Understanding the Messages of Our Lady of Good Help (Part 2 of 2)

“What are you doing here in idleness …while your companions are working in the vineyard of my Son?”

Visionary Adele Brise

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.

Diocese of Green Bay, Wisc. Bishop David L. Ricken

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.

National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wisconsin

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.

Visionary Adele Brise with other Third Order Franciscans who helped her fulfill Our Lady’s request that she teach the children “in this wild country…what they should know for salvation.”

“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.

Visionary Adele Brise’s grave

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.”

Our Lady of Good Help as she appeared to Visionary Adele Brise.

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.

Apparition Oratory at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wisc.

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.)

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Our Lady of Good Help Awaits Your Visit (Part 1 of 2)


Apparition Oratory at Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wisc.

Standing at the top of the stairs that lead to the Apparition Oratory at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wisconsin, the first thing you notice is the profound sense of peace, of holiness, of – dare we say it – Our Lady’s presence which radiates, almost palpably, up the stairs.

A sense of peace is the one thing upon which most pilgrims comment, says the Shrine Rector, Father John Broussard, C.P.M. The sense of peace deepens, surrounds, and fills you as you descend into the Oratory (also known as the crypt), which is built on the exact spot on which Our Lady appeared to Adele Brise, a Belgium immigrant, in 1859.

IMG_3662It’s been almost eight years since Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin Bishop David L. Ricken issued a statement proclaiming that the apparitions of Our Lady of Good Help to the 29-year-old immigrant are worthy of belief. This means that this Shrine is the site of the only approved Marian apparitions in the U.S. Despite the publicity surrounding that announcement, and the fact that the U.S. Bishops designated Our Lady of Good Help a national shrine in 2016, many people still aren’t as aware of this Shrine as they should be.

IMG_3668EWTN wants to remedy that! In addition to an “EWTN Live” with Bishop Ricken, and numerous specials that aired after the Shrine was approved, this past June the Network premiered a new documentary entitled “The Marian Shrines of Wisconsin.” (The other two shrines are Holy Hill National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians in Erin, and the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse.) If you missed the most recent program, don’t worry. EWTN will air it again at 4 p.m. ET, Wednesday, Aug. 15, the feast of the Assumption.

IMG_3659Of course, the heart of the Shrine is the Apparition Oratory. A gorgeous statue of Our Lady dominates the room and appears to glow thanks to the lights and the candles which surround the statue and which flicker off the wall on the left side of the chapel. Other very large statues of saints stand guard around the chapel and the upper church. They include St. Pio of Pietrelcina, Sts. Cyril and Methodius, St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Michael the Archangel, St. Anne, St. John Vianney and more. You’ll even find a replica of the Pieta, and a large stained glass window of Jesus and Mary in the Oratory.

IMG_3667There is a petition box at the top of the stairs, along with statues of St. Therese and St. Anthony, where pilgrims from around the world can make their requests to Jesus through Our Lady, who is the Church’s greatest intercessor. Just as at Lourdes, the many crutches left behind visually attest to the fact that many of the pilgrims’ petitions have indeed been answered. You can read a few of those testimonials at www.shrineofourladyofgoodhelp.com/healings/ and send in your own petitions at www.shrineofourladyofgoodhelp.com/prayer-and-novenas/.

It’s hard to leave.


Our Lady of Good Help as she appeared to Visionary Adele Brise.

In contrast to the Apparition Oratory, the Apparition Chapel or upper church, where Mass is celebrated, is filled with daylight rather than candlelight, as well as an unusual altar. The centerpiece is another beautiful statue of Our Lady holding the Christ Child, with an overhead banner that says “Ave Maria.” At the rear of the church is the statue everyone has been searching for: Our Lady of Good Help. Many people are surprised to see that she is blonde, but that is how she appeared to the 29-year-old visionary.

When Our Lady appeared to Brise, she identified herself as the Queen of Heaven. So why is the Shrine known as Our Lady of Good Help?

According to Fr. Edward Looney’s book, “The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help: A Self-Guided Tour,” “Adele was a French Belgian Catholic, and as such, their ethnic group had a strong devotion to Notre Dame de Bon Secours. Translated in English, this title means Our Lady of Good IMG_3660Help. … Adele dedicated the chapel under that title because of her devotional life. But if we look at the events of Adele’s life…Adele constantly relied on the Blessed Mother’s intercession. It was her good  help that Adele sought.”

