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Lorelei Savaryn offers a travel guide to the only approved Marian apparition site in the United States, where families can contemplate and deepen their faith.  

Champion, Wisconsin may seem like an unusual place for a Church-approved Marian apparition site. As I write this, I am sitting on a bench staring at the chapel and the outdoor stations of the cross. I am entirely surrounded by farmlands and forest. There isn’t the grandeur of Lourdes or Guadalupe to mark this place as anything special other than the fact that Our Lady appeared here to a woman named Adele Brise, the simple beauty of Champion, and the peace one feels while on these sacred grounds. 

 There is something delightful about the idea that Mary chose such an unassuming place to share herself, her love, and her message with a faithful servant of God. 




The Story of Our Lady of Champion

I spoke with Fr. Aytona, rector of the shrine, to learn a bit more about the apparition story. Adele Brise, a Belgian immigrant, had wanted to serve our Lord and our Lady as a teaching sister in Belgium but ended up moving to Wisconsin with her family. She was working at a local mill, and the Blessed Virgin appeared to her three times in October of 1859. The first two times, Our Lady didn’t say anything. The third time, Adele had been instructed to ask the lady who she was and what she wanted from her.   

When she asked Our Lady these questions, Mary responded, “I am the queen of heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners and I wish for you to do the same.” Our Lady urged Adele to make confession and offer Communion for the conversion for sinners, instructing her to teach children their Catechism and how to approach the sacraments.  




The true emphasis of any miraculous apparition

As I am a convert, my own journey to Mary has been a long and winding, but loving, road. I was particularly moved by Fr. Joseph’s words on the true emphasis of any miraculous apparition. Asked about the most important thing he wants to share with anyone who is considering a pilgrimage to the National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion, he said:

I think the number-one thing that we really need to emphasize is the sacraments. Confessions are available three times a day here. So … people can pray, obviously, but the greatest prayer will always be connected to the sacraments. The most blessed sacrament would obviously be the Eucharist … If people go downstairs to the oratory and only pray in the oratory and never go up to the chapel where the Blessed Sacrament, the real presence of Christ is present, then there’s something wrong. There’s probably a misguided idea or understanding of Marian devotion if they never pray in front of the blessed Sacrament.


In order to make Jesus as accessible as possible, Adoration occurs every day at the shrine after the 11:00 Mass until about 3:15pm.    

A display case of crutches in the oratory serves as a tangible reminder of pilgrims who have experienced healing in connection with a visit to the shrine. Fr. Joseph affirms that there are many accounts of physical miracles. But he also was quick to point out that so many people, some of whom have been away from the Sacraments for a very long time, come to the shrine and return to Confession and say, “’I regret doing that, I ask for forgiveness, and I’m reforming my life.’ That’s the biggest miracle that could happen. And that could happen in droves.” In short, something about a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Champion shrine is helping people who have long been away turn back to God.  

Fr. Joseph said: “That’s the draw … it’s Jesus. That’s the whole idea of why Mary exists in her role as mother, ... as queen. It’s to bring people to her Son.”   

The shrine hosts numerous events throughout the year, including their annual Marian Conference each May, which this year included 400 attendees from far and wide. Year ‘round, pilgrims can walk the beautiful grounds, pray Stations of the Cross outside, pray in the oratory beneath the chapel, visit relics of apostles and saints, and participate in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament as well as the Mass.  




Tips for parents who want to foster devotion to Mary in their children

For families who may not be able to make a pilgrimage, or who would like to foster a beautiful and healthy devotion to Mary in their children, Fr. Joseph offered some words of encouragement and advice.  

  • For children who have received their First Communion, go to Mass regularly and confession before Communion as well when possible, especially for the conversion of sinners like Adele.  
  • For younger children, if a full Holy Hour might be too much, take the children to stop in front of the Blessed Sacrament, perhaps even near the end of the Adoration time and to experience the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.  
  • Praying the rosary is another beautiful tradition to share. At the shrine's Rosary Walk, people can pray the Rosary while walking on a path that is shaped like the rosary itself. There are images throughout the walk of all the different Mysteries of the Rosary as well. Children, and many of us grown-ups as well, are drawn to the tangible, to things we can experience with multiple senses.  
  • Teach children the faith with visual images like statues. Families praying the Rosary every day, or even part of a Rosary with your children frequently, is also an incredibly powerful practice to share together. 


The National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion can be a beautiful, peaceful faith-growing experience for those who make the pilgrimage. As Fr. Joseph says: “That’s the whole idea of what a pilgrimage is about … union with God.”  

Learn more at ChampionShrine.org.

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Copyright 2024 Lorelei Savaryn
Images: Courtesy of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion, used with permission, all rights reserved.