Pastor's Page
By Fr. George Welzbacher
January 30, 2011

Unaware as I was of any authenticated apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary that had occurred within the borders of the United States, I had grown accustomed, over the years, when asked: "Why hasn't our Blessed Mother appeared in our country?" to offer the answer: "Well, that of course is for our Blessed Mother to decide. But since her appearances have normally been to those who are humble and poor, perhaps we Americans are just too rich." I now have a different answer, thanks to an account featured in the current issue of  The Catholic Servant, the very same paper from which last week I cited the significant address given by Denver's Archbishop Charles Chaput on the dangerous prevalence of relativistic thinking in the moral judgments of far too many of our fellow citizens today. The report I would like to share with you this week concerns the recent declaration by the Bishop of Green Bay, Wisconsin, the Most Reverend David Ricken, to the effect that, given the results of a recently concluded thoroughgoing investigation, the asserted apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary a hundred and fifty years ago in what is now the township of Champion, Wisconsin, are worthy of belief.

Here is the report written by The Catholic Servant's David Hottinger.

Marian Apparition in Wisconsin is approved by Bishop Ricken
A first for the United States
David Hottinger
The Catholic Servant: January, 2011

On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 2010, and after a two-year investigation, the Most Reverend David Ricken, Bishop of Green Bay, Wisconsin, formally declared that apparitions of the Virgin Mary in the town of Champion, Wisconsin, "exhibit the substance of supernatural character" and are worthy of .... belief. It's big news. Only a handful of apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary have ever been officially approved - these include those at Guadalupe, Lourdes, and Fatima - and this makes for the first in the United States.

Given the hubbub that reported apparitions - authentic or otherwise - usually generate, why haven't we heard of these until now? Two additional factors may help to explain it. First, they occurred within an insular rural Belgian community and second, they occurred over 150 years ago.

Sister Adele

In 1855, twenty-four-year-old Adele Brise arrived in the United States with her family from Belgium. The Brise family settled along the Red River valley, where the town of Champion now sits. In those days, northeastern Wisconsin was very much a wilderness and there were very few priests in the region. For Catholic families like the Brises, this made for long, arduous journeys just to find a Sunday Mass. For some of these families, this inconvenience soon gave way to indifference. Not only were there few priests, there were no schools, and with mom and dad preoccupied by the demands of frontier living - and perhaps growing a little lax in their faith while far from the pale of the Church - a whole generation was growing up without proper catechesis.

It was this problem that Adele was called to solve. On August 15, 1859, the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, while walking alone to the grist mill, Adele was struck by a blinding white light that appeared suddenly between two trees along the footpath. She froze in her tracks and began to pray breathlessly as out of the light the form of a woman began to appear. The woman was dressed all in white save for a golden sash about her waist. She had auburn hair and deep dark eyes. She was, as Adele would later love to relate, astoundingly beautiful. The lady smiled before fading away into a white cloud moments later.

The following Sunday Adele had a similar vision in the very same place while walking to Mass. Troubled, Adele spoke to her confessor about what she had seen. The priest instructed her that if it appeared again to ask in God's name who it was and what it wanted of her.

Passing the spot again on October 9 of that same year, Adele dropped to her knees and began to tremble. It was the lady again. Adele repeated the words the priest had commanded her to say. In a soft and wonderful voice, the lady began to speak.

"Teach the Children"

She identified herself as "the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners, and who wishes you to do the same." Adele began to weep as the lady went on. "You received Holy Communion this morning and that is well. But you must do more. Make a general confession and offer Communion for the conversion of sinners. If they do not convert and do penance, my Son will be obliged to punish them."

Adele then asked what she could do to help people avoid such a fate. Her visitor replied, "Gather the children of this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation. If your people are not instructed, they will not believe."

Adele replied in wonder at how she who knew so little could teach others.

"Teach them their catechism, how to sign themselves with the Sign of the Cross, and how to approach the sacraments. That is what I want you to do. Go and fear nothing. I will help you." Then, after raising her hands in blessing, she faded away....