Brise’s grave is located in a small cemetery to the right of the Church. It’s the one with the flowerbed and the headstone that says, “Under the shadow of thy sacred cross I rest and hope.” If you place your hand on the headstone and pray, you just might be blessed with the sense that your prayer has been heard and answered.

IMG_3652Lift your eyes above the gravesite, and you will see acres of what was once farmland, edged with trees and a crushed stone path that rings the property in the back of the church. Here, pilgrims can traverse the same ground as terrified villagers did on Oct. 8, 1871, when the Peshtigo Fire, which occurred 12 years after the apparitions, swept through 1.2 million acres of forest, jumping over the Peshtigo River, and destroying everything in its path. Estimates of those who perished in the largest fire in U.S. history range from 1,500 to 2,500. (In contrast, the Great Chicago Fire, which started on the same day, killed an estimated 300 people, and left 100,000 homeless.)

IMG_3666During the Peshtigo Fire, many took refuge at the church, where they found the visionary praying. As the fire pressed closer, the people began to walk around the perimeter of the church grounds carrying a statue of Mary, and singing and praying the rosary. As the flames threatened suffocation on one side of the property, the people turned and faced the other side. After an all-night prayer vigil, a rainstorm extinguished the fire.

According to one account, the fence posts around the property were charred black on the outside, but inside the fence “the place shone like an emerald isle in a sea of ash.”

IMG_3663As Father Broussard said in a talk from the altar, “Our Blessed Mother protected all those who had faith, the same faith as Adele had taught them.” This event had much to do with the apparitions being declared authentic by the Church.

Today, you can walk the same path as these terrified villagers once did. In fact, the Miracle of the (Peshtigo) Fire Celebration is memorialized each year on Oct. 8 with a candlelight procession and all-night Adoration at the Shrine. However, the path behind the church is now marked with banners proclaiming each decade of the rosary while the center of the green lawn ringed by the path boasts numerous statues enclosed in see through cases. The Shrine grounds also include a small café, a gift shop, and even a few overnight accommodations.

IMG_3650During the Catholic Media Conference’s annual convention in nearby Green Bay, the staffs of diocesan newspapers and communications departments from dioceses across the country were blesssed by an afternoon/early evening pilgrimage to the Shrine. We had the opportunity to attend Mass, participate in a rosary walk, and listen to Fr. Broussard describe the visionary’s life and what Our Lady asked of her (and, by extension, us) during the third apparition. I’ll cover that in Part 2 of this special “Inside EWTN” blog on the Shrine. Look for that post tomorrow evening!

If you can’t wait, you can go to the Shrine’s website at www.shrineofourladyofgoodhelp.com. (But I promise I’ll tell you more!). You can also purchase one of EWTN’s many specials on the Shrine from EWTN Religious Catalogue at http://bit.ly/OurLadyOfGoodHelp. And, of course, you can always make a pilgrimage to the Shrine itself.

Let’s not keep our Mother waiting!

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EWTN’s New Documentary Series Features ‘The Doctors of the Church’

Many Catholics have a desire to learn more about the doctors of the Church, but few have time to dig through mounds of heavy textbooks to satisfy their curiosity – so EWTN Sr. Contributor Matthew Bunson has done the work for you! Beginning 10 p.m. ET, Wednesday, June 20, Dr. Bunson will be hosting the Network’s newest docuseries, “The Doctors of the Church.” (The episode re-airs at 10 a.m. ET, Thursday, June 21. You can also view the premiere on EWTN’s Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/ewtnonline. We’d love to hear your comments!)

Matthew Bunson

“When you study the lives of the 36 doctors, you’re studying the history of the Church itself; you’re studying the great models of holiness and fidelity to Church teaching; you’re studying the authority of the Church and the genius of Christianity,” says Dr. Bunson. “Each episode going forward will look at the drama of the life of the doctors, why they’re saints, and what it is about their extraordinary lives that led to them being designated a doctor of the Church.”

To help viewers understand the doctors more deeply, each 30-minute episode will feature interviews with recognized experts in theology, Church history, spirituality, and more. Look for episodes throughout the year. (Eventually, “The Doctors of the Church” will become a weekly series!)

