The first stage of the Wisconsin Way pilgrimage takes you from the National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion (formerly National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help) to Wisconsin Way Albergue near Luxemburg, WI.
You’ll become familiar with Adele Brise, a French-speaking immigrant from Belgium. French, Belgian, and Bohemian immigrants brought European traditions, religious practices and architecture to this part of Wisconsin.
START: National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion | END: Wisconsin Way Albergue, Luxemburg
10.2 mi/16.4 km | 3h 20m | Farm Section | No services
A short day of walking allows for spending time at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion (formerly National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help).
In the intro to the Beginner’s Guide to Walking the Wisconsin Way, I shared my stories of an unexpected Mass and the surprise encounter with Fr. Andrew Kurz, founder and steward of the Wisconsin Way. Here’s what happened during the remainder of my first day on the Wisconsin Way pilgrimage:
DAY ONE on the Wisconsin Way in Pictures
Experiencing the Subterranean Crypt at National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help
Before setting out on my walking pilgrimage, I planned to spend time in the crypt at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion (formerly National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help).
The entrance to the underground Shrine was on the side of the Apparition Chapel, one of the campus buildings. It was an ordinary fall day when I ducked through the gentle rain to the door. Yet, as I walked down the basement stairs, I was transported into a sacred space of quiet and serenity.
Candles in clear and blue glass lit the compact sanctuary while a statue of Mary stood at the front of the low-ceilinged chapel. The subterranean chapel felt more like an inviting farmhouse basement than the crypts I’d experienced at Chartres or Lourdes.
The Miracles of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion
Pilgrims should be on the lookout for the following miracles of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion (formerly National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help). Some of these are the reasons that this is the only church-approved Marian apparition site in the US:
Mary appears to a young woman, Belgian-born Adele Brise, in 1859
In 1859, right at the place of the crypt, Mary, the mother of Jesus, appeared to Adele Brise. Adele walked along a path made by indigenous people as she carried grain from the family farm to the gristmill.
Three times Mary appeared between a maple and a hemlock tree as Adele walked the trail. During the third apparition, Mary spoke: “Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.” Read the rest of what Mary had to say to Adele. Later, Adele’s father built a small shrine on the spot to commemorate the miracle.
The Miracle of the Peshtigo Fire
On October 8, 1871—the same day as the Great Chicago Fire—the Peshtigo Fire, a 1.2 million-acre wildfire, loomed on the horizon. Smoke and ash filled the skies as people gathered at the Shrine grounds, which by that time had grown into a five-acre campus with a larger chapel and boarding school.
Throughout the night, the faithful followed Sr. Adele around the Shrine’s perimeter, all the while praying and carrying a statue of Mary. In the morning, rain extinguished the fire that lapped the fence posts of the property. Although those who were part of this praying community were saved, 1200-2400 others perished in the Peshtigo Fire.
Miraculous Healings at the Shrine
Before I left home, I watched YouTube videos of people testifying to their own physical healings or the healings of loved ones.
Although many pastors recorded at the Shrine say that most healings that occur there are healings of the soul, there are plenty of lay people who testify to physical recovery from cancer and other serious illnesses. In the crypt and the museum, you can see crutches left behind by some of those cured.
Other Things to See at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion
The historic photos, letters and artifacts in the small, well-curated museum charmed me and helped me understand Adele’s story. The map of the Peshtigo Fire and newspaper stories of the day brought the disaster to life. An exhibit of the tree roots of the maple and hemlock trees where the apparitions took place particularly intrigued me. Excavators discovered them during the renovation of the chapel and crypt.
You can also view a history video about Adele Brise’s life at the Welcome Center. The rain deterred me from visiting Adele’s grave and the Rosary Walk, but you could check it out and let me know what you think in the comments below.
Before your visit, check to see if the Gift Shop and Café are open.
The New York Times reported on Our Lady of Good Help as it was becoming a National Shrine, here you can read the article.
A lonely pilgrimage?
I’d hoped that the rain would let up, but I couldn’t dilly dally any more—I had 10.2 mi/16.4 km to walk to my evening abode, the Wisconsin Way Albergue. “I think this will be a lonely pilgrimage,” I’d confessed to Father Kurz earlier.
“Maybe, maybe not,” he responded doubtfully.
Before I’d left the Shrine, I’d already met three women pilgrims whom I mentioned in the introductory post, ran into Father Kurz, and he introduced me to Tom, a retired farmer from Stangelville who offered to help me if I needed assistance. I would be passing through Stangelville in two days.
DAY ONE walking route
Three-quarters of the day’s walk was done on the shoulders of less-traveled county roads. Once I reached the Ahnapee State Trail, my feet enjoyed 2.5 miles of crushed limestone gravel ecstacy. The Wisconsin Way Albergue outside Luxemburg is only .3 miles from the Ahnapee State Trail. Along the trail, converted from a railroad corridor, I found the occasional rogue apple tree. (See the slideshow above.)
I made dinner at the Wisconsin Way Albergue with the food I’d carried, and then I unrolled my sleeping bag and slept soundly. DAY ONE on the Wisconsin Way completed!
For Meditation: Let God
For DAY ONE meditations, focus on things eternal. Allow God to be in charge. Let go—let God.
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