Column: Annual pilgrimage a time of formation, inspiration

Archbishop Naumann

For the past five years, I have made a pilgrimage in early August with our seminarians. 

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

The pilgrimage affords me the opportunity to get to know our seminarians better by spending several days with them. There is no better way to get to know someone than to travel with them.

It is important for me to know our seminarians, because it will be my responsibility to call many of them to ordination someday. The ordination of priests is among the most important actions of a bishop. A priest I ordain today, God willing, will serve the church for perhaps 40-plus years, touching thousands of lives. Holy and zealous priests provide great leadership for our parish communities. With effective leadership, parishes thrive.

The pilgrimage also affords me the opportunity to take a personal hand in the formation of our seminarians. During the course of the pilgrimage, I have the opportunity to preach to our seminarians and to share with them what I consider most important in their preparation for the priesthood.

I also always find these pilgrimages to be a time of personal inspiration. During the course of the pilgrimage, we ask the new seminarians to give their “call story” — what were the events in their lives that motivated them to make the huge decision to enter the seminary. It is beautiful to listen to how God revealed to each seminarian his desire for them to explore a priestly vocation.

This year’s pilgrimage was very Marian. We travelled to La Crosse, Wis., to visit the beautiful shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe. We also visited, near Green Bay, the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help. In 2010, the bishop of Green Bay formally approved the 1859 apparitions, stating that the events that occurred there “exhibit the substance of a supernatural character and are considered worthy of belief.”

Apparitions, even those recognized by the church, are considered private rev- elations. Catholics are not obliged to believe in them. However, when they are given recognition, it means that, after careful investigation by the local bishop, nothing about the apparition is contrary to Catholic teaching and the experience of the visionary appears credible.

The visionary for the apparitions at Our Lady of Good Help was Adele Brise, a young woman from Belgium. In Belgium, Adele was associated with a group of young women who desired to become religious Sisters, serving in the foreign missions. When Adele’s parents decided it best for the family to immigrate to the United States, Adele was conflicted because of her desire to become a missionary. Adele spoke with her confessor about her internal conflict. He advised her to go with her family to America. If it was God’s will, she could serve Our Lord and the church as a religious Sister in America.

On Oct. 9, 1859, Adele was taking a sack of wheat to a local mill, when she saw a mysterious woman dressed in white. The woman said nothing and disappeared after a short time. The next Sunday, Adele was walking to church, passing through the same area, when the woman in white appeared again. This time, Adele was accompanied by her sister and a neighbor who could not see the woman but witnessed Adele’s reaction to the apparition.

Adele told her parish priest about the apparitions and how they frightened her. He advised her not to be afraid, instructing her, if the woman appeared again, to ask her who she was and what she wanted. On the way home, the woman appeared again, clothed in white with a yellow sash with a crown of stars around her.

Adele did as the priest had counseled her, asking: “In God’s name, who are you and what do you want of me?” The woman identified herself as the Queen of Heaven. She said to Adele: “What are you doing here in idleness, while your com- panions are working in the vineyard of my Son?” Adele understood this to refer to her friends in Belgium who had become religious Sisters and were serving in the missions.

Mary told Adele: “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 fear nothing. I will help you.”

Adele took seriously the commission given to her by Mary. She went to the homes of settlers, offering to assist with chores if they would allow her to teach their children the faith. Within 10 years, Adele would build a school and a chapel on the site where the apparitions took place.

Adele’s fidelity to the mission that Mary had given her, despite many obstacles and difficulties, add to the credibility of the apparitions. One of the early bishops of Green Bay received many negative reports about Adele’s fundraising for the school and chapel. the veracity of the apparitions and questions about her competency and psychological health.

The bishop ordered that Masses no longer be celebrated at the shrine and the school be closed. The bishop requested that Adele turn over the keys for the school to him. Adele obediently complied.

However, as she turned over the keys to the bishop, she reminded him that now he would be responsible for the souls of all the children who would no longer be catechized. The bishop thought about Adele’s admonition for a few moments and then promptly returned the keys, asking her to continue her catechetical ministry.

I sympathize with the bishop. It is a difficult task to discern if an apparition
is authentic or not. This episode also reminds me how much I depend on our Catholic school teachers and parish school of religion catechists to help me with my responsibility to assist Catholic parents with the formation and the education of their children.

I am so grateful that God has blessed us with 36 seminarians. I am also grateful for the dedication and competence of our Catholic school teachers and PSR catechists. Please pray for our seminarians that the Lord will help them to know God’s will for them and will give them the courage to follow his will wherever it leads. Pray also for Catholic educators that the Lord will make them not only competent teachers about our Catholic faith, but will help them become even more compelling witnesses of Jesus and his Gospel for their students.


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