Episode 1, which premieres 10 p.m. ET, Wednesday, June 20, features St.  Athanasius of Alexandria. You will also have the opportunity to hear him discuss the series during his guest appearance on a special episode of “EWTN Live” at 8 p.m. ET the same night.

“St. Athanasius’ life as the bishop of Alexandria was taken up by his labors against the Arian heresy, which called into question the divinity of Christ,” Dr. Bunson said. “As a result, he was exiled five times by four emperors [who supported Arianism], and spent 20 years total in exile. He was sent to the frozen parts of German, to the hottest deserts of Egypt, and to Rome. At one point, he had to hide among the tombs of his family to escape murder – all because he refused to deny the divinity of Christ.”

Next up will be St. Catherine of Siena, followed by Pope St. Leo the Great, St. Robert Bellarmine, and St. Augustine.

“Who could be the next doctor of the Church?” asks Dr. Bunson. “It’s kind of fun to speculate. John Henry Neumann? John Paul II? Edith Stein? Who can say! I’ve long predicted that John Paul II would become a doctor of the Church.”

Dr. Bunson says putting this series together has been “a tremendous spiritual journey” for him personally.

“You are confronted with the holiness of these women and men,” he said. “They’re living the virtues heroically. You’re also confronted with their willingness to defend the Faith, and to explain the Faith in the face of hatred, violence, and opposition – even within the Church!”

Dr. Bunson said it was encouraging to discover that holiness did not come easy to most of them. Some had anger issues, issues with chastity, and a lot more.

“St. Jerome would beat himself with a rock in remorse for his anger,” Dr. Bunson said. “St. Augustine, one of the world’s most notorious sinners, transformed his life and became one of the greatest doctors of the Church, and one of the greatest theologians in the history of Christianity. So every one of them is a role model, in a different way, for today.”

Want to learn more? Please go to http://www.ewtn.com/doctors/. There you will find more information about Athanasius, the first doctor profiled. The website will be updated as EWTN adds new episodes. Eventually, you will be able to purchase a book on the doctors as well as a study guide.

You won’t want to miss a moment of what is sure to be a blockbuster new series!

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Bravery Under Fire: The Heroic Story Of Irish Army Chaplain Father Willie Doyle

He was so brave during the battles of The First World War that he ran countless times into “no man’s land” to drag fellow soldiers to safety. He was so devout that he would get up and pray throughout the night every Thursday and would swim and pray in the early morning hours in an icy lake. Nevertheless, others saw him as “such a jovial character” that they wanted to hang out with him because of his wonderful practical jokes.

BUF_FrDoyle_communionHis name was Father Willie Doyle, and he was an Irish Catholic Jesuit, who enlisted as a Chaplain in the British Army in 1915 because he wanted to be on the battlefield when soldiers most needed a priest. Learn all about his amazing life, including his “Bravery Under Fire,” when EWTN’s newest docudrama hits the airwaves at 10 p.m. ET, Sunday, Aug. 12, and 3:30 p.m. ET, Thursday, Aug. 16.)

Even as a boy, the future Father Willie, the youngest of seven children from Dalkey, County Dublin, displayed an extraordinary kindness and sensitivity towards others.

“Father Willie Doyle came from quite a wealthy family, but as a young boy he would get up earlier than the servants to light the fire, to make sure the place was warm, and to set the table so the servants wouldn’t have so much to do,” said Director/Producer Campbell Miller.

Bravery Under Fire v2 coin“There are also stories about when he got his first shilling, [a former British coin worth about 12 pence]. He was off to a shop to get some sweets when he came across a homeless man. He stopped and chatted. When he heard about the man’s plight, he handed over his money to this man. He was seven or eight at the time. His brother said that after he had done this, he cried all the way to his uncle’s. It was such a thing for a young boy to give up his sweets.”

What fascinates Director/Producer Miller about Father Willie is that he was such a “three dimensional” character, which is what he hope makes this docudrama stand out. While viewers learn of the extraordinary penances Father Doyle imposed upon himself, they also see that he was quite the prankster.

BUF_Irish signFor example, a friend says that once, when he and others in his group, were leaving Father Willie’s house, they saw a cassock fall from the window. For a moment, their hearts stopped because they thought Father Willie had jumped out the window. Fortunately, it was simply a cassock Father Willie had stuffed with pillows!

