Lake Michigan Adventures: Our Lady of Good Help

August 3rd (Tuesday) 2021

          After a continental breakfast of cereal, yogurt and gluten-free toast with Door County chopped cherry jam, we packed up the Ford Escape rental car.

          “Goodbye Door County, we’ll be back,” I promised.  This picturesque peninsula is forever embedded in my memory.  Door County is a living memory, a place that you can escape too when you close your eyes and think about the calming waters against the sand, strolling along the quaint streets of peninsula villages.

          “What is our itinerary today,” My mom pulled out the Wisconsin road map as I set the GPS for Champion Wisconsin.

          “We’re going to start our day with a miraculous detour to the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help.”

          “You said that it is a Vatican approved apparition site of the Blessed Mother Mary?” My mom asked.  We are both Catholic Christians and in the Catholic church (and Episcopal Church) the Blessed Mother is an intercessor who helps point all God’s children to Christ. 

          “Yes, the Vatican approval is on the level of Lourdes in France and Fatima in Portugal.  However, many Catholics don’t know the shrine exists – it is a hidden gem worth sharing.”  I found out about the shrine in a Green Bay travel magazine while I was waiting for our lunch in Sister Bay – almost a ‘God-wink’ if you will.

          “The Vatican doesn’t give its seal of approval unless they have gone through deep discernment and evaluation.  It is harder to get Vatican approval than to get into Fort Knox.  I’m excited to make the pilgrimage.”

          Our pilgrimage from Sturgeon Bay wound down Highways 42 and 57 into the hill country of rich farmland.  Champion is a dot barely noticeable on the map – located at the southern tip of the peninsula in Brown County, just north of Green Bay.

“You know the movie, Field of Dreams, well this is a field of miracles.” I noted with my usual humor as we approached the shrine campus, which is juxtaposed by farms, corn, and the smell of manure.  “It is remarkable how God comes to the most random spots – at least by human site – a corn field and makes the extraordinary happen.”

In 1859, a twenty-eight-year-old Belgian immigrant named Adele Brise, who had moved to Wisconsin with her parents, encountered a woman clothed in white and standing between two trees – a hemlock and a maple. 

I must pause here – because it is God’s sense of humor that Adele and I share a name.  I have been praying for discernment and guidance and suddenly I’m led to a miraculous apparition site with a saint in the making named ‘Adele.’ 

Adele described the woman as surrounded by bright light, clothed in dazzling white with a yellow sash around her waist and crown of stars above her flowing blond locks.  Adele was frightened by the vision and prayed until it disappeared.

She saw the apparition for a second time on the way to Mass…She asked the parish priest for advice, and he told her that if she saw the apparition again, she should ask it, “In the Name of God, who are you and what do you wish of me?”

Returning from Mass on that same day, she saw the apparition a third time.

“In the Name of God, who are you and what do you wish of me?” Adele asked.

The Blessed Mother spoke with a simple, yet powerful message: “I am the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same.  Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.”

Brise devoted the rest of her life to teaching children about the sacraments.  She initially traveled on foot from house to house, but later opened a small school. Her father, Lambert Brise, built the original chapel – a 10 foot by 12-foot wooden structure and Mrs. Isabella Doyen donated five acres surrounding the spot.  The spot quickly became a place of pilgrimage.

          The spot reminds me of the Nativity story – Mary and Joseph and all of heaven gathering in a field, in a stable – with the smells and sound of farm animals – to give birth to the King of the Universe – our savior Jesus Christ.  How humble and yet the power of the love of God to search us and come down from heaven to a farm in a forgotten area, nearly off the map.  And yet, God is always searching us out.  Visiting the shrine to meditate on God’s word in the most unlikely of places, just reminded me of the depths of his love and grace in all things. 

          When we arrived at the shrine, my mom and I started at the Apparition Oratory chapel, a place of prayerful contemplation and hope built on the site where the Blessed Mother appeared to Adele Brise in 1859. 

          Upon entering the depths of the chapel, candlelit pierces the darkness and an overwhelming peace settled over my heart and mind.  Pilgrims are first greeted with a wall of crutches – testimonies of those healed from infirmities of body, mind, and soul for over a century.  Many miracles of healing and hope have occurred at the shrine, but God’s focus is healing the soul.  In scripture he can heal the body, but his first concern is with the heart.  No matter the ‘healing’ the shrine strengthens faith.

          My mom and I spend nearly two hours in deep prayer.  I felt my anxieties lift – casting all my worries on Christ and praying with the saints for the conversion of souls and healing of hardened hearts.  The peace I felt was indescribable – calming and I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to trust in God’s mercy and to pray without fear (even though fear of surrender and the future is always my stumbling block).  The oratory has a wall of relics and hundreds of prayer candles – lit perpetually with pray boxes for pilgrims to write out their requests to God. 

          After deep prayer, my mom and I toured the Shrine Museum and learned more about the Apparition site.  The museum has artifacts including Adele’s prayer book. 

          “One of the most amazing miracles attributed to the site and Our Lady of Good Help was the Peshtigo fire,” I motioned to my mom. “In 1871, the worst fire in US history broke out near Peshtigo Wisconsin, burning 1.2 million acres.  Nearly 2000 people died in the inferno.  The chapel was in the middle of the fire’s path.  With little time to flee and led by faith, Adele and residents organized a procession to beg the Virgin Mary for her protection.  The surrounding land was destroyed by the fire, but the chapel and its grounds remained untouched.  Many who had taken refuge at the church were saved.”

          “That is amazing!  Our Lady of Good Help is a powerful prayer ally during fires – like the ones raging in California and the western states.”

          We stopped by the gift shop and snack bar before getting back on the road.

          “Let’s take a scenic detour on our way to Indiana,” we brainstormed as we surveyed the map. “We can loop around Lake Winnebago en route to Milwaukee, then take the Interstate east past Chicago to Chesterton Indiana.”

          Always in search of a national park, my mom and I scheduled the next two nights near Indiana Dunes National Park.  Indiana is about four and half hours from Door County – so we had a little time to enjoy some backroads on the way.

          We drove south for fifty miles to Appleton Wisconsin, then veered east toward the town of Sherwood, catching Wisconsin 55 south.  The highway hugs the eastern shores of famed Lake Winnebago.  The lake calls to mind adventures of travels in their Winnebago RVs-fishing lakeside. 

          While not a ‘Great Lake,’ Lake Winnebago is the largest lake entirely in Wisconsin.  It stretches over 137,700 acres and is known for clear water and breathtaking beauty.  The lake covers an area of 30 miles by 10 miles with 88 miles of shoreline and average depth of 15.5 feet. 

          Winnebago comes from the Ho-Chunk tribe, who lived in the area.  In 1634, French explorers first encountered the Ho-Chunk tribe on the shores of Green Bay.  Although “Ho-Chunk” is the tribe’s name for themselves, Algonquin neighbors called them ‘Winnebago,” which means ‘people of the stinking water.’  This term was used by the Algonquins because Lake Winnebago had a pungent fish odor in the summer.

          We stopped for thirty minutes at the tranquil Calumet County Park.  This lakeside park offers perfect lakefront views, a boat launch, fishing access and picnic tables.  We had the spot to ourselves – a quiet retreat from highway traffic.

          55 is a scenic byway that ambles through dairy farms and small towns before reaching Fond du Lac, a college town with 44,000.  We stopped for coffee at Starbucks (I needed fuel for the road – caffeine does the trick) and reviewed the map.

          We continued to Milwaukee to catch I-94 towards Chicago.  We had the misfortune of hitting Milwaukee in the middle of five o’clock traffic and were deadlocked an hour. 

          The traffic east of Milwaukee to Chicago metro was clogged, but steady.  It was here we were introduced to the infamous toll roads.  I’ll detail that in another entry but suffice it to say – I’ll take the backroads next time around – even if the toll ‘saves’ time.

          Oddly enough you don’t see any of the Chicago skyline on I-94 (the route we took) – just lots of billboards for traffic attorneys and Chicagoland sites.  It was headache inducing and I was ready to stop for dinner when we crossed into Indiana around 7:30 p.m.

          My mom and I stopped at a Cracker Barrel in Hammond, IN.  I used to work at a Cracker Barrel in college and it is a preferred roadside stop because you know you will get good food quickly with a relaxing atmosphere. 

          Night had taken hold as we exited Cracker Barrel bound for Chesterton, roughly forty minutes east. 

          When people think of Indiana they typically think of the following:

  • Racing
  • Basketball (high school and college)
  • John Mellencamp (well I do 😊)
  • Flat land – very flat land that has mundane scenery

Not many would associate Indiana as a major port state – their sliver of Lake

Michigan is active for industry.  Indiana is also home to the bluest waters you will find – Indiana is the Caribbean of the Midwest with its lakefront parks…we’ll dive into Indiana adventures tomorrow.

          We checked into the hotel just after nine, thoroughly exhausted from another wonderful day of adventure…

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