What a week. Coming off of FOCUS New Staff Training I had mixed feelings. It's hard to leave such a strong, faithful, and encouraging community. It's easy to be faithful to attending daily mass and a daily hour of adoration while at training but it becomes challenging to stay committed to that during the summer once missionaries are scattered back across the country. But as I end my first week away from my FOCUS family I am very encouraged.
On July 5th & 6th I had the privilege of attending 3 of the most Holy and Catholic sites in WI. I was lucky enough to share my experience with 4 great people. Fellow missionaries; Nick (serves at Ball State University), Kelsey (will serve at North Dakota State University), Mario (serves at Ramapo College in NJ), and my girlfriend Janet whose mission field is at the Mayo Clinic as a nurse.
We began our adventure at about 10am on the 5th and began a two and a half hour drive to Champion, WI to visit the only Marian Apparition site in the United States. On our way we prepared ourselves by praying the Sorrowful mysteries. We also read about the history of the site in Champion, which is just east of Green Bay, WI. What a story. In 1859 a young girl, Adele Brise, had visions of Our Blessed Mother on her way home from mass, she had these visions only a year after the apparition occurred in Lourdes, France. At first many people did not believe Adele. Adele would become a sister and teacher of the Catholic school in Champion. Many local priests and religious thought she was crazy. These priests went as far as to deny Sister Adele the opportunity to go to mass. In fact she once went and the pews were blocked off for her use, so she knelt the entire mass in the aisle. What a witness! There was also a great miracle after Sister Adele saw our Blessed Mother. Here is a quote from the Shrine's website, know that the town the Shrine is in has changed names and here is referred to as Robinsonville.
"Much has been written about the great Peshtigo Fire, which claimed an estimated 2500lives; 10 times more than the great Chicago Fire, which occurred the same day. Our intent here, however, is to show how this tragedy played an important role in the events which occurred at Robinsonville.
In early October of 1859 Adele Brise received her first vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary. On the following Sunday, October 9th, when the Blessed Mother appeared to Adele for the third time, she warned:
“If they do not convert and do penance, my Son will be obliged to punish them.”
We do not propose to pass judgment on the reasons for this catastrophe, but, one day short of 12 years after the Robinsonville apparition, on October 8, 1871, the great calamity fell and a tragedy begat a miracle. The Belgian colony which embraced a large part of the peninsula and included Robinsonville, was visited by the same whirlwind of fire and wind that devastated Peshtigo.
When the tornado of fire approached Robinsonville (Champion), Sister Adele and her companions were determined not to abandon the Chapel. Encircled by the inferno, the Sisters, the children, area farmers and their families fled to the Shrine for protection. The statue of Mary was raised reverently and was processed around the sanctuary. When wind and fire threatened suffocation, they turned in another direction to hope and pray, saying the rosary. Hours later, rains came in a downpour, extinguishing the fiery fury outside the Chapel. The Robinsonville area was destroyed and desolate…except for the convent, the school, the Chapel, and the five acres of land consecrated to the Virgin Mary. Though the fire singed the Chapel fence, it had not entered the Chapel grounds. Those assembled at the Chapel, realizing that they had witnessed a miracle, were asked by Sister Adele to retire to the Convent, where they were made as comfortable as possible for the rest of the night."
Please see more for yourself here: http://www.shrineofourladyofgoodhelp.com/
We spent close to three hours on site at the Shrine and loved every minute of it. We began in the Chapel, which is not the large but beautiful and some stunning images and statues. From the Chapel we began towards the crypt where Sister Adele had the visions and we were feet away from Sister Adele's grave. Before we went down to the crypt, we sang the Salve Regina. Our first time down we spent maybe 10-15 minutes there, and it was 10-15 minutes of deep and meaningful prayer. When we left the crypt we went to pay our respects to Sister Adele, a few of her fellow sisters, and some of the children they taught who were orphans. On our drive up as we read about the history of the Shrine, we read that Sister Adele passed away on July 5th! What a day to visit! At her grave we prayed for her intercession and the intercession of Our Lady of Good Help. We prayed for each of our own ministries, the mission of FOCUS, for our families, and for the conversion of sinners-especially those in Wisconsin. I dubbed her the patron Saint of Wisconsin born missionaries, read her story and you will know why. (As far as I know the cause for Sister Adele's beatification is not in process).