This fun-loving priest spent his early years as a cleric helping the “workingman.” He was well-known in Ireland and Great Britain as a mission director, and he spent time teaching at a local college.

BUF_Conversion_prostituteHowever, while Miller calls Father Willie a “man’s man,” the priest had a great impact on everyone he met. For example, while in England, Father Willie passed two prostitutes on the street. He said, ‘Ladies, go home. Don’t offend Jesus,” and walked on. The women knew he was the “mission priest,” but that was the last he thought of them.

Years later, Father Willie was called into his superior’s office in Ireland and asked to go to England to speak with someone who had been arrested and who was about to be executed. When he arrived, he discovered it was one of these women. He had made such an impression on her that, in her final hours, she asked to see him. Before her execution, he baptized her and said Mass for her.

However, his life changed drastically after the outbreak of the First World War. The 42-year-old priest felt led to join the British Army, 16th Irish Division, as a Catholic Chaplain. Amidst the carnage, Father Willie’s story really comes to life.

Bravery Under Fire v2_wounded“All denominations loved him,” Miller said. “They knew no matter what happened, even if they were out in no man’s land and left for dead, Father Willie would come for them. He didn’t just come once. He came multiple times a day. He would drag that soldier back if injured or, if they weren’t going to make it, he would lie down beside them and give them the last rites.”

Miller said all the soldiers wanted to be in Father Willie’s dugout because it appeared to them that no one who fought near him was killed. However, that changed in August 1917. Father Willie went out on the battlefield to rescue two men, and was caught in a mortar attack.

BUF_Doyle_soldierSays Miller: “Father Willie wanted to give the men that passed away a dignified Christian burial. It feels very odd that this could not be awarded to him because they never actually found his body. He was blown to bits.”

This might seem like a sad ending, but Miller says no one who looks at Father Willie’s life ultimately comes away sad.

fr willie doyle uniform

The real Father Willie Doyle

“I would have wanted to hang out with Father Willie” he said. “Here was a man who gave up his life for his friends. You see that there was no fear. You see, in his limited time on earth, the respect people had for him and the impact he had on so many people while he was alive — and even afterward from the pamphlets he wrote. “Shall I Become a Priest?”, one of his pamphlets, brought many to the priesthood. When you see what he accomplished, you can’t help but get inspired.”

Father Willie’s cause for canonization, which was put forward in 1938, has languished. Miller says: “My hope for this film is that it will cause people to again look at his cause for canonization.”

Amen, Campbell Miller! Amen!

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Native Americans Murdered for Their Catholic Faith: The Martyrs of La Florida

Most Americans are at least tangentially aware of the persecution that Irish and Italian Catholics faced in mostly Protestant America during the late 19th Century. But few, if any, have heard about the horrific persecution of a group of Native Americans from northwestern Florida who were murdered because they had converted to Catholicism.

Martyrs young girlMembers of the Apalachee Indian Tribe were not born Catholic, but thousands converted thanks to the efforts of Spanish missionaries in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Hear the stories of their conversion and martyrdom in the next episode of “They Might Be Saints,” an EWTN Original Docudrama, which premieres at 10 p.m. ET, Wednesday, June 6 (with encores at 3:30 a.m. ET and 10 a.m. ET, Thursday, June 7.

However, viewers will want to tune in at 8 a.m. ET, Wednesday, June 6 to hear Producer/Writer Michael O’Neill talk about his work on the Martyrs of La Florida during a special “EWTN Live.”

Martyrs family walking in“This is a situation where the English, who were Protestant and seeking to settle new land, enlisted several other tribes who were offended by this conversion, in an effort to kill the Spanish missionaries and the Apalachee Indians,” O’Neill says. “Overall, more than 2,000 Apalachees were put to death, and 86 have currently been identified as having been killed out of hatred of the Catholic faith [“in odium fidei” in Latin].

“Spanish missionaries recorded these stories of men, women, and children who died protecting the Eucharist and defending the Faith. In this day and age, we see people losing their faith left and right, but here you have this incredible example of people of all ages giving up their lives for the Faith.”

