Sister Adele's vision of the Virgin Mary led to the founding of a school and a shrine and helped save her town.
In 1855, Adele Bris—a 24-year-old who, with her family, had come from Belgium to settle near Green Bay, Wisconsin—began seeing a beautiful lady, just as the famous Bernadette of Lourdes had a year before.
The lady was concerned about the new immigrants abandoning their faith, and she asked Adele to teach the children. Education progressed, but slowly. At one point the lady told Adele that her son might need to punish the people if they did not mend their ways. Adele was convinced she was speaking to Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Adele became a nun, opened a school and built a shrine called the Chapel but continued to experience much rejection. Then, on October 8, 1871, disaster struck. Chicagoans battled an enormous fire which ruined much of their city. On the same night, flames were also wiping out Peshtigo, Wisconsin, a small town near Green Bay. Encircled by the inferno, Adele, her fellow Sisters and several families fled to the shrine for protection. Many brought their livestock as well (although the city’s wells ran dry, the little well at the shrine was able to supply all that the animals needed).
All night the people prayed, and by morning rain had come. As far as could be seen, everything had been destroyed, everything but the convent, the school, the chapel and the parcel of land consecrated to the Virgin Mary. Though the fire singed the chapel fence, it had not entered the chapel grounds. (Peshtigo lost 2,500 people, ten times that of Chicago’s death toll). Those assembled were awestruck. Was there a spiritual significance here?
Today the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help remains directly over the site where Mary appeared to Adele. And last December, the Bishop of the Green Bay diocese approved the apparitions as worthy of belief, making this the first and only Marian Shrine in the United States which is on the site of an approved apparition. People traveling in the area have helped to make it a popular stop, and volunteers are preparing for larger crowds in the future.
Sister Adele died in 1896 with no fanfare or recognition. But she had carried out her heavenly assignment, and no doubt found great treasure in heaven. She leaves one question: Are destructive forces in nature related to humankind’s behavior here on earth? What do you think?