Be Well-Prepared for Disaster

On October 9th, 1859, the first Marian apparition in the United States (since approved by the Catholic Church as “worthy of belief – although not obligatory”) occurred near Green Bay, Wisconsin. Adele Brise, a 28-year-old Belgian immigrant, was walking eleven miles home from Sunday Mass when she saw a beautiful lady with long, wavy, golden hair wearing a crown of stars and clothed in a dazzling white dress with a yellow sash around her waist.

Adele fell to her knees and asked, “In God’s name, who are you and what do you want of me?” The Blessed Virgin Mary replied, “I am the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same. You received Holy Communion this morning, and that is well. But you must do more. Make a general confession, and offer Communion for the conversion of sinners. If they do not convert and do penance, my Son will be obliged to punish them. … Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation…

Adele was faithful to her mission, teaching the Catholic Faith to the young and praying for sinners’ souls. However, almost exactly twelve years to the day after Mary’s message, Eastern Wisconsin experienced the one of the largest and the most deadly forest fire in our nation’s history. Flames of the vast Pestigo Fire surrounded the shrine built upon the apparition site, but all who fled to this ground dedicated to Mary survived. Consider: is our present time and culture somehow less deserving of divine punishment than theirs?

Another disaster afflicted our land a century ago. From 1918 to 1920, a deadly flu plagued Europe and the U.S. but wartime censors suppressed news reports from many nations besides the World War One neutral country of Spain. The Spanish Flu, as it came to be called, would go on to kill an estimated 675,000 Americans and at least 50 million people worldwide. This largely-forgotten history has been on my mind as the Coronavirus pneumonia outbreak has spread forth from Wuhan, China. There are strong indications that the dictatorial Chinese government is under-reporting how many of their people are infected or have died from this highly-infectious disease, and new cases are being reported day-by-day around the world. Earlier this month, in a effort to contain the spread of the disease, the Hong Kong government asked its citizens to stay at home and the cardinal of their Catholic diocese has suspended public Masses. Could we experience a deadly pandemic here? The U.S. Centers for Disease Control saysthe potential public health threat posed by [Coronavirus] is high.” Therefore, it is wise to be prepared.

I urge prudent preparation on two fronts. First, materially speaking, if an emergency were declared and schools and businesses sent everyone home, could your family be able to shelter at your house away from others for two or three weeks until the crisis passed? What food and water would you have if your electric power went out? Building non-perishable food reserves is easy now while store shelves remain fully stocked. And if no disaster ever comes (as may well be the case) you can simply cycle through these pantry supplies over time; so nothing is lost. The second, more important front in your disaster preparedness is: are you spiritually ready?

If you knew this Lent might possibly be your last, how would that change your spiritual focus? What vices would you cut and which virtues would you grow? How would you commit to prayer and prepare your soul? For many, times of great crisis or the end of their lives arrive unexpectedly and people face them unprepared. As Jesus once observed, “In [the days of Noah] before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark. They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away.” Mark’s Gospel recalls one occasion when the Pharisees came forward and began to argue with Jesus, seeking from him a sign from Heaven to test him. Jesus sighed from the depth of his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign?” The Pharisees had heard Jesus’ teachings and known his mighty works but they still obstinately refused to change. Why do we put off the Lord, refusing to listen and respond, postponing our conversion until it might be too late?

Once, after a tower collapse in Jerusalem ended eighteen lives, Jesus asked, “Do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” Will the Coronavirus become a devastating American disaster like the Pestigo Fire or the Spanish Flu? Hopefully not. I pray to God it will not be so and ask that you do the same. Yet even if this crisis never comes to your community, why not prepare? Stocking-up your pantry, regularly washing your hands, instilling our Faith into your children, and deepening your own relationship with Jesus Christ are wise decisions you won’t regret.

5 Responses to “Be Well-Prepared for Disaster”

  1. Wagner Says:

    There were at least 12 other properties within a 4 mile radius from the Shrine that also survived the Peshtigo Fire, including The Presbyterian Church in Champion. January 19, 1922 the 3rd Chapel at the Shrine burned.

    • Fr. Victor Feltes Says:

      For context, how many properties did burn within those 50.2 square miles four miles or less from the shrine? According to regional-survivor Fr. Pernin’s account, published in 1874:

      “All the houses and fences in the neighborhood had been burned, with the exception of the school, the chapel and fence surrounding the six acres of land consecrated to the Blessed Virgin. This paling had been charred in several places, but the fire, as if it had been a sentient being, whilst consuming everything in the vicinity, the winding path surrounding the enclosure being only eight or ten feet wide, had respected this spot, sanctified by the visible presence of the Mother of God, and, it now shone cut, like an emerald island [amid] a sea of ashes.”

      Was anyone killed or injured in the 1922 chapel fire?

  2. Wagner Says:

    Was the fact that the Shrine spared from the fire, evidence of a Miracle? In less significant terms, every single day is a miracle; but when the Church recognizes Miracles, there must be specific criteria met. The fact that multiple other properties also survived the fire, suggests that there was a more natural explanation other than some inexplicable phenomenon associated strictly to the Shrine. The phrase, “my Son will be obliged to punish them” refers to those who do not convert and to do penance. Clearly, the example of the Presbyterian Church also surviving the fire, would suggest that the conflagration was not a form of chastisement in reference to Mary’s message.

