BROWN COUNTY - An apparition of the Virgin Mary did appear in rural Brown County in 1859, Bishop David Ricken of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay has ruled.
Ricken announced his findings at a crowded, invitation-only Mass this morning at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion. The site has been a popular destination for prayer since word of the apparent apparition, which was reported by Sister Adele Brise, a Belgian-born nun.
"To see that so many good things have come about here, story after story after story, its living proof that something very authentic is here," said Bishop Ricken.
Ricken's declaration makes the shrine the only site of an approved apparition in the United States, according to the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay. It is now considered to have the same status as other well-known sites, such as Lourdes, France; Guadalupe, Mexico; and Fatima, Portugal.
"I encourage the faithful to frequent this holy place as a place of solace and answered prayer," said Bishop Ricken, reading from a decree at the Mass.
Bishop Ricken says Brise's claim was questioned throughout the years, but her character and persistence helped him make his official declaration. According to Ricken, since 1900 only eleven apparitions in the world have been recognized by a diocese's bishop.
Bishop Ricken opened his investigation into the apparition in January 2009. He appointed a team of three Marian experts to study the history of Brise's claim.
"You look for a match between what's being said and what's actually happening and that takes a course of years for good judgment to develop," said Ricken.
"From my perspective I think we let the Blessed Virgin Mary worry about the publicity," said Father John Doerfler of Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help.
The Green Bay Diocese acknowledges there may still be doubts of the Virgin Mary's appearance.
"You can't force people to believe something and this is not a matter of faith where they have to believe this to be a good Catholic," said Ricken.
The church now expects more Catholics to make the trip to the Brown County shrine. It says it will welcome anyone with open arms.
"I think for the people who have come to the shrine through the years, it is an affirmation of what they've known already in their hearts," said Father Doerfler.
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