It’s been a month now since the children or grandchildren in your life have gone back to school. Whether it’s their grammar-school, primary-school, high-school, or college years, they are sitting in classrooms and receiving instruction.
Whenever we pray the rosary, as St. John Paul II said, we sit in “the school of Mary,” asking her to teach us about her son Jesus. With October being dedicated to the rosary and the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary celebrated on Oct. 7, we find ourselves again in her school — hopefully not contained to this month alone, but every day, of every month, every year, for the rest of our lives.
Mary is an excellent teacher. Many saints have looked to her to teach them the virtues and how to live the Christian life. Mary has also revealed herself as a teacher in another way: through her many apparitions. Often when she appeared to those chosen visionaries, she conveyed lessons from heaven about who she is and what she does. St. Juan Diego (Guadalupe) learned that she was the Mother of the True and Living God, while St. Bernadette Soubirous (Lourdes) learned that Mary was the Immaculate Conception.
In October 1859, the Blessed Mother appeared to Adele Brise in the United States as the 28-year-old Belgian immigrant walked to a grist mill and then on the way to and from church. During the third and final apparition (the only time Mary spoke), Adele became a student of Our Lady, learning heavenly lessons and then being asked to become a teacher, a catechist, herself.
Nearly 160 years removed from the apparition, and after the Church’s approval was granted on Dec. 8, 2010, thousands upon thousands of pilgrims each year have the opportunity to sit in the school of Our Lady and learn the lessons she taught at Champion, Wisconsin, many years ago. They are lessons still relevant for us today.
Lesson one: Mary’s identity and role in heaven
After having seen Our Lady for a second time on the way to church, Adele went and told the parish priest about these happenings and asked what she should do if the woman returned. He told Adele to ask the woman who she was and what she wanted her to do.
Adele did just that as she walked home from Mass that Sunday, Oct. 9, 1859. Seeing the woman again, she asked, “In God’s name who are you and what do you want of me?” Mary’s response: “I am the Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners.” Mary teaches a very important lesson here, because she tells us who she is and what she does. She is the Queen of Heaven, and she prays for the conversion of sinners.
Readers of professors Scott Hahn and Edward Sri might be familiar with the theology of the Queen Mother. In the Old Testament, the queen was not the wife of the king, but rather the mother of the king. Mary reveals herself then as the Queen Mother. And as she says she prays for the conversion of sinners, she affirms her heavenly mission is the same of that of an earthly queen mother, namely to make intercession and advocate for the people before the king. Mary’s prayer mirrors the biblical role of queenly motherhood where she advocates for her earthly children in the heavenly kingdom.
Lesson two: Mary wants our help
After Mary identifies who she is — the Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners — she tells Adele, “I wish you to do the same.” So often we ask Mary to pray for us and our needs. When she appears to Adele, she essentially says, I want you to join me in prayer for the conversion of sinners. Mary went on to specify how she wanted her to pray: to “offer your Holy Communion for the conversion of sinners.”
By this request, Mary emphasized the Holy Eucharist and its sacramental efficacy. When we go to Mass each Sunday (for some daily), the priest invites us to pray that our sacrifice and his might be acceptable to God. Mary’s request to Adele to offer her Holy Communion reminds us that when we celebrate the Eucharist, we can bring our own intentions and offer them to the Lord.
Further, praying for the conversion of sinners after Holy Communion helps us to recall that those moments after receiving the Eucharist are some of the most powerful moments of prayer in our lives. Mary’s lesson for us is that she wants us to pray for the conversion of sinners, and it is something we can do every time we gather at Mass.
Lesson three: Teach the faith
In the immediate hours and days following the 2010 approval of Adele’s apparition, many Catholic commentators were quick to point out that the message Adele received in 1859 from Mary was one we still need today. They cited what they perceived as a lack of quality catechesis for a few decades and how the approval highlights the need today for good catechetical efforts.
When Mary appeared to Adele, she told her to teach the children what they needed to know for salvation, their catechism, how to make the Sign of the Cross, and how to approach the sacraments. In the early years after the apparition, Adele walked around the peninsula and taught the children, going door-to-door and making her request and pleas before the parents. Eventually she founded a tertiary (third order) group of Franciscans and started a school at the site of the apparition.
Why did Mary appear in Wisconsin? A letter from a priest serving in the area to Belgian priests might indicate the answer. The immigrants who settled in Wisconsin were not accompanied by a priest. As a result, many people began to fall away from the practice of their faith. Perhaps Mary appeared to Adele to renew the faith in that area.
In other writings, I have called the method of evangelization which Mary proposed to Adele as the “Champion formula of evangelization.” In a lot of Catholic households today, the children might attend religious education classes throughout grade school, but the family might not be practicing their faith by going to Mass each Sunday or even praying in the home. When our parishes provide a good, quality religious education program, it can impact the entire family. If the children become excited about the faith, they will share that with their parents.
Mary taught Adele that catechesis plays a role in education. As we hear Mary’s invitation from 1859, how might she be inviting you to teach and share the faith with the people in your life?
Lesson four: Mary commends our faith and promises help
Adele was not alone during the last two apparitions she received. When Mary spoke with Adele, her sister and neighbor were with her. During Adele’s dialogue, they asked her to whom she was speaking. Adele instructed the women to kneel. When they did, Mary, quoting Scripture, told Adele, “Blessed are they who believe without seeing” [see John 20:29].
Here we are almost 160 years later, and we accept the claims that this Belgian immigrant saw the Blessed Mother. Today thousands of people each year visit the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help that commemorates the apparition. And they make their pilgrimage in faith, asking God to grant them a special grace through Mary’s intercession.
Mary’s parting words to Adele were: “Go and fear nothing; I will help you.” Mary entrusted a great missionary work to Adele, and all throughout her life, she experienced the help Mary promised. When her family did not have enough food on the table, they prayed, and the food would arrive on their porch.
On the eve of the 12th anniversary of the apparitions, Oct. 8, 1871, a fire broke out in a village across the bay in Peshtigo. Described as a fire tornado, it jumped over the body of water and began to burn in the area surrounding the shrine. Many people from the area flocked to the grounds where Mary appeared and sought her intercession for safety. They processed around the grounds with a statue of Mary and turned the other direction when smoke overpowered them.
On the morning of Oct. 9, the same day Mary had appeared 12 years earlier, the people realized that the fire had passed over the property. Their lives had been spared, while the surrounding region was devastated. Mary provided her help to Adele, the children, and all who were gathered in prayer.
Mary promises that same help to all of us today. She teaches us to rely on her prayers and seek refuge under her mantle. Mary taught many lessons in Champion, and she is still teaching us through the apparition message and in so many other ways.
Prayer after Communion for the conversion of sinners
Eternal Father, I kneel before you this day with a grateful heart because you have allowed me to receive the body and blood of your son Jesus in Holy Communion.
Thank you for sending the Queen of Heaven to earth with a message calling us to conversion and emphasizing the sacraments. For when she appeared to Adele Brise in 1859, she asked her to offer her Holy Communion for the conversion of sinners. Just as Adele did long ago, I wish to do likewise this day.
I offer to you, Eternal Father, the body, blood, soul, and divinity of your Son for the conversion of sinners, including myself, in reparation for sin, and the salvation of souls and (pause to name specific individual/group).
Through Our Lady’s maternal solicitude, may the hearts of hardened sinners return to the sacraments of Penance and Eucharist, especially to Sunday Mass and to daily prayer. As I go forward from this holy Mass, help me to fear nothing, knowing that you are with me and are always guiding me and that Our Lady constantly intercedes for me. Make me aware of your presence this day and always. Amen.