“What are you doing here in idleness …while your companions are working in the vineyard of my Son?”
That is the question Our Lady, Queen of Heaven, asked 29-year-old Belgium immigrant Adele Brise during an apparition in 1859 – and one we might ask ourselves today. The spot on which that now famous apparition occurred is now part of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wisconsin, the site of the only approved Marian apparitions in the U.S. (Find out more when EWTN airs “The Marian Shrines of Wisconsin” at 4 p.m. ET, Wednesday, Aug. 15, the feast of the Assumption.)
In Part 1 of this blog, we talked about what it’s like to visit this amazing Shrine today. But now, let’s take a look at life of the woman to whom Our Lady appeared, the events that led up to the apparitions, and Our Lady’s messages to the visionary – and to us!
As part of the recent Catholic Media Conference in nearby Green Bay, Shrine Rector Fr. John Broussard, C.P.M., gave a talk about the visionary, whom he always referred to as Adele.
Father explained that, as a young girl, Adele and several of her friends promised Our Lord to become a religious in their hometown of Champion, Belgium. Therefore, when her father later decided to move his family to the United States to get work, Adele went to her parish priest in distress. What about her promise? The priest told her she must obey her parents so, out of obedience, Adele complied.
Father Broussard said that obedience is an important mark of holiness – and it’s a virtue Adele practiced throughout her life.
Life was not easy for Wisconsin’s new immigrants. Even today, people report being able to drive their cars onto Wisconsin’s deeply frozen lakes during the brutally cold winters. Adele and her family were not wimps!
One day, as Adele was walking down an Indian trail, she saw a lady in white standing between a maple and a hemlock tree. Father Broussard said she told her parents about it and they thought it might have been a poor soul in Purgatory so the whole family prayed for that soul! However, when the vision appeared again, Adele went to the settlement priest.
The priest told her that if she saw the lady again, she was to say: “In God’s name, who are you and what do you want of me?” The third time Adele saw Our Lady – on this occasion accompanied by her sister and a neighbor – she asked that question and she finally learned the truth.
The vision said: “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.”
When Adele’s sister and neighbor wanted to know why they could not see her, Our Lady said: “Blessed are they that believe without seeing.” But then, Our Lady asked a question that greatly distressed the young visionary herself — words that might pull us up short as well: “What are you doing here in idleness …while your companions are working in the vineyard of my Son?”
Father explains that Adele’s companions in Belgium had gone on to become religious, and Our Lady was telling her it was time for her to enter the vineyard – although not as a religious sister. Adele would later become a Third Order (or Secular) Franciscan and would wear a Franciscan-like habit with a veil and a scapular – as did other young women who eventually joined her – and she would be called Sister. However, at this point, she simply asked what the Queen of Heaven would have her do.
“Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.”
Adele asked what she, who knew so little, could teach them. “Teach them 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.”
Father Broussard notes that these instructions are simple — yet profoundly important! He said the Sign of the Cross, which we so often make almost carelessly, teaches us two things. First, that Our Lord became Incarnate and died for our sins on the Cross, and second, that it is through the Triune God that we believe and move and have our being. He also noted that when Our Lady asked Adele to teach the children how to receive the sacraments worthily, she meant that we must receive or encounter Our Lord in the sacraments with great reverence, devotion, and love.
For years, Adele walked up to 50 miles to homes in the area, telling the occupants that if they would allow her the privilege of teaching their children the faith, she would do all of their household chores. Father said it almost killed her.
Finally, she went to her priest with the problem. He told her she must have the children come to a central place, and she must get other women to help her.
Many of her students were orphans or from very poor families and so they also lived at the school, which was successful in its mission to teach the children.
Unfortunately, Father said some vendors, who had nothing to do with Adele, noticed the success of the school and tried to make a profit from the apparitions. This prompted some of the local clergy to go to the bishop and complain that Adele was running a shady business.
The bishop called Adele in and told her that, until he could figure out what was going on, she had to close the school. Father Broussard says that Adele obediently handed him the keys to the school, but she also reminded him: “All of these children living in the school will be without the teaching of their faith and it’s your responsibility to see that they get it.”
The bishop handed the keys back to Adele – and that was the end of that!
In a funny way, Adele was able to keep the promise she made to become a religious in her hometown of Champion, Belgium. In his book, “The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help: A Self-Guided Tour,” Father Edward Looney says: “Sometime before her death, Adele walked into a town council meeting and was asked what she thought the new name of the village [of what was then Robinsonville] should be. Adele responded, ‘Champion.’ … The town council agreed to rename the city!”
Adele Brise was born in 1831 and died on July 5, 1896. Her last words reportedly were: “I rejoiced in what was said to me. We shall go into the house of the Lord.”
The building in which Adele once taught and housed the area’s children has, over the years, served as a home for handicapped children and as a pre-novitiate residence for the Bay Settlement Sisters. It is currently the home of the Father of Mercy, which includes Father Broussard.
Although Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin Bishop David L. Ricken has not put forth a cause for Adele’s canonization, those with eye problems might want to consider asking for the visionary’s intercession. That’s because Adele managed to do everything Our Lady asked of her with only one eye, having lost the other due to a childhood accident involving lye.
Having heard Our Lady’s words to the visionary, and learned something about her life, we might be inspired to ask ourselves: How well do I know the Catechism of the Catholic Church? Do I think about what I am doing when I make the Sign of the Cross? Do I approach the sacraments, particularly Communion, worthily, and with due reverence, devotion, and love?
Our Lady of Good Help, pray for us!
Note: In addition to watching “The Marian Shrines of Wisconsin” at 4 p.m. ET, Wednesday, Aug. 15, you can purchase one of EWTN’s many specials on the Shrine from EWTN Religious Catalogue at http://bit.ly/OurLadyOfGoodHelp.)