Next we prayed the Rosary around the Rosary walk which was on site at the Shrine, we prayed the Glorious mysteries. As we finished it began to rain so we went into the gift shop, where we spent about a half hour and a good amount of $$. After this we met up with another missionary, Kyle (serves at the Naval Academy) who was there with a student he works with. Together we prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.
As we got ready to leave we went through the Chapel again and visited the crypt one more time. This time we entered 5-10 minutes of intense prayer. Kneeling before the very spot that Sister Adele saw our Mother, we offered prayers up to Mary to go and beg her Son on our behalf. What a gift, that as Jesus was leaving this world, he would leave something so great and precious for us, His Mother. Telling his beloved disciple from the cross, to take this woman as his mother, as our mother. (John 19:26-27)
We left Our Lady of Good Help to go to mass in De Pere, WI to St. Joseph's National Shrine. We made it in time for mass and then explored St. Joseph's Shrine. We learned a lot about the Order of Norbertines and how the Shrine was established and recognized by Pope Leo XIII in 1892.
We spent close to an hour praying next to this statue of St. Joseph and baby Jesus. There were about 6 relics at the altar behind the statue. Some of well know saints like St. Therese and some lesser known Norbertines like Blessed James Kern and St. Herman Joseph. St. Herman Joseph has a great story and I enjoyed reading this about him, "Feeling that the work had left him too little time for prayer, Mary appeared to him and consoled him with the words, "You have no higher duty than to serve your brothers with love". There were also about 12 altars surrounding the statue of St. Joseph with stories about several different saints including St. Augustine, St. Terese of the Child Jesus, St. Monica, St. Mark, St. John and several others. We ended our time in the St. Joseph shrine by praying the Joyful mysteries.
At this point we were ready for dinner. We went to a place that some Wisconsinites would consider a 'pilgrimage site', Lambeau Field. Lambeau has a few dining options and we chose Curly's Pub. We had a great time recapping the day and already planning another WI Pilgrimage for next year. On the 2 and half hour drive home we thanked God for our day and prayed the Luminous mysteries.
The next day and final day of our pilgrimage we went to Holy Hill and the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady Help of Christians. I have been here several times before, but learned quite a bit about the Shrine on this visit. The Shrine is run by Discalced Carmelites.
Just as we were about to leave the Chapel we asked a visiting priest for a blessing. He spoke to us for almost 10 minutes, he did not know that we were missionaries, but he encouraged us to be bold, to love our families, to look to reconcile with our families, and to pray deeply to our Mother for her intercession. After this touching blessing we explored the grounds. We climbed 187 steps to the top of one of the steeples, prayed for the intercession of St. Therese, and prayed at the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes.
Then we were headed for the gift shop when we ran into the priest that gave us the blessing. Fr. Bernard spoke to us this time for close to 10 minutes. He told us that he had been visiting the United States for 3 weeks from Italy and he told us how much has noticed the sad state of our culture in the short time he has been visiting. He talked about the lack of faith in our culture as well as the self serving attitude. He shared something interesting with us about praying for signs from God. He said so many people look for signs, for their rosaries to turn into gold or to have visions instead of knowing, learning, reading, and living the Gospel. He just questioned why people don't turn to the the Gospel, why people don't turn to Jesus. This man had a great zeal for souls, he was so expressive and sad as he spoke to us. But he was so grateful that we did stop to talk to him.
Our 1st Annual WI Holy Family Pilgrimage was a success and like I mentioned earlier I am planning to do it again and pray that it will be even better.
Our Lady of Good Help, St. Joseph, Our Lady Help of Christians, Pray for us. Jesus, have mercy on us.
Here is a link to the Facebook page with other pictures" http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/media/set/?set=a.10150695713985394.705539.570665393