The Response

Following the message, Adele Brise was transformed from a bashful peasant girl to a zealous teacher - and evangelist - of the Faith. She began to travel on foot to the farms throughout the area, spending a few days in each place, teaching the children their prayers and preparing them for First Communion and pleading with their parents to keep the Faith. Though many of the people readily believed in the apparitions, Adele initially encountered opposition from the clergy and was even denied the sacraments for refusing to admit her story was a hoax. At this point, Adele became so distraught that she prayed to the Blessed Mother for signs to help others believe her. Shortly after, miraculous cures and answered prayers began flowing to the pilgrims who visited the site of the apparitions. Her opponents were soon converted and Adele was allowed to continue her mission.

It was not long before a shrine was built on the site of the apparitions, dedicated to Mary under the title of Our Lady of Good Help. Soon other young women joined Adele and the group eventually formed a lay community of Third Order Franciscans. She was, nonetheless, known to all as "Sister Adele." In 1867, the community built a school next to the shrine and within three years over one hundred children were receiving a formal education for the first time. Adele was obedient to Mary's call to "teach the children" until the day she died in 1896. She is buried at the shrine.

Perhaps the most famous reported miracle occurred at the shrine on the vigil of the Feast of the Assumption in 1871. That night the town of Champion and all of northeastern Wisconsin was in the grips of the Great Peshtigo Fire, the largest forest fire in North American history. With nowhere else to turn, the people of the surrounding countryside fled with their families and livestock to the grounds of the Shrine. There, Sister Adele, carrying a statue of the Blessed Virgin, led them in prayerful procession around the perimeter of the five-acre grounds. The flames surrounded the shrine and advanced on all sides. Morning rains extinguished the inferno and when the smoke cleared the entire countryside lay smoldering - all except the land within the perimeter Sister Adele had walked, which was unscathed.

The Investigation

Bishop Ricken began a formal investigation of the apparitions in January 2009. His predecessors had all viewed Sister Adele's story positively but none had made any official pronouncement regarding it. At his direction, a team of three experts on apparitions examined the messages' consistency with Sacred Scripture and with the Church's teaching and tradition, the spiritual benefits borne from the apparitions, and the life and moral character of Sister Adele before reaching a decision.

In his formal decree, Bishop Ricken declared the accounts of the apparitions and their message to be "free from doctrinal error and consistent with Catholic Faith," citing Sister Adele's personal character as a major factor in favor of the apparitions' authenticity. The Bishop went on to note that the messages had inspired a woman with no special talents to undertake a vital mission that completely changed the direction of her life and drew thousands of people closer to God.

That the bishop would investigate these apparitions 150 years after they occurred indicates that their message is still relevant. Indeed, perhaps not since Adele's time have so many people in this "wilderness" been in need of proper instruction in the Faith. Unfortunately, we see the truth of Mary's words come to roost in the generation that has most recently passed through our schools: "if they are not instructed, they will not believe.... "

But Mary's ... was a message of encouragement as well. Sometimes it is ignorance - and not [the lack of] willingness - that keeps people from practicing their faith, and we don't need a doctorate in theology, or even a teaching certificate, to do something about it.

David Hottinger is a free-lance writer from the Twin Cities who is attending The University of Minnesota Law School.

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Article on Abortion foes 1-30-11

Recent events in the political world have significantly brightened the prospects for eliminating the use of taxpayers' dollars for the killing of babies here in Minnesota and in many other states. May I share with you a recent report in the Star Tribune.

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Abortion Foes Begin New Battle at Capitol
By Eric Roper
Star Tribune, Sunday, January 23, 2011

A new era of abortion politics is gripping Minnesota and many other states, thanks to the sweeping Republican victories in November that brought a wave of conservatives into power.

For the first time since the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, the Minnesota House and Senate are controlled by legislators who OPPOSE abortion rights. They have already introduced a bill that would bar public funding for abortions, directly challenging a 1995 Minnesota Supreme Court ruling that said the state must provide abortion services for low-income women.

Bills being proposed in other states would ban most abortions at 20 weeks after conception, would push women considering abortions to view a live ultrasound of the fetus, or would curb insurance coverage.

"This is the best climate for passing pro-life laws in years," said Michael Gonidakis, executive director of Ohio Right to Life.

The change in fortunes was clear on the grounds outside the Minnesota State Capitol on Saturday, the 38th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. The mood among the 1,000 people who [in sub- zero weather) held up signs reading "Protect Life" and "Abortion Kills Children" was celebratory.

"This year, with a pro-life House and a pro-life Senate, it's time to stop the killing," said Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life executive director Scott Fischbach, who was flanked by a group of state legislators and Minnesota's Republican congressional delegation.

"Although Gov. [Mark] Dayton isn't here today, I'm sure he'll hear about this," Fischbach said. "He needs to sign the bill to stop taxpayer funding of abortions."

In the past, DFL majorities stifled attempts to restrict abortion. Now Dayton, a Democrat and longtime supporter of abortion rights who managed to buck the GOP last fall, is the bulwark for abortion rights supporters.

Fischbach doesn't mince words about the battle ahead.

"I think we're going to have to see just how dedicated he is to using the taxpayer dollars of the state of Minnesota to kill unborn children," said Fischbach, whose wife, Michelle, is president of the Minnesota Senate and a sponsor of Friday's bill.

Fair fewer firewalls

The Minnesota bill coincides with similar efforts elsewhere and in Washington. Republicans in Congress recently introduced legislation that would codify existing language that says federal money cannot pay for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or physical danger to the mother.

But laws at the state level have the greatest impact on access to abortion.

FIFTEEN states now have both a legislature AND a governor who are abortion OPPONENTS, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America. A year ago, the number was TEN. In the Midwest, that includes Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. Overall, 29 governors are foes of abortion, compared with 21 last year.

"This is worrisome because the governors have been the firewall, they've vetoed a lot of bad anti-choice legislation," said Ted Miller, a spokesman for NARAL. Social issues often were played down in last fall's campaigns, and states remain preoccupied by budget issues. But it appears likely that MORE measures LIMITING abortion rights could pass this year than in 2010, when more than 30 restrictive laws were adopted in at least nine states, according to Elizabeth Nash, who tracks state policies on abortion for Guttmacher Institute, a research organization.

The U.S. abortion rate peaked at more than 29 abortions per 1,000 women in 1981. By 2008 it has fallen to slightly under 20 abortions per 1,000 women, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

In Minnesota, ending taxpayer subsidies is just one of the goals of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life. The group also hopes to ban the few abortions done after 20 weeks, mirroring a recently passed Nebraska law, and to prevent cuts to programs that encourage pregnant women to give birth.

"I don't believe that the tax-payers should be asked to fund things that a large percentage of the population finds morally repugnant,' said Rep. David Thompson, R-Lakeville, who is sponsoring the bill to end state funding of the procedure along with Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, and other Republicans.

If the bill were to become law, it would alter an arrangement in which state and federal funding paid for about 3,700 Minnesota abortions in 2008, at a cost of $1.5 million, according to the Minnesota Department of Human Services. The department didn't break down the cost between state and federal funds. 

But given Dayton's beliefs, unless legislators propose a CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT, any legislation restricting abortion may be doomed.

Members of Planned Parenthood also were at the Capitol on Saturday, criticizing legislative leaders for what they see as straying from a promise to focus on the state's budget woes.

On Thursday, abortion rights leaders gathered in a Hennepin Avenue restaurant to take stock and discuss how to re-energize their base.

"I'll be blunt. These are going to be incredibly challenging times for us," Linnea House, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota, told about 60 abortion rights supporters eating sushi at Wondrous Azian Kitchen. "And our opponents are organized, they're funded and they are ready to go."

House said the new political landscape has forced her to rethink legislative strategy. She plans to spend more time at the Capitol this session and prodding group members to contact their representatives.

"The one bright spot that we do have is that we have a pro-choice governor in Mark Dayton, which is great news, " House said to applause.

Minnesota's abortion laws have remained largely unchanged since the 1980's, except for major legislation in 2003 dubbed "Woman's Right to Know." That law requires abortion providers to give women seeking an abortion information about potential medical risks, and to offer descriptions and photographs of developing fetuses.

Any law banning taxpayer funding of abortions or abortions after 20 weeks would likely face a court challenge.

The state's high court has seen major changes since the 1995 Doe vs. Gomez decision, which determined that state health programs for the poor must pay for abortions. Only two of the seven justices who heard that case remain. Four others were appointed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, an opponent of abortion rights.

"The court has radically changed" since Doe vs. Gomez, Fischbach said.
[Emphasis added].
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