Those murdered include Antonio Cuipa and his companions. Cuipa was a Catholic leader, evangelist, musician and a spiritual mentor to the Apalachees.

Martyrs crucifixion“He was crucified for his faith,” O’Neill said. “In one of the big moments of the [hour-long] episode, Antonio has a vision of the Virgin Mary as he’s dying on the cross. With great sacrifice and courage, he gave instruction from the cross to his people and encouraged them in their faith.”

O’Neill, a Stanford University-educated cradle Catholic, became familiar with the stories of the Martyrs of La Florida because of his work on Marian apparitions as the so-called “Miracle Hunter,” and his corresponding website, www.miraclehunter.com. He initially wanted to do a series of programs for EWTN on different types of miracles but found the combination of the stories of future saints and the search for canonization miracles to resonate particularly well with people.

Screen Shot 2018-06-01 at 12.20.22 AM_preview“I’ve done a lot of research on the Americans being considered for sainthood here in the U.S.,” he said. “On a list, I saw The Martyrs of La Florida. I didn’t realize there were ANY martyrs in the United States. I immediately reached out to the cause [for canonization) and found out they were ready to get this news out as well.”

O’Neill says people love the unknown stories of Americans on the path to sainthood, which he has uncovered.

636576857730880177-Michael-ONeil “We all struggle with how to bring the faith to our family, friends, and coworkers – and these people [whose cause for canonization is being considered] have done it. When people watch this, they will feel energized to defend their faith, if they haven’t before!”

So tune in, and then share your comments about the show and what you’ve learned on this “Inside EWTN” blog (www.insideewtn.com) or on EWTN’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/ewtnonline.

God bless!


Posted in Catholic, Catholic History, Christian persecution, EWTN, Persecuted Christians, religious freedom, religious persecution, saints, TV, Voices of the Persecuted | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Moose, Mountains & The Midnight Sun: Shining The Light Of Christ On the Last Frontier

Whale Bone Arch Barrow AK

Whalebone Arch, Barrow, Alaska: The jawbones of a bowhead whale form an arch that marks the gateway to the Arctic Ocean. Barrow is the northernmost city in the United States as well as in Alaska. The beach above also boasts the shells of whaling boats and other bones.

He’s one of 18 priests serving 46 parishes in a land mass the size of “two Texases.” Most of the parishes he serves can only be accessed by air, snow machine or boat, which is one of many reasons this is the last international mission diocese in the United States. If you haven’t guessed by now, we’re talking about a priest serving the Diocese of Fairbanks, which takes up the entire northern section of the great state of Alaska.

The priest who shared these facts is Father Robert Fath, the diocese’s “first homegrown priest” as well as its vocation director, the chaplain for the diocese’s only Catholic school, the director of faith and family formation, and the civilian contract chaplain for the Air Force base. Oh, and in his spare time, he serves as chaplain for the University of Alaska Fire Department and the Alaska State troopers and, of course, in the summer, he works on his canon law degree! And you think you’re busy!

Serving as a priest in Alaska isn’t easy, but as a native Alaskan, who tested the waters in the “lower 48” but returned to his roots, Father Fath, who recently visited EWTN, said he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Alaska Father Fath on EWTN Live set

Father Fath of the Diocese of Fairbanks on the set of “EWTN Live” with Host Father Mitch Pacwa. WATCH the interview: http://bit.ly/FairbanksFatherFath.

“Alaska is a state where you either love it or hate it – no in between. For those who have chosen to live there, you see God in everything. One Christmas, walking out of the church after Midnight Mass, the whole sky was filled with the aurora. You had a sense that this is what the first Christmas must have been like!”

Father lives at the house of vocational discernment on the Cathedral property the city of Fairbanks. He says: “I had five moose living on the property most of the winter. When you leave the house, you look both ways! I’ll pull the shades up and see mama and baby munching on a tree next to the window.”

Fairbanks is one of three dioceses in Alaska. The other two are in Anchorage and Juneau, but unlike Fairbanks, they are not mission dioceses, which presents special challenges.

“When you look at our population (about 14,000 Catholics in the Diocese of Fairbanks) and number of priests (18), on paper it looks like a good number of priests,” Father Fath said.

Sunday Morning Emmonak

Parishioners arrive for Sunday Morning Mass at Emmonak in the Diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska.

