U.S. bishops vote to take first steps to declare Adele Brise a saint

Adele Brise Adele Brise. | Credit: National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion

The U.S. Catholic bishops voted on Friday to begin the process of officially declaring Adele Brise a saint. Brise, an immigrant from Belgium living in northern Wisconsin, witnessed the first and only approved Marian apparition in the United States in 1859.

In a unanimous voice vote at their spring general assembly held in Louisville, Kentucky, the bishops gave their approval to advancing on the local level the cause of beatification and canonization of Brise.

In 2022, the Vatican gave its formal stamp of approval to the apparitions Brise witnessed, recognizing the newly named National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion in Champion, Wisconsin, as an approved apparition site. 

Bishop David Ricken of the Diocese of Green Bay, who initiated the formal investigation into the apparitions, told CNA the number of pilgrims traveling to the shrine has increased from 10,000 a year to over 200,000 a year today since the apparitions were approved. 

“The Blessed Mother is calling people to come to the shrine to experience the peace there, the simplicity, the basics of the Gospel, the catechism are exposed there,” Ricken said.

Our Lady of Champion is the patroness of the Northern Marian Route of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage. The pilgrimage will be stopping at the shrine on June 16 on its way to the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis.

A saint for our times

On Oct. 9, 1859, the Belgian-born Brise reported seeing the first of three apparitions of the Virgin Mary while walking in the woods in Champion, Wisconsin. 

Brise, who was 28 at the time, saw a woman dressed in white and wearing a crown of gold stars who asked her to pray for the conversion of sinners and teach children about the faith.

Brise immediately set out to visit families within a 50-mile radius of her home to share the Gospel with them and teach them the catechism. They were Belgian immigrants like herself, but unlike Brise, they had lost their faith since coming to America.

“She’s really current for now because we’re facing the same problems. People not knowing the faith, people having fallen away from the Church. She’s a model for us of what it means to be an evangelizing catechist. She’s very pertinent for today as well,” Ricken said.

“From the moment of the apparitions, Adele furiously traveled the wild country of northeast Wisconsin, teaching children. She would go so far as to do the household chores for the families in exchange for simply having some time to instruct the children,” Ricken said.

Brise went on to gather other women to help her with her mission and establish a school house and convent. Brise’s father built a chapel at the site of the apparitions, which eventually became a shrine to Our Lady of Good Help. The name was taken from the words the Blessed Mother said to Brise: “I will help you.”

What did the Blessed Mother say to Brise?

After Brise reported seeing the first apparition, her parish priest advised that if she were to appear again she should ask: “In God’s name, who are you and what do you want of me?”

“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,” the apparition said.

According to the shrine’s website, the apparition “gazed kindly” upon Brise and her companions (who could not see her) and said: “Blessed are they that believe without seeing.” Then, looking toward Brise, the Queen of Heaven asked: “What are you doing here in idleness while your companions are working in the vineyard of my Son?”

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“What more can I do, dear Lady?” Brise asked, 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?” Brise said.

“Teach them their catechism,” the woman in white replied, “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.”

Possible miracles

In his address to his fellow bishops, Ricken shared the testimonies of people who said they had received healing thanks to the intercession of Brise.

Candidates for beatification and canonization normally require two miracles attributed to their intercession as well as evidence that they were holy and virtuous.

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“As we examine Adele’s life more closely and gather testimonies of people who attest to the life of the growing virtue and possession of Adele, two stories of healing speak out to the most,” Ricken said.

He recounted the story of a woman named Sharon, who while hospitalized for depression saw a vision of a woman she believed to be Brise who gave her the will to live a joyful life of faith.

The second person to testify, a man named John, was diagnosed in 2018 with colorectal cancer, which had metastasized to his lungs. He received what he believes to be a miraculous cure after he prayed for Brise’s intercession.  

“As of January 2022, I was declared with no evidence of disease, and I have been without cancer detected through my last scans all the way through April 2024,” Ricken quoted the man’s testimony. 

“I pray every day, and I’m convinced that my visit to the Champion Shrine, my deepening relationship with Mary through Adele, has really blessed me,” the bishop quoted John as saying. 

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