ALLOUEZ — Nearly 160 years ago, the Blessed Mother appeared to a young Belgian immigrant living in Kewaunee County on Oct. 9, 1859. Today, it is the only approved Marian apparition site in the United States.
And, as of Aug. 15, the site in Champion has been formally designated as a national shrine by the U. S. bishops.
The announcement was made by Bishop David Ricken at a press conference prior to the annual Mass held at the shrine for the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee was the Mass celebrant, with Bishop Ricken serving as homilist. Bishop James Powers of the Diocese of Superior and numerous priests of the Diocese of Green Bay were con-celebrants at the Mass, which was followed by the annual rosary procession around the shrine grounds.
The apparition of Our Lady of Good Help to Adele Brise was formally approved by Bishop David Ricken on Deb. 8, 2010. This made the shrine at Champion the only site in the United States with a church approved Marian apparition as well as a diocesan shrine. The shrine had been viewed as a diocesan shrine many years, said Bishop Ricken.
In addition, Bishop Ricken announced that a “National Novena to Our Lady of Good Help” would begin on Oct. 1 with a retreat day led by Fr. Bill Casey, a member of the Congregation of the Fathers of Mercy. The novena will conclude on what is known as Apparition Day, Oct. 9.
The news was shared with the crowd of more than 1,500 people who attended the outdoor Mass.
“I am deeply thankful for the faith, devotion and unwavering commitment to all those who have been stewards and care takers of the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help for the past several generations,” Bishop Ricken said during his homily. “Each of them simply followed the whispers of their own deep faith and in doing so, preserved and advanced the shrine. They carried the inspiring story of Adele Brise, a young Belgian woman to whom the Blessed Mother appeared. They carried this message in their own hearts, passing it on from one generation to the next, freely sharing it with all who came seeking, searching and praying.
“Today’s announcement is a testament and an honor to all those who come before us. Their generous Christian spirit of warmth, hospitality, reverence and simplicity is very much alive in this holy place,” continued Bishop Ricken. “With that said, I am overjoyed now to share with all of you today that the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help has received the designation as a national shrine from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.”
According to canon law, “The term ‘shrine’ signifies a church or other sacred place to which the faithful make pilgrimages for a particular pious reason with the approval of the local ordinary” (n. 1230).
On April 30, 2015, Bishop Ricken sent a request to the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and its Committee on Divine Worship asking that they consider the Champion site as a potential national shrine. Bishop Ricken noted that the “mission of prayer and catechesis is at the very heart of the apostolate of this sacred Shrine.”
Since 1992, the bishops of the United States have followed a set of approved norms to designate local shrines as national shrines.
According to Fr. Michael Flynn, executive director of the Secretariat for Divine Worship for the USCCB, while exact numbers are not known, there are about 70 national shrines in the United States. The USCCB is given pastoral oversight for national shrines, so its approval is required for a shrine to be called national.
Fr. Flynn told The Compass that the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help was approved for national shrine status on March 8, 2016, during the meeting of the USCCB Administrative Committee. “The official decree is dated March 19,” he added. “As St. Joseph is the spouse of Mary, Our Lady of Good Help, his feast day was a most appropriate day to bestow the designation formally.”
Such national designation is granted by the U. S. bishops, following norms supervised by their conference’s Committee on Divine Worship. To be granted such a designation, a shrine must meet several requirements, including:
- Have served as a diocesan shrine and place of pilgrimage for at least 10 years;
- Operate under statutes approved by the diocesan bishop;
- Be easily accessible, with appropriate facilities for pilgrims;
- Be dedicated to promoting the faith of the pilgrims by centering on a mystery of the Catholic faith, a devotion based on authentic church tradition, revelations recognized by the church, or the lives of those in the church’s calendar of saints.
Additionally, a national shrine must:
- Nourish the spiritual lives of pilgrims by offering celebrations of the liturgy;
- Develop and utilize some form of common prayer, such as the Liturgy of the Hours;
- Have a sufficient number of liturgical ministers to provide adequate pastoral care for pilgrims, especially for various language groups. (According to Walt Fountain, operations manager at the shrine, visitors have come to the shrine from approximately 90 countries, including Russia, China, Vietnam, Burma, Ireland, Syria, Ethiopia, South Africa, India, Kenya, Peru, all the Central American nations and many countries of Europe);
- Provide sacramental celebrations in various languages;
- There must also be a rector of the shrine — in this case, that is Father of Mercy John Broussard. To care for the spiritual needs of pilgrims, Bishop Ricken had asked the Fathers of Mercy to care for the shrine, beginning in July 2011. Fr. Peter Strycker served as the first rector of the shrine, from 2011 until July of this year.
Finally, a shrine cannot serve as a local parish, so ordinarily, baptisms, weddings and funerals cannot be held there. And, once approved as a national shrine, its formal statutes must be reviewed by the national bishops’ conference every 10 years.
The accessibility issues have been addressed over the past few years, including adding more parking in front of the shrine and ramps leading to the upper chapel. This summer, an outdoor entrance to the Apparition Oratory and accessed by a ramp was added.
Additionally, the walkway around the outdoor Stations of the Cross received a paved stone walkway and the procession route along the shrine’s perimeter was updated with a packed gravel walkway.
“It gives a more solid surface for people in wheelchairs and walkers as well,” Fountain explained.
Another accessibility issue had been the temperatures in the underground apparition site.
“When it gets hot and sticky, I can guarantee you it was over 90 degrees in that chapel,” Fountain said.
That issue was dealt with when air conditioning was added in early July.
As part of the approval process, the U. S. bishops must send a representative bishop to view the site. This visit, by Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, a member of the Committee on Divine Worship, took place on July 30, 2015.
That day included Bishop Seitz concelebrating Mass with Bishop Ricken at the shrine, taking a tour of the facilities and having lunch with “a cross section of some of our pilgrims — some who have come here for generations and some that have had wonderful healing graces bestowed on them here,” said Fountain.
Fountain added that each pilgrim “had an opportunity to tell Bishop Seitz what was so special about shrine to them and their families. It was very moving. We had set aside one hour and it took two.”