However, because all but eight parishes are located in native villages, which cannot be accessed by road, it is often only possible to offer Masses, funerals, confessions and other sacraments every four to six weeks.

This means deacons and the laity must be trained to read the liturgy and give out communion with hosts that were consecrated when the priest was in town.

“A lot of people in the villages die without the sacraments,” Father Father said. “Because they are so isolated, even funeral rites are done by laity and deacons.”

While a Memorial Mass will be celebrated when a priest arrives, Father Fath says the body must be buried relatively quickly depending on the time of year.

“The body is laid out in the family home,” Father said. Women clean the body and dress the individual in traditional clothing. The wake lasts for several days depending on the weather. The men build the casket and dig the grave – even in winter at 50 degrees below [zero]. They start a fire, melt the ground, dig until they hit ice. They keep moving the fire to get down to the depth they need.”

Afterwards, the family has a “potlatch,” which Father says is the equivalent of our funeral reception but with native dancing.

Father Fath says there is nothing more exciting to him than listening to the village elders tell stories.

Confirmation in Kotlik

Bishop Chad W. Zielinski after a confirmation in Kotlik, a Central Yup’ik Eskimo village, which is part of the vast Diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska.

“[A native Alaskan elder named] Benedict Tucker passed way last year. He called himself the last real Eskimo. When I first met him, he told me he was 98 years old. His family said he was probably over 100 because he remembers the missionaries coming to his village.”

Does this mean that Eskimos and other native Alaskans live longer? Father believes the people who have kept to a traditional or semi-traditional lifestyle may live a bit longer. But he says the problems in Alaska are the same as in the lower 48. They are compounded because food costs are astoundingly high.

“I was in a village that had a flood,” Father said. “They were paying $8 for a gallon of water. Surprisingly, a soda only cost a couple bucks. It makes it easy for kids to indulge in that.”

This makes hunting and fishing tremendously important. Father says his seminarians, whose lives have revolved around formal seminary training, vacation bible school, and helping with Masses, frequently ask what they will be doing when they get out into the villages.

Father Fath laughs. “Because of the importance of the subsistence lifestyle, they will have to help hunt and pick berries when those things are around. A couple summers ago, commercial fishing opened right in the middle of Sunday Mass time. We celebrated Mass when it was scheduled, but we got on the CB radios and announced we would do an additional Mass so people had the opportunity to come, but could also make a living.”

While this kind of living is hard, Father said it leads people to be grateful for the earth’s bounty and to an understanding of the necessity of sharing what you have – the most Catholic of virtues.

Bishop Z Moose

Bishop Chad W. Zielinski of the Diocese of Fairbanks in Northern Alaska bagged this moose, which will feed an entire village, including many of its widows.

“It’s not unusual in the fall to see someone get a moose, throw a leg on back of a four wheeler, and take it to a widow’s house. Even our own bishop did that last fall. He got a rather large moose. He left several hundred pounds in the village and personally delivered it to several of the widows.”

Father said he often sees a sealskin hanging in front of a family’s wood stove. The wife uses the skin to make boots for her husband. In another village, he might see someone delivering muktuk, 12×12 chunks of whale skin and blubber in a cardboard box. “People eat it raw.”

The weather can also change a priest’s plans in an instant. Three or four years ago, Father said, one of the diocese’s priests traveled by helicopter to an island in the Bering Sea to celebrate a funeral mass. He planned to be there three days. “But between the weather and a broken helicopter, he was there for 39 days. His personality is such that he adapted and was perfectly content!”

Overlooking Nulato & Yukon River

Overlooking the City of Nulato, Alaska and the mighty Yukon River.

While Father Fath loves the uncrowded beauty of his state, the isolation and poverty by lower 48 standards leads to high rates of suicide, domestic abuse, and alcoholism, which he said is a challenge for the Church.

Many think the solution is technology, but Father says Internet access in the villages is not good enough to stream data, and while cell phone use is growing, the villagers – especially teens who would like to use it – can’t afford the exorbitant cost of even a small amount of data.

