The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

The Wisconsin woman who saw Mary

Who is Adele Brise, the visionary who is responsible for the first approved Marian apparition  in the United States?

The Compass has the answer:

Adele Joseph Brise’s story began when she arrived from Belgium with her parents, Lambert and Marie Catherine Brise, two sisters and a brother in 1855. They bought a farm at Red River, near the border of Brown and Kewaunee counties.

1040crypt15web2.jpgAdele had her first of three apparitions while carrying grain to a mill near Dyckesville on Oct. 9, 1859. On the following Sunday, while walking to Mass in Bay Settlement, the Blessed Mother appeared again. During the third vision, while returning home from church, Adele said Mary identified herself as “the Queen of Heaven” and told her, “Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation. Teach them their catechism, how to sign themselves with the sign of the cross and how to approach the sacraments. That is what I wish you to do. Go and I will help you.”


So the 28-year-old gathered the children and taught them about the faith. She would travel to farms, sometimes 50 miles away, to teach them. While Adele was never a vowed religious, she gathered a lay community around her, known as the Sisters of Good Help. Adele, called Sr. Adele, became their leader.

It wasn’t until 1867 or 1868 that the first school was built on the chapel site. St. Mary’s Academy, a boarding school, had 95 students enrolled by the 1871-72 school year. Sr. Adele supported the school by relying on God and the generosity of those she met. She sometimes went begging for what she needed.

One of Sr. Adele’s students was 6-year-old Odile Allard, who arrived at St. Mary’s Academy with her baby sister after their mother died. Odile, (later Sr. Marie du Sacré Coeur) stayed until she was 15. “I don’t remember that there were less than a hundred children, the year around at the Chapel, mostly orphans,” she wrote in a letter to the sisters at Bay Settlement.


The first shrine chapel was built by Adele’s father. It measured 10 feet by 12 feet and was located near the spot where Mary appeared to Adele. A larger chapel was built in 1865. The present chapel was completed in 1942. The altar in its crypt stands over the site of the reported visions. Logs from the trees between which Adele said Mary appeared can be seen in a display case in the shrine’s gift shop.

Fr. John Doerfler, vicar general and diocesan chancellor, is rector at the shrine.

“What is really remarkable about Adele,” he said, “is that her life had a real focus to pass on the faith to the children. She gave her whole life to this. And she was a simple, yet strong and dedicated, woman of faith. It was not an easy life. Yet she lived this life with joy, with humility, with abandonment to God’s providence and reliance on the intercession of the Blessed Mother.”


Bishop David Ricken, who said he was “thrilled” to learn that the diocese had a shrine dedicated to the Blessed Mother, echoed Fr. Doerfler’s sentiments.

“What has stuck me about the story of the life of Adele Brise is her lifelong fidelity to what the Blessed Mother asked her to do with her life,” he told The Compass in 2009. “She dedicated her life to prayer, especially for the conversion of sinners, and to the catechesis of children. She made great sacrifices and attracted other young women to follow her in her fidelity to the Blessed Mother’s call.”

There’s much more, along with pictures. Check it out.

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posted December 10, 2010 at 10:23 am

I’m confused by the photo, which I assume is Adele. I thought she was a lay 3rd order Francisican, not a sister. Any clairty appreicated, thanks.

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Deacon Greg Kandra

posted December 10, 2010 at 10:39 am

Klaire …
Her biography identifies her as a “Third Order Franciscan Sister.” Perhaps a Franciscan can shed light on that distinction??
Dcn. G.

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Jim - Shrine Historian

posted December 10, 2010 at 11:33 am

In regards to your question on Sister Adele. She and her group were Third Order Franciscans (Tertiary Seculars) who followed no established constitution, received no apostolic approval and could leave the group anytime they wished. The fact that they lived in wilderness country probably kept them from initially forming a full religious community. While not officially a religious order and following in the traditions of third order seculars of her time, Sister Adele and her group adopted a distinctive religious garb, went by religious titles and were recognized by the Bishop of Green Bay as a regular auxiliary of the Church.
RE: Tertiary Seculars. For most of the history of the church lay members of third orders would wear religious habits and use religious titles. A good example of this are two of the greatest women in the Church, Saint Catherine of Siena and Saint Rose of Lima, who wore the Dominican habit but maintained tertiary secular status. Today, third orders no longer follow these traditions. For a time I was a member of Mother Teresa’s order as a Lay Missionary of Charity. We took yearly vows, followed an established set of rules and worked with the Missionaries of Charity. However, we never wore religious clothing, nor did we call ourselves by religious titles.
I hope this resolves your confusion.

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posted December 10, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Jim that’s some great info, many thanks! Thanks to you too Dcn. Greg. Wow, the reach of the internet is truly amazing at times, a great example of the fruit from something, in this case the internet/blog, being “used well.”
I once learned from the Anchoress that 3rd order religious can be buried in the habit, but I never actually thought about it being the “full” habit, but now suspect that it is.
All so interesting…

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Jim - Shrine Historian

posted December 11, 2010 at 1:50 am

Your welcome. The story of Sister Adele and the Champion apparitions has some very interesting facets…
• The fact that it occurred one year after Lourdes connects the two events. At Lourdes Mary tells Saint Bernadette that she is the Immaculate Conception, at Champion Mary tells Adele that she is the Queen of Heaven – The beginning of Mary’s role as Mediatrix of all Graces and the realization of her role as Mediatrix of all Graces.
• Champion is the only Marian apparition where the visionary receives a formal mandate form the Blessed Mother to go and evangelize. Which, as Father Peter Damian Fehlner F.I. tells us, is the fullness of the role of women as maternal mediator; not only to give life, but also to refine life (see the main article in the November/December issue of the Shrine’s newsletter for the full story)…
• The story of Sister Adele is a great example of how GOD answers prayer. At her First Communion, Adele along with her friends make a promise to the Blessed Mother to go to the town of Champion in the adjoining province of Namur, Belgium to join a religious order and become a missionary. While her friends fulfill their promise, Adele is counseled by her confessor to immigrate with her parents to America saying…”If GOD wills it, you will become a Sister in America.” Through her obedience, Adele’s prayers are answered and her promise is fulfilled in the reverse order. She leaves for America, becomes a missionary, starts a religious group and when the town of Robinsonville changes its name at her suggestion to Champion, you can say her promise is fulfilled.
Many Blessings,

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Fr. John

posted February 6, 2011 at 10:27 am

Adele’s habit is obviously modeled on that of the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND), who were quite numerous in Wisconsin at that time (largest province outside Baltimore) and with whom, we presume, Adele had some contact.
-Fr. John

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Nicky Smith

posted February 27, 2011 at 8:55 am

It was certainly interesting for me to read that post. Thanks for it. I like such themes and anything that is connected to them. I would like to read more soon.
Nicky Smith
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Brandy Stepman

posted March 5, 2011 at 2:49 am

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Katty Karver

posted March 17, 2011 at 3:45 am

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