APPLETON — The National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help is the only Marian shrine in the United States on the site of an approved apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Located in Champion, believers from throughout the Diocese of Green Bay and beyond have a devotion to Our Lady of Good Help.
Thanks to the efforts of Katie and Taylor Schmidt and their seven children, ranging in age from 2 to 13, the devotion to Our Lady of Good Help is now spreading worldwide.
The Schmidt family, members of Holy Family Parish in Brillion, has been serving as Catholic missionaries in Peru for five years. They originally worked with a Catholic missionary organization but left that to start their own mission.
“We felt the Lord calling us to start ‘Servants of the Good Help’ in honor of (Mary),” Kate Schmidt said. “Our family has had a devotion to Our Lady of Good Help for many years, even before we entered missions. Being that the shrine was only an hour away from Brillion, we would visit the shrine a lot.
“Our daughter Adele was named in honor of Adele Brise,” the visionary to whom the Blessed Mother appeared in Champion in 1859, added Schmidt.
While their ministry is dedicated to Our Lady of Good Help, the Schmidt family’s mission work has no official tie to the shrine.
The Schmidts said the ministry needs in Peru are great. “Picota has more than 130 pueblos to minister. Many hadn’t been reached because the roads are impassible by car most of the year due to rain,” she said. “Taylor and I knew instantly it was Our Lady’s doing as to why we were here. The mission field here is very much like Wisconsin in 1859, when (Mary) gave Adele her mission.”
The couple felt the Blessed Mother was asking them to commit long-term to Picota, said Schmidt. “San Martin was a cartel stronghold and it wasn’t until the 1990s that they were pushed out. When the cartel was in control, the people were without schools, medical attention and Jesus.”
The need is so great because the Gospel has yet to reach a number of the communities, she added. “There were three generations here without the Gospel.”
Evangelization is the Schmidts’ primary focus. “We travel on foot to the far mountain communities to teach the people the basics of the faith. We teach … basic prayers, Bible history, church teaching, the catechism,” she said. “We prepare the people who desire to enter the church for their sacraments and we also train a few of the local community members to be the community’s leader.”
Katie and Taylor also lead Liturgy of the Word services on Sundays in the communities where there are no local church leaders. “We give a final marriage retreat for couples from all the pueblos who will be entering the sacrament of marriage, and we work with the youth group in our town of Buenos Aires,” said Schmidt.
With the help of other Green Bay diocesan parishes, the Schmidts are able to help in other areas.
“Our secondary focus is to help with the basic necessities for life. Clean water has been a big focus,” she said. “We offer medical assistance to
people in need and we organize medical missions. We also supply food to families in need, and we have the ability to supply clothes and shoes to families. Once a year a mission group comes down to help with a building project and they bring suitcases full of clothes to give to those most in need.”
Schmidt said they are also assisting in reforestation of the region and conservation of the jungle.
“We have helped teach the locals the importance of conserving the habitat of the San Martin Titi Monkey, a critically endangered species,” she said. “We also currently support three families full-time through employment in our different projects.”
Overall, members of the communities are open to the Schmidts’ mission and they can see they are making a difference in their adopted country. “The communities we started continue to thrive and grow. Members of the local church community are visiting the sick on their own,” added Schmidt. “Couples which we mentored are mentoring other couples. Catholics are defending their faith and beliefs when challenged.”
Plans are in place to build a retreat center in 2020. “This retreat center will be a place of healing — physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It is also our center of mission and a place to receive mission groups,” explained Schmidt. Recently, they felt the call to build a private clinic in Mirador that will serve eight towns.
Keeping the mission’s success in prayer is a primary need, said Schmidt. “We live completely on the providence of God. Our kids would love to have some pen pals, especially since they would be able to write in English,” she said. “We would also love to have people come down on a mission trip.”
Witnessing their children in ministry and seeing the changes in people when they accept the Lord in their lives has been gratifying, said Schmidt, whether it’s someone giving up drinking, vowing to be a better spouse or parent, attending Mass regularly or receiving sacraments.
Schmidt said her family is “humbled to be serving” in honor of Our Lady of Good Help in Peru. “It is an honor to bring her message to the people in the jungle mountain communities and to share our testimony of her intercession in our lives,” she said.