A typical Wisconsin winter day with snow still blanketing the land, left over from an 8 inch lake effect 'flurry' two days before, now melting rapidly with warmer temperatures.
Fog was rising from the low areas, reducing visibility to less than 1/4 mile and frequently no more than a cars length ahead.
The directions were also typically 'Wisconsin': "Stay on K, if you get to P, you've gone too far and it's farther than you think".
What the giver of directions failed to mention, of course, is that P intersects K twice - she meant the second 'P' : a perfect reminder that you can get someone elses general advice for getting there but, ultimately, you have to figure out the journey for yourself!
It was also a perfect metaphor for the year to come - searching for the sacred in unexpected places with limited sight, perception and direction!
We heard about it only by chance; they don't talk about it much, although you'd think a visitation from the Virgin Mary would get more buzz.
OK, it was more than a century ago but still...
Adele Brise, the daughter of Belgium immigrants was reportedly visited by the Virgin Mary three times in October of 1859.
According to the official site of the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in New Franken, Wisconsin:
Adele 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.
That's her on the far right..and yes there were jokes about someone with such an apparent ocular deformity having 'visions'!
Deep down, we're very shallow people.
The first shrine chapel was built by Adele's father. It measures 10 feet by 12 feet and was located on the spot where Mary appeared to Adele. The altar stands over the site of the reported visions.
The present, and larger, chapel is built OVER the original one and was completed in 1942. (Seems like overkill to me but there's no denying it has different appeal, and better lighting than the crypt, for sure!)
The first miracle:
When the Peshtigo fire of Oct. 8, 1871, threatened the area, people brought their families and farm animals to the grounds of the chapel.
During the night, the faithful, led by Sr. Adele, carried a statue of Mary around the perimeter of the grounds in prayer.
By the morning, a downpour doused the flames.
Outside the perimeter of the chapel grounds, everything was burned; yet the inside of the five-acre perimeter remained unscathed.
To this day, many consider the event a miracle and the procession around the grounds has been repeated every year on Oct. 8.
Fr. Doerfler, the current Rector, said he feels that the popularity of the annual October events is a realization that "we have a real tendency today to think technology will be our salvation. And while technology can help us with many, many things, it cannot save us. And it cannot answer the questions of the deepest longings of the human heart."
Bishop Ricken the current Bishop of Green Bay, appointed a commission to study the apparitions on Jan. 9, 2009. While each of the bishops of Green Bay has supported the shrine as a place of prayer over the years, there was never a formal declaration regarding the apparitions. His decision in December of 2010 was to 'verify' the visitations.
With Bishop Rickens decree on the authenticity of the apparitions of 1859, the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help becomes the first approved Marian apparition site in North America.
How could we NOT go?
How could we NOT go?
I lost $20.00 in the crypt, my son found it but, not knowing it was mine and fearing he'd be struck dead if he pocketed the money less than 3 feet from where the Virgin Mary had appeared, he put it in the offering box- so I lost it again!
Scattered among all our jokes about Holy Water in what looked like a stock pot with a spigot and expectations that maybe we'd see the Virgin herself, or at least smell roses, there was a deeper desire for a sign that there IS still the possibility of finding the divine in a place as unlikely as a corn field.
Ultimately, maybe it wasn't important that we didn't see Mary on the 31st; maybe it didn't matter that she wasn't there; maybe the point is that WE were!