"Little Shrine that Could" gains world prominence - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

"Little Shrine that Could" gains world prominence

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By Bob Schaper - bio | email | Twitter | Facebook

CHAMPION, Wis. (WKOW) -- Growing up in the shadow of Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Joe Anderson is already surfing the web and enjoying movies.

But in July, the 3-year-old was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia.

"He was given a 50 percent chance of survival," Jennie Anderson, his mother, said. "Fifty-fifty basically."

For months he lived in St. Vincent's hospital, undergoing chemotherapy 30 days at a time. But by November doctors were already worried that the treatments weren't working.

"They thought he was going to need a bone marrow transplant," Jennie said.

Worried about the long-term effects a transplant would have on his health, the Andersons went for one more consultation. Not at the Mayo Clinic, or a research hospital in Madison -- or any medical facility at all.

Instead they came here, to Champion, Wis., a barren crossroads town northeast of Green Bay. They came to the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help.

In the first week of October 1859 a young Belgian immigrant named Adele Brise was walking from her home to a grist mill about three miles away. On these grounds, between a hemlock and a maple tree, she saw an apparition. An apparition that the Catholic church now believes was the Virgin Mary.

Adele said the blessed mother told her to gather the children and teach them about Jesus, a task she devoted her life to. Today, like other places where the mother of Jesus is said to have appeared, pilgrims from all over the United States come here every day, praying for good intentions.

Karen Tipps manages the shrine's gift shop and lives on the property with her husband. Tipps says she can barely remember all the stories she's heard over the past 18 years, like the time a child came to pray for her sick friend.

"The priest that was with them came back a few days later and said do you realize there was a miracle?" Tipps said. "That child actually got out of bed and walked."

But more than the blaring trumpets of miracles and cures, Tipps says the real power of the shrine is its ability to touch people's hearts, little tugs that call people back to their faith.

"I think that's what's so beautiful about this place is that people discover it at a pace that they're ready for in their life," she said.

Some say they feel a simple warmth here.

"It's just really peaceful," said Kristi Villers, from Sturgeon Bay. "It's a good place to be alone with your thoughts and your prayers to god."

And now there's somebody else who believes in the power of the shrine, a person who's raised our Lady of Good Help to a whole new level.

"I believe it. I believe it, yes."

Green Bay Bishop David Ricken says when he first came to Green Bay in 2008 he was struck by the number of stories about the shrine.

"Miracle after miracle," Ricken said. "Answered prayer after answered prayer. You can't have that much for that many years and not have something really, really powerful there."

So he decided to launch an investigation three anonymous priests who studied the shrine and its history. After reviewing their report, Ricken declared in December that Adele Brise had indeed encountered the Virgin Mary so many years ago.

The declaration makes Our Lady one of only a dozen or so similar places in the world -- on par with Lourdes, France, and Guadeloupe, Mexico.

And though it took a century and a half, he says the move couldn't come at a better time, in an era when people are confused.

And what about little Joe Anderson, the boy with leukemia? The day after visiting the shrine, the Anderson's got a phone call from their doctor.

"And he said Joe has no leukemia," Jennie said. "The leukemia's gone, and he doesn't need a transplant."

But Joe's test was taken before the Anderson's visited Champion, and so a skeptic could say his recovery had nothing at all to do with the Virgin Mary.

"Maybe a skeptic would say that," Jennie said. "But we know that God healed him."

And so people keep coming back to this place in the middle of nowhere, the little shrine that could. Looking for a cure, a solution, a sign.

Or maybe just a little calm in a stormy world.

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