in white standing between two trees, one a maple, the other a hemlock. Adele was frightened and stood still. The vision slowly disappeared, leaving a white cloud after it. Adele continued on her errand and returned home without seeing anything more. She told her parents what had happened, and they wondered what it could be – maybe a poor soul who needed prayers?
On the following Sunday, she had to pass here again on her way to Mass at Bay Settlement, which was the nearest place, about 11 miles from her home. Despite the great distance and the inclemency of the weather, Adele would never miss Mass on Sunday. This time she was not alone, but was accompanied by her sister Isabel and a neighbor woman. When they came near the trees, the same lady in white was at the place where Adele had seen her before. Adele was again frightened and said almost in a tone of reproach, “Oh, there is that lady again.”
Adele had not the courage to go on. The other two did not see anything, but they could tell by Adele’s look that she was afraid. They thought, too, that it might be a poor soul that needed prayers. They waited a few minutes and Adele told them that it was gone. It had disappeared as the first time, and all she could see was a little mist or white cloud.
After Mass, Adele went to confession and told her confessor how she had been frightened at the sight of a lady in white. He bade her not to fear and to speak to him of this outside the confessional. Pater Verhoef told her that if it were a heavenly messenger she would see it again and it would not harm her. But to ask, in God’s name who it was and what it desired of her. After that Adele had more courage. She started home with her two companions, and a man who was clearing land for the Holy Cross Fathers at Bay Settlement accompanied them.
As they approached the hallowed spot, Adele could see the beautiful lady, clothed in dazzling white, with a yellow sash around her waist. Her dress fell to her feet in graceful folds. She had a crown of stars around her head, and her long golden wavy hair fell loosely over her shoulders: such a heavenly light shown around her that Adele could hardly look at her sweet face. Overcome by this heavenly light and the beauty of her amiable visitor, Adele fell on her knees.
‘In God’s name, who are you, and what do you want of me?’ asked Adele as she had been directed.
‘I am the Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same. You received Holy Communion this morning, and that is well. But you must do more. Make a general confession and offer Communion for the conversion of sinners. If they do not convert and do penance, my Son will be obliged to punish them.’
‘Adele, who is it?’ said one of the women. ‘O why can’t we see her as you do?’ said another weeping.
‘ Kneel,’ said Adele, ‘the Lady says she is the Queen of Heaven.’ Our Blessed Lady turned, looked kindly at them and said ‘Blessed are they that believe without seeing.’
‘What are you doing here in idleness,’ continued our Lady, ‘while your companions are working in the vineyard of my Son?’
‘What more can I do, dear Lady?’ said Adele weeping.
‘Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.’
‘But how shall I teach them who know so little myself?’ replied Adele.
‘Teach them,’ replied her radiant visitor, ‘their catechism, how to sign themselves with 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.’
Wrapped as it were in a luminous atmosphere, our Lady lifted her hands as though she were beseeching a blessing for those at her feet. Slowly, she vanished from sight, leaving Adele overwhelmed and prostrate on the ground and the dense woods as solemn as before.”
“The Chapel, Our Lady of Good Help. A Shrine of Mary on the Green Bay Peninsula” by Sister M. Dominica. O.S.F.
The Convent in the Woods
Adele did as she was asked. She set out on foot, knocking on doors, offering to work for free, asking only that she be allowed to teach the children there their catechism and as payment. The need was great. Many in that wild country were not practicing the faith or teaching it to their children.
A chapel was built on the site of the apparition, some of the land cleared for it and for the logging industry in the area. Five acres were cleared, and a wooden fence a few inches thick belted the site. There was the chapel, a school and a small convent for Adele and a handful of women – all small buildings made entirely of wood.
A Strange, Deadly Fire
Twelve years later, almost to the day, on the evening of October 8, 1871, after a half year of little to no rain, a strange hurricane of wind and fire, the Great Peshtigo Fire, set the land and sky in flames. It was the same night as the Great Chicago Fire, nearly at the same time. Thousands perished in the Wisconsin North Woods.
The fire was strange, and all consuming. The air itself was on fire. Those who could get to the fenced-in chapel grounds did so, with what little they could carry and even with their livestock. They prayed all night, moving on their knees and carrying a statue of Our Lady of Good Help. The chapel grounds surrounded and domed with fire. There was no escape.
Before dawn of Oct. 9, 1871, the rains came and dowsed the flames, which had consumed everything for miles. Everything. Except the chapel grounds.
There is an account of what happened from Sister M. Dominica, OSF:
“Everything about them was destroyed; miles of desolation everywhere. But the Convent, school Chapel and the five acres of land consecrated to the Virgin Mary shown like an emerald isle in a sea of ashes. The raging fire licked the outside palings and left charred scars as mementos. Tongues of fire had reached the Chapel fence, and threatened destruction to all within its confines – the fire had not entered the Chapel grounds. “