By Joe Tremblay, Director of Adult Faith Formation, Green Bay Diocese,

In 1859, when the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Adele in North East Wisconsin, times were tough. It wasn’t uncommon for pioneers to die from starvation and from the harsh, cold Wisconsin winters. One could say, without the least bit of exaggeration, that the basic necessities of life were hard to come by. Although heaven is not indifferent to the bodily and material needs of mortals, the help that Our Lady came to provide did not have anything to do with food or clothing. The message she came to deliver to the young immigrant from Belgium was short and to the point: there was work to be done. There were settlers who were in need of conversion.

Nevertheless, history proves that people are most open to the truths of the Gospel in times of crisis; especially when their physical well-being is in question. In fact, twelve years after the apparition in October of 1871, the greatest natural disaster in North American history was to threaten Adele and the Catholic community in Robinsonville, Wisconsin. The disaster was none other than the Peshtigo Fire. In fact, it raged across a 2,400 square mile area and killed anywhere from 1,500 to 2,500 people. According to The Compass News, Fr. Pernin, an eyewitness to the fire, wrote about what he saw in his memoir. “The Finger of God Was There,” he said. “I chanced to look either to the right or left, before me or upwards, I saw nothing but flames … I  saw nothing but immense volumes of flames covering the firmament, rolling one over the other with stormy violence …”(February 17, 2011)  But some Catholics had gathered where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared in October of 1859. Through a rosary procession around the Chapel, they implored her for help.

To make a long story short, help came. The chapel, the convent, the school, the five acres of land and all who gathered there were miraculously spared from the “stormy violence.” But the good help came- the really good help came –twelve years earlier when Our Lady instructed Adele to save souls from a far worse fate; namely, spiritual death. She said, “Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.”