July 21, 2017

Wisconsin shrine draws people for its peace, healing

The 2010 Fatima Grotto, on the grounds of the shrine, is dedicated to the sanctification of Catholic families and the protection of children. (Photo by Elizabeth Granger)

The 2010 Fatima Grotto, on the grounds of the shrine, is dedicated to the sanctification of Catholic families and the protection of children. (Photo by Elizabeth Granger)

By Elizabeth Granger (Special to The Criterion)

CHAMPION, Wis.—A booming “Welcome!” greets visitors to the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, an otherwise quiet haven of hospitality and hope and healing in the countryside some 20 miles northeast of Green Bay.

It belongs to Dan Drossart, 78, a volunteer who’s got a personal story that involves the shrine and his booming voice, and he isn’t one bit bashful about telling it.

Five years ago, a stroke silenced Drossart. “I thought my last mission in life was to come out here,” he told God. “How am I going to be a tour guide if I can’t talk?”

That night, he cried himself to sleep. “And when I woke up, I could talk.”

Not all that surprising to Drossart. He’s been visiting the shrine since 1944, when he was 6 and his parents took him. They told him about his crippled uncle, who’d been injured in an accident and had been walking only with the help of crutches for more than 10 years. The adults were all frequent visitors.

“One day, they went downstairs and they prayed,” Drossart said. “When it was time to go, my uncle took his crutches, walked across the room, and set them down, saying he didn’t need them anymore. And he walked home to Green Bay, 21 miles away.”

The uncle’s crutches are still at the shrine, along with others left there by pilgrims who no longer needed them.

“The power of prayer is so, so strong,” Drossart said simply.

It’s a belief people have had about this site for more than 150 years.

It started in 1859 when the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Adele Brise, a 28-year-old Belgian immigrant who’d moved to Wisconsin with her parents. “I am the Queen of Heaven,” the vision said, and she instructed Brise to teach local children about the faith.

Brise did. Her father built a small chapel at the site of the vision.

By 1871, there was a chapel, a school and a convent, all of wood. When the Peshtigo forest fire swept through the area that October, locals gathered in the chapel, with their farm animals, and prayed the rosary all night. Rain put out the fire, saving the chapel, school, convent and five acres of land consecrated to the Virgin Mary.

“The fire burned everything in its path,” said Corrie Campbell, communications coordinator at Our Lady of Good Help. The shrine area, she said, was a “sea of emerald green in this wasteland of ashes.”

The Peshtigo fire destroyed more than 2,400 square miles (1.5 million acres) and claimed 1,200 to 2,400 lives. It’s the worst forest fire in American history. The Great Chicago fire, on the same day, destroyed 3.3 square miles, killed an estimated 300 people, and left more than 100,000 homeless.

For most of its history, the site’s miracles were known only by locals. In 2010, after a two-year investigation, the apparition that inspired the shrine was formally approved by Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay. The designation as a national shrine came in 2016. It’s the only Marian apparition in the United States approved by the Church.

“Our prayers are through Mary to Jesus,” Campbell explained. “We ask for her help, to have her intercede for us.”

She continued, “We don’t profess to be glitzy. The substance of what is felt here is what draws people. That healing feeling, that peace. That’s what keeps people coming back.”

According to Campbell, last year 130,000 people visited. Within the next five years, the number is expected to exceed 500,000 annually. The shrine invites visitors “to grow their relationship with Mary on their personal journey to a deeper relationship with her Son, Jesus.”

The shrine is being upgraded to accommodate the growing number of visitors. Its biggest day of the year is the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Aug. 15. An outdoor Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m.

The Apparition Chapel on the first level, the Apparition Oratory (known as the crypt) on the lower level, and the grounds are open from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. every day of the year. Mass, as well as confession, is offered daily. And Drossart often leads the rosary at 10:30 a.m.

(Elizabeth Granger is a freelance writer and member of Our Lady of Grace Parish in Noblesville, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese. The National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help is located at 4047 Chapel Drive, Champion, WI, 54229. For more information, call 920-866-2571 or visit the website at www.shrineofourladyofgoodhelp.com.)

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