About three months ago a groundbreaking development with significant nationwide implications occurred in Wisconsin.
No, I’m not talking about the showdown between Gov. Scott Walker and public employee unions, nor even about the Green Bay Packers winning the Super Bowl.
I am referring to the Dec. 8, 2010, declaration by Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay that an apparition of the Virgin Mary to Belgian immigrant Adele Brise in 1859 was “worthy of belief” and of veneration by the faithful.
The declaration makes the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wis., the first — and to date only — site in the United States of an approved Marian apparition. The site is only the second in North America (besides Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City) to be so designated. More background on the apparitions and on the visionary herself can be found here at the shrine’s website.
As fellow TAC blogger Dave Hartline has noted, approved Marian apparitions tend to coincide to some extent with events that can be described as trials or upheavals in the immediate region, or on a national or worldwide scale. Notable examples include Fatima, which occurred just as the Communist Russian Revolution took place in 1917; the apparitions at Kibeho, Rwanda in 1981, which foretold the Rwandan genocide; and Our Lady of Zeitoun (Egypt) in 1968, occurring shortly after Egypt’s defeat in the Six Day War.
Did the pattern hold true in this case? It would appear so. First, the apparitions themselves occurred as the nation was sliding rapidly toward the Civil War. The apparition on Oct. 9, 1859, occurred only one week before abolitionist John Brown’s famous raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia — an event which convinced many Americans that civil war could no longer be avoided.
Second, and much closer to home, was the devastating forest fire that ravaged Peshtigo, Wis. and surrounding areas 12 years later — almost to the day — in 1871. The Peshtigo fire killed between 1,200 and 2,500 people — up to 10 times as many as the much more famous Great Chicago Fire which broke out the same night. The shrine which Adele and her family had built to Our Lady was in the path of the flames, but was spared after residents gathered there to pray.
With all that in mind, I can’t help but suspect an element of Divine Providence in the timing of the shrine’s approval. When Mary originally appeared, it was to a struggling frontier people, lacking proper formation in their faith, facing the upheavals of nature and of imminent civil war.
Now, just as another wrenching cultural battle breaks out in the Badger State itself, the Church grants Her blessing to this apparition, and makes her a patroness that can be claimed by all Americans. Perhaps her intercession could help us through the moral and social wilderness in which we find ourselves today?