“As a mission diocese, over 90 percent of our operating funds come from outside. Of the 46 parishes, only six are self-supporting. A lot of the finances and funding goes towards getting the priests and religious where they need to be and to the basics of keeping the heat and lights on in a parish. It is cheaper for me to fly from Fairbanks to Alabama than from Fairbanks [in the interior of Alaska] to Emmonak [pop. 762], out on the West Coast. So every time a priest goes out to a village, we can expect to pay an average of $1,000 per roundtrip.”

Alaska’s Catholics benefit from three EWTN radio affiliates: 94.1 in Anchorage, 88.3 FM in Kodiak, and (drumroll) 92.7 FM (KQHE) in Fairbanks. Father says the Diocese of Fairbanks is working on getting more local content. To that end, the diocese recently hosted a “Families Fully Alive Conference,” which took two years to plan. They expected 250 to 300 people, but almost 700 showed up.

“We’re hoping to use the talks from that conference, which included Dr. Ray Guarendi, Archbishop Charles Chaput, Dr. Steve Ray, and Fr. Leo Patlinghug, among others,” Father said. “KQHE did interviews with people during the conference. We can forget that the Diocese of Fairbanks isn’t just the city of Fairbanks, but also people in the bush. Hearing stories from each other helps to build the community of faith.”


The jaw dropping Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights.

Curious as to what the parishes in the Diocese of Fairbanks look like? For a bio and photo of all 46 parishes, to donate, and much more, check out the diocese’s website, http://dioceseoffairbanks.org/.

Father’s message to those of us in the lower 48 can be summed up like this: “Pray for us! Support us! Pius XII, the Pope who established Fairbanks as a diocese, said some support the missions by going; others support the missions by giving. That’s WHY we’re there and HOW we’re there.”

Father Fath is one priest who has chosen to live and work in Fairbanks because he (and his parents) love it. “On occasion, we say to people: ‘This is heaven. We know because we can walk on water year round! If you don’t visit in this life, hopefully you’ve been good enough to see it in the next!’”

May the Lord continue to bless Father Fath and the Diocese of Fairbanks!

WATCH: Father Fath on “EWTN Live” with Host Father Mitch Pacwa: http://bit.ly/FairbanksFatherFath.


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You Can Help Save Souls and Bring Peace to the World: Here’s How

Fatima Shrine (2)

Magnificent Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal.

Have you been looking to do something important with your life? Our Lady of the Rosary at Fatima has a request to make of you!

Hear all about it when EWTN’s Jim and Joy interview Katrina Leyden, PhD, President and Co-Founder of the Communal First Saturdays Apostolate. The program airs Part at 1 p.m. ET, Wednesday, May 2, and Part 2 at Friday, May 4 – just in time for the May First Saturdays Devotion.

fatima_fbSo why should you tune in and what do you need to know about this? A little over 100 years ago, Our Lady told the three Fatima seers:

“You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. In order to save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If you do what I tell you, many souls will be saved, there will be peace….I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of Reparation on the first Saturdays. If my requests are fulfilled, Russia will be converted and there will be peace.”

St. John Paul II and the bishops fulfilled Our Lady of Fatima’s first request to consecrate Russia and the world to her Immaculate Heart on March 25, 1984. However, her second request, the First Saturdays Devotion, has not been fulfilled on a widespread basis. Therefore, the conversion of Russia, which includes the reunion of the Russian Orthodox Church with the Catholic Church, has not yet been realized, peace has not come to the world, and many souls are perishing!

Unfortunately, many people either don’t know about Our Lady’s second request – the fulfillment of the First Saturdays devotion – or they aren’t fulfilling it correctly.

Katrina Leydon 1

Katrina Leyden, President and Co-founder of the Communal First Saturdays Apostolate, on the set of EWTN’s “At Home With Jim & Joy.”

Here’s where the importance of this apostolate becomes apparent! Thanks to the imprimatur of Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, this apostolate is “the first canonically approved public First Saturdays devotion joined to the Liturgy.” This means that the First Saturdays Apostolate takes the private practice of the First Saturdays devotion and provides a liturgically approved way to pray this in common with other parishioners, in an expanded manner before, during, and after Mass.

While you can certainly practice this devotion in private, Leyden hopes that you will consider making this available to a wider audience by joining the Apostolate, becoming a leader, and starting this devotion in your own parish – with the approval of your pastor, of course. Fortunately, materials on the Apostolate’s website, www.Communalfirstsaturdays.org, make what could be perceived as a daunting task extremely easy!

