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An Emerald Isle amid a sea of ashes

January 3, 2018 | Rex Teodosio


Spiritual wildfires have been raging in America in recent years. In the form of homosexual “marriage,” pornography, transgenderism and a rise in Satanism, among others, moral depravity leaves our cultural landscape desolate. Hundreds of thousands of souls have suffered. These “fires” have engulfed families and social structures. Many have lost hope in fleeing from the flames.

But our Catholic Faith offers us another solution. Our Lady’s offer to make her Immaculate Heart our “refuge and the path that will lead (us) to God,” provides a shelter for all who seek it. This lesson can be learned from the great Peshtigo Fire of 1871 in which a group of faithful Catholics relied upon Our Lady of Good Help’s intervention. The miracle which followed was evidence of her power to protect.

 

An Eyewitness Account of a Massive Fire

Flames in a forestThe Peshtigo Fire happened on October 8th, 1871—the same day of the Great Chicago Fire that is so well known in American history. Though overshadowed by the Chicago Fire, the Peshtigo blaze killed more people (around 2,500) and destroyed more property—over 1.2 million acres.

The magnitude of the miracle can be gauged by the destructiveness of the fire. It started in the city of Peshtigo, Wisconsin, an hour north of Green Bay. Father Peter Pernin describes the ferocity of the blaze in a gripping firsthand account in his book, The Great Peshtigo Fire, An Eyewitness Account.

No one knows how the fire started. What was known was that it was made worse by a particularly dry year and hurricane strength wind. Fire was, so to speak, in the air. On October 6th, Father Pernin saw a stump spontaneously burst into flames, even though there were no sparks or fire nearby. While the fire was put out, it signaled worse things to come.

 

Preparing for the Worst

For days, the priest had seen a red glow some distance away. He also heard loud noises in the distance like the sounds of numerous carts and trains. As the noise and the glow grew closer, Father Pernin decided to prepare for the worst.

It took him several hours to dig a pit in the ground to bury sacred objects, statues, books, linens and vestments under a foot of dirt, which he considered sufficient. In the meantime, several of his neighbor’s guests laughed at him for making this effort.

 

Heading into an Inferno

Fr PerninAs he finished covering his pit, Father Pernin barely had time to release his horse and load the tabernacle into a hand cart, before the wildfire reached Peshtigo. He called for his dog but it refused to budge from under the bed, frozen in fear.

As he went through the city to head for the river, he was blown against the tavern wall, cart and all by the force of a sudden wind. He forced his way against the wind and came upon his horse which was now frozen in fear and refused to move.

The conflagration was soon upon the village and everything was in chaos. The clang of carts, the neighing of horses, the alarmed cries of beasts, and the roar of the inferno instilled a terror in the hearts of the living. People ran in all directions. Father Pernin tripped and fell upon the dead bodies of a mother and her daughter.

 

The End of “Our World”

Along one side of the river, the flames from the village buildings formed an impenetrable canopy of fire. Father Pernin went to the other side. At the edge of the water, he found people “as far as the eye can see” standing, gazing, in stunned amazement and with mouths agape, at the sight of the conflagration around them. He started pushing them into the water since it was the only safe place. Immediately people followed suit and everyone around him waded in the water.

The air became a mixture of ash, sparks, smoke, fire and oppressive heat. Everyone stayed in the cold water splashing water over themselves for almost five hours. At the peak of the fire, Father Pernin described the air above them as a tornado of fire, brighter than day even causing temporary blindness. It was a scene of hell on earth, a true inferno.

A lady next to the priest asked, “Father, is this the end of the world?” Not knowing what to say, he replied perhaps not the whole world, but if the surrounding countryside were burning like this, it would be the end of “our world.”

The fire eventually burned itself out in Peshtigo, jumping across a nearby bay, a distance of about 10 miles at its narrowest point. With the hurricane-like winds serving as bellows, the fire continued on its destructive path eventually burning a total of 1.2 million acres.

 

The Miracle of Champion, Wisconsin

While this chaos took place in Peshtigo, there was a different scene at the village of Robinsonville, Wisconsin. Now called Champion, this village lay right in the path of the untamable inferno.

Sr Adele BriseThe village was the site of the first approved apparition of Our Lady in the United States. She had appeared to Sister Adele Brise in 1859. In honor of the apparition, a wooden chapel was built dedicated to Our Lady of Good Help. Many locals believed in the apparition, largely due to Sister Adele’s reputation of holiness.

In the early morning of October 9th, the locals fled to the safety of Our Lady of Good Help’s protection. It seems irrational to seek safety in a wooden structure in the middle of the greatest wildfire in American history. However, faith sometimes goes against what seems rational. They abandoned themselves to practice the great virtue of confidence, hoping against all hope. The locals had so much confidence in Our Lady’s protection that they drove their livestock onto the chapel grounds.

Sister Adele led the inhabitants in a procession outside with a statue of Our Lady while praying the rosary. When the air became oppressive, they were forced to continue inside. The voices of the faithful filled the air with hopeful prayer. Outside the ever-hungry inferno was raging, ready to devour everything in its path.

However, the wooden structure miraculously refused to burn. The prayers of the faithful were heard. The heavy winds that drove the conflagration stilled and the fired abated. The sweet sound of rainfall soon followed. It was as immediate as when Jesus raised his hands to calm the storm. The faithful were in awe. Salvation from the fire had finally come.

 

Confirmation of the Miracle

Father Pernin, who witnessed firsthand the unyielding savagery of fire in Peshtigo went to investigate this alleged miracle with his own eyes. He recounted what he saw in a second manuscript called, The Finger of God.

“[All] the houses and fences in the neighborhood had been burned, with the exception of the school, the chapel and fences surrounding the six acres of land consecrated to the Blessed Virgin. (…) [The property] sanctified by the visible presence of the Mother of God now shone out like an emerald island amid a sea of ashes.”1

Father Pernin’s description of the church grounds as an emerald island in a desolate sea could be seen in the grass inside the fence that kept its lush healthy color. All the local inhabitants and their livestock were spared. The wooden chapel was spared. The wooden fence surrounding the grounds was spared.

Is there not a lesson to be learned from this?

This miracle was instrumental in convincing Bishop David Ricken to declare on December 8, 2010 the authenticity of the apparitions of 1859 to Sister Adele Brise. This holy site is now called the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help. In the decree, one can find these words that serve as a lesson to modern firefighters, or to anyone who needs divine help, especially when all human efforts have failed. These words are: “Our Lady has lessened or relieved the burdens of the People of God (…) even through diminishing inclement and tempestuous weather.”

Curiously, the great Peshtigo Fire abated on the 12th anniversary of one of the apparitions of Our Lady of Good Help.
 Our Lady of Good Help

 

A Lesson for Our Times

The events that unfolded in Champion, Wisconsin, so many years ago are almost a prefigure of our times. The fires of impurity and godlessness rage all around the People of God. Human efforts alone, though at times even heroic, are not sufficient to quell the flames. We need recourse to Our Lady.

At Fatima, she told little Lucia, “My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the path that will lead you to God.” These very words reverberate into and beyond 2020. If we stop and listen, we can hear her say them to each and every one of her children. Our Heavenly Mother beckons us to gather in confidence around her, praying her Holy Rosary, just as Sr. Adele and the faithful did in 1871.

It is no small coincidence that the town once called “Robinsonville” has been renamed “Champion.” For it was on this precious ground, right here in our United States, that Our Lady chose to answer the pleas of her children, thereby showing all the world that she would happily become our Champion, if we only would turn to her in confidence and love.

 


Footnotes:

1. Fr. Edward Looney, Our Lady of Good Help, Mary’s Message and Mission for Adele Brise and the World, p.16.

 

 

Quote of the day

DAILY QUOTE for August 3, 2021

Jesus who cannot suffer long to keep you in affliction will...

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August 3

 

Jesus who cannot suffer long to keep you in affliction
will come to relieve and comfort you
by infusing fresh courage into your soul.

St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina


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St. Waltheof of Melrose

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St. Waltheof of Melrose

Waltheof was born of English nobility. The son of Simon, the Earl of Huntingdon, and Maud, the grand-niece of William the Conqueror, he was also the grandson of Saint Waldef of Northumbria. As a child, Waltheof felt drawn to churches and the religious life. Following his father's death, he, and his mother and brother moved to Scotland where Maud married King David I. As part of the royal court, he was educated and became a spiritual student of St. Aelred.

Following his long-held inclination to contemplation and desiring to dedicate himself entirely to God, Waltheof left Scotland and traveled to Yorkshire to join the Augustinian Canons at the monastery at Nostell. He was soon chosen as prior, and led the monks in a more austere rule. Some time later, Waltheof left Nostell for the more austere life of the Cistercian monks.
Four years after receiving the Cistercian habit, he was nominated as abbot of Melrose, a newly established monastery. Then, in 1154, he was chosen as the new Archbishop of St. Andrews