CHAMPION, Wis. — In France, the shrine at Lourdes is surrounded by hundreds of hotels and has received as many as 45,000 pilgrims in a single day. Our Lady of Guadalupe, in Mexico, draws millions of fervent worshipers a year.
Now, a little chapel among the dairy farms here, called Our Lady of Good Help, has joined that august company in terms of religious status, if not global fame. This month, it became one of only about a dozen sites worldwide, and the first in the United States, where apparitions of the Virgin Mary have been officially validated by the Roman Catholic Church.
In 1859, the year after Mary is said to have appeared in Lourdes, a Belgian immigrant here named Adele Brise said she was visited three times by Mary, who hovered between two trees in a bright light, clothed in dazzling white with a yellow sash around her waist and a crown of stars above her flowing blond locks. As instructed, Ms. Brise devoted her life to teaching Catholic beliefs to children.
On Dec. 8, after a two-year investigation by theologians who found no evidence of fraud or heresy and a long history of shrine-related conversions, cures and other signs of divine intervention, Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay declared “with moral certainty” that Ms. Brise did indeed have encounters “of a supernatural character” that are “worthy of belief.” ...
Catholic leaders described the decree in Wisconsin as a bolt of joy at a trying time for the Catholic church, which is troubled by revelations of sex abuse.
“This is a gift to the believers,” said the Rev. Johann Roten, director of the International Marian Research Institute at the University of Dayton...
Over the 20th century, some 386 major apparitions of Mary were reported at a level beyond local rumors, said Father Roten, who has been an investigator in purported sightings. About 75 of those were studied, and at most a dozen were recognized as valid, he said. Increasingly, he said, the church makes use of psychiatric examinations and brain scans to see if people making claims are mentally healthy and not having hallucinations.
That kind of examination was not possible, of course, for Ms. Brise, and Bishop Ricken said that his panel of three theological specialists had considered a host of indirect factors in concluding that her sighting was credible, following guidelines set by the Vatican in 1978.
By all reports, he said, Ms. Brise was humble and honest and faithfully carried out Mary’s mandate to serve the church throughout her life. In one striking sign of a divine presence, he said, the shrine’s grounds and the terrified crowd who gathered there were spared the flames of the Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871, which devoured the surrounding lands and homes and caused more than 1,200 deaths. Her account of Mary’s apparition and message was consistent with accepted cases.
I mean, it's just not sporting, is it?