Currently, the Communal First Saturdays Apostolate boasts six U.S. locations (including a Houston nursing home), and one in the U.K. (Wales). Leyden is also excited to see that someone in Nigeria just signed up, and she is fielding requests from Ireland and London – but obviously there is room for growth and leaders are needed! (Email start@communalfirstsaturdays.org for information and time-saving materials.)

“I was blessed to go to Fatima in 2008,” said Leyden, in explaining how all of this came about. “It was an unplanned trip. I went there, and prayed for others, but I didn’t know what to pray for myself. When I came back, a friend said ‘What about starting the First Saturdays devotion?’ My heart was on fire and it hasn’t stopped since. I wanted to spread it – whatever I could do!”

Leyden began to research the devotion, reading everything she could get her hands on, including Church documents and talking to anyone who would listen. She discovered there are a lot of misconceptions about the devotion. For example, some people think if they simply attend Mass on the First Saturdays that they have fulfilled Our Lady’s requests.

Children kneeling in awe

The three Fatima seers kneel in awe at the sight of Our Lady of Fatima in a scene from EWTN’s “The Message of Fatima.”

As many EWTN viewers may know, there are four practices we need to complete on each of five First Saturdays – all with the same intention: We are asked to:

  1. Go to Confession with the intention of making reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
  2. Receive Holy Communion with the intention of making reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
  3. Pray the rosary (five decades) with the intention of making reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
  4. Keep Our Lady company for an additional 15 minutes while meditating on the mysteries of the rosary with the intention of making reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

The difference with the Communal First Saturdays is that the above becomes a PUBLIC devotion done in conjunction with the celebration of Mass. We outline the steps below, but don’t be intimidated. Leyden says the whole devotion, including the Mass, takes less than two hours a month.

Preparation begins with individual confessions, which are offered in reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Just before the rosary begins, there is short period of prayer in which the requested intention of making reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is expressed stated, and various Fatima prayers and a litany to the patron saints of the devotion are said. This is followed by a communal rosary, and Mass with a Communion of Reparation (communion may be brought to the sick and homebound).

Finally, there is a 15-minute meditation on those Scriptures which pertain to two or more mysteries of the rosary. This is an especially fruitful time to meditate on mysteries of the rosary because the faithful have just received the Eucharist. The leader reads a verse or more of Scripture at a time with pauses for reflection, which makes this a communal form of lectio divina.

The three shepherd children,  Lucia, Francisco & Jancinta, to whom Our Lady appeared in Fatima, Portugal, with important messages for the world.

The real Lucia dos Santos, and her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto — the three Seers — to whom Our Lady appeared in 1917 at Fatima, Portugal.

Optional additions to this devotion are the reception of the Brown Scapular after the devotions, and/or participation in the Pilgrim Virgin Statue Church to Home Visitation. “Our Lady has two goals with the visitation,” Leydon said. “One is to establish the reign of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the home. The second is enthronement of the Sacred Heart.”

The mission of the Communal First Saturdays Apostolate is “to spread the Communal First Saturdays order and devotion in parishes, shrines, and other Catholic venues to fulfil Our Lady’s requests for the salvation of souls and peace in the world,” Leyden said. People tell Leyden that in parishes where this practice is instituted, grace abounds!

Statue of Our Lady of FatimaA pamphlet with 29 reasons to practice the Communal First Saturdays devotion (which can be purchased on the group’s home page, https://communalfirstsaturdays.org) notes that the Communal First Saturdays devotion “enables one to practice the entire Fatima message” and “makes it possible for a larger number of people to participate due to increased awareness by the parishioners.” And because it’s a public prayer, it also makes it possible for each individual’s prayers to have greater reparatory power. After all, Jesus said: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt. 20:18).”

No matter what you have done in your life, who wouldn’t want to stand before the Throne of God on Judgement Day knowing that you helped to save a multitude of souls and to bring about peace on earth? As Mother Angelica always said, “We are all called to be great saints.”

Here’s an opportunity!

Note: You can purchase the two main texts of this devotion at www.ewtnrc.com. The Communal First Saturdays is available at http://bit.ly/2FuaZKT, while “Fatima and the First Saturdays” can be found at http://bit.ly/2I9i1Ke.


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