Sunday, April 10, 2011

Apparition of Mary, Champion, Wisconsin: A Pilgrimage? Not for Me

Mary, mother of Jesus, appeared to Sister Adele Brise in 1859.

At least, that's what folks in the Champion, Wisconsin, area have been saying for the last century-and-a-half. And the Bishop in Green Bay says it's okay.

Someone claiming to see Mary, or Jesus, in a slice of toast - or mayonnaise jar - or whatever - isn't all that uncommon.

I've got a pretty lively imagination myself, and could probably 'see' Elvis outside the window: provided I gave my brain a running start.

What happened in Wisconsin is not the American equivalent of someone seeing Queen Elizabeth II in a marmalade jar.

The Champion, Wisconsin, Marian apparition stands out because it's gotten approval of the Church. (December 8, 2010) Which is a first for the United States. (CNA)

Pilgrimage to Champion, Wisconsin: Count Me Out

There's a pilgrimage from the town I live in, Sauk Centre, Minnesota, going to the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, Champion, Wisconsin, this May. Father Todd Schneider, a parish priest from town, will be the spiritual director. The pilgrimage is co-sponsored by JeriCo Christian Journeys ( in Mora, Minnesota, and Archangel Books & Gifts in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

I won't be going.

Even though Father Statz, our parish priest, mentioned it after Mass today.

Part of my reason for staying in town is economic. I'm sure that the cost, $260 per person, is reasonable for this sort of thing. That's still quite a lot of money for this household.

Besides, I am not convinced that a pilgrimage is necessary - or would be useful. For me.

But that's me. I recognize that quite a few folks make pilgrimages a part of their faith. I've made the point before, that lockstep conformity isn't what the Catholic Church is about. We're each supposed to bring something different to the Church. (August 26, 2010)

Definition Time - What's a Pilgrimage?

  • a journey to a sacred place
    (Princeton's WordNet)
That raises the question of just what "sacred place" means - but I'm willing to assume that it could mean a place where the mother of my Lord appeared to Sister Adele Brise.

Some Town in Wisconsin, and Mary, Queen of Heaven

Here's part of what the Catholic News Agency said about the Champion, Wisconsin, apparition:
"With approval from Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay, Wisconsin, a chapel in the town of Champion is now the first approved Marian apparition site in the United States.

"On Dec. 8, 2010 -the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception- the bishop decreed with 'moral certainty' that the Virgin Mary had indeed appeared to a young Belgian immigrant woman, Adele Brise, on three occasions in October of 1859.

"Since 1861, the site of those apparitions has been home to a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary under her title 'Our Lady of Good Help.' Following a two-year investigation of the alleged apparitions, Bishop Ricken proclaimed them 'worthy of belief,' and confirmed his diocese's official recognition of the popular shrine.

"During each of those three apparitions, a lady in shining white clothes appeared to Adele. The third time, she identified herself as 'the Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners.'..."
The point of a pilgrimage isn't just dragging my body across the Minnesota/Wisconsin border and spending time in a town near Green Bay, Wisconsin. A pilgrimage is a way to express - physically - commitment to living a Christian life.

Not my idea: I lifted that from a document on the Holy See's website:
"Popular piety is characterized by a great variety and richness of bodily, gestural and symbolic expressions: kissing or touching images, places, relics and sacred objects; pilgrimages, processions; going bare-footed or on one's knees; kneeling and prostrating; wearing medals and badges... . These and similar expressions, handed down from father to son, are direct and simple ways of giving external expression to the heart and to one's commitment to live the Christian life. Without this interior aspect, symbolic gesture runs the risk of degenerating into empty customs or mere superstitions, in the worst cases."
("Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy. Principles and Guidelines," Vatican City (December 2001))
Okay: So pilgrimages are a long-standing tradition (small "t") in the Catholic Church, symbolic gestures "giving external expression ... to one's commitment to live the Christian life."

My hat's off to the folks who go: but I still think I'll be staying home during May. But I've been wrong before.

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Brigid said...

Wow. That's a lot of money. A lot of that is probably the cost of gas. I think if I go on a pilgrimage, I'll be doing it the old fashioned way. Walking there.

Brian H. Gill said...


The cost isn't, really, exorbitant for that sort of service. It's still quite a bit of money for this household.

As for walking? It's just over 400 miles, from Sauk Centre, Minnesota, to Champion, Wisconsin - following existing roadways. Assuming an average walking speed of about three miles an hour (not particularly slow, BTW), ten hours a day walking - that's 30 miles a day 400 / 30 = 13 1/3 days, one way.

It's doable. Not necessarily advisable, but doable.

Ashley Z. said...

Dear Author,

I read your blog this afternoon and I have to say I am very disappointed in the free way you express your opinion. How can you speak so flippantly about something the Catholic Church (2000 years old) has been researching for 100's of years? How can you be so sure that the Blessed Mother hasn't appeared in this place? A pilgrimage spot is somewhere where people go to deepen their faith, find peace, and sit in silence in a holy place. Maybe before you mock so arrogantly something so beautiful, you should go there.

Brian H. Gill said...

Ashley Z,

I'm sure, because Rome has spoken. (See Basic Information on Apparitions, Diocese of Green Bay (

The Catholic Church is not one of the 'roll your own' denominations where everybody is free to decide what they'd like to believe, and what they don't like.

As the Diocese of Green Bay put it, "Not all alleged apparitions are given Church approval. Examples of alleged apparitions in the United States that have been examined by the Church and formally declared to be false are Necedah, Wisconsin and Bayside, New York."

As for my manner of speech, I acknowledge that it's quite informal. Even "flippant." I'm sorry that I don't use the 'olde Englishe' that some of the 'King James' folks prefer, or the pedantic prose that others use.

As for mocking? Well, I'm sorry that you feel that way.

I realize that folks who sincerely believe that a formally rejected apparition is genuine; or who follow the teachings of Howard Camping, Tony Alamo, Fred Phelps, or any of the other myriad do-it-yourself theologians around; are - sincere. That does not mean that I see a need to adopt a conventionally dour, humorless, 'serious' approach to errant beliefs. Or take them seriously.

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.