    According to the most reliable accounts, the apparition of Mary probably occurred in 1857 and not 1859. The diocese somewhat fabricated parts of the story in order to make the investigation process pass approval.
    Example: Sr. Pauline LaPlante is quoted, “It was in the early part of October, 1859, that Adele is said to have seen our Blessed Mother the first time”.
    The original account however says, “It was in the first days of Oct. 1857 that Adele first saw our Blessed Mother”.

    The Peshtigo Fire was actually not the worst forest fire in terms of acres burned. The state of Michigan claims that their fires on October 8, 1871 amounted to over 2 million acres burned and the evidence suggests that that number is pretty accurate. If you measure the area on all the modern Peshtigo fire maps, you’ll only come up with about 500,000 acres, which is correct when speaking of the Peshtigo fire on October 8. Multiple fires did burn across northeastern Wisconsin as early as August 1871 to October 1871. Much confusion comes from the various other fires which were burning prior to October 8.

    Father Pernin exaggerates a number of different things in his book. BTW Father Pernin’s book reads “… amid a sea of ashes” instead of “in” a sea of ashes. Not a big deal, but it’s important to understand some of the details. The shrine property actually consisted of 4.8 acres during the time of the fire, instead of “six acres” as Father Pernin writes. The fence posts that the shrine has on display actually came from what was the neighbor’s property for many years, until the shrine recently purchased their property and acquired the fence posts.

    No mention of anyone killed or injured in the 1922 fire. It’s interesting though when you examine the photos, you can see where pretty significant changes where made in the sanctuary, which is where the chimney fire is believed to have started.

    • Fr. Victor Feltes Says:

      Thank you for your corrections on “in/amid” and the ranking of the Peshtigo Fire amongst the largest U.S. forest fires. I have amended my original article accordingly.

      I’ve never read Our Lady of Good Help’s call to conversion as meaning that everyone had to become Roman Catholics. Though I believe becoming Catholic would please Jesus and Mary greatly, I always took her message as a grave warning to those Wisconsin frontier people to start living like Christians. For this reason, I see no contradiction in a Presbyterian Church having also survived the flames.

      In addition to affirming the apparitions twelve years before, I perceive the purpose of the remarkable survival of the shrine in the Peshtigo Fire to be the protection of all those who begged for heavenly deliverance there, rather than to provide some assurance that the shrine buildings would be fireproof ever after. For that reason, I do not think a later chapel fire in which no one was injured speaks against the presence of God’s protecting hand there.

      Could you please provide a link to “the original account” you alluded to in your previous post?

    • Wagner Says:

      Most people who read the story of the Shrine surviving the Peshtigo Fire would naturally conclude that only those who went to the Shrine were protected, based on chosen connected pieces of the story aligned in such a way, as if to imply so.
      Thanks for the clarification of your understanding of it. Most people, I don’t think would have otherwise gathered that.

      The original accounts of Sister Pauline have never been uploaded on-line as far as I know. They are kept at the Bay Settlement convent archives. I can e-mail you copies if you send me your e-mail.

      In reference to the year of the apparition, there is overwhelming evidence that would put the date in 1857 instead of 1859. Sister Pauline repeatedly mentions that it was in 1857 even while recognizing that other people seem to think that it was 1858 or 1859. The earliest account written comes from Aliza Allen Starr who also suggests that the apparition happened in 1857. Aliza Allen Starr’s account is notable, in that it was a direct interview with Adele. Most of the other accounts were written years after the apparition.

      There is also very compelling reason for the date to be in 1857 in relation to why Adele was traveling 8.7 miles to Bay Settlement for Mass, since there was another church only 2.5 miles away called St. Odiles. St. Odiles Church was founded in 1858, and Holly Cross Church in Bay Settlement was the only church available in 1857. But if the apparition was in 1859, then there would be no reason for Adele to go all the way to Bay Settlement for Mass, since she could have just gone to St. Odiles.

      Finally, few people realize that Adele didn’t buy the Shrine property until 1864 and start teaching children there. By 1864 there were already two different chapels built on the property. Sister Pauline precisely recalls in her memory that Adele told her, that she went about teaching on foot after the apparition for 7 years, before assembling the children at the Shrine property. 7 years after 1857 correctly aligns with when Adele purchased 4.8 acres of the current Shrine property from Gregoire and Maria Theresa Doyen for $30.00 on September 10, 1864 and began her ministry at the already existent Chapel.

      Because Adele Brice could not read or write, there are no original accounts left behind by Adele. The entire story of the apparition relies on a list of 7 people who the Diocese calls referees to as Adele’s Associates; people who knew Adele or could have interacted with her enough to hold valuable information as to what really happened. The entire official message of Mary came from Sister Pauline’s account with the exception of the last phrase, “Go and fear nothing, I will help you” which comes from Father Pernin’s book.

      There is also a phrase in the original account used for the official message of Mary to Adele that Bishop Ricken removed because of theological issues. “I can hardly hold His avenging arm” was for many years recognized as part of the message, but when the approval time came around, every mention of it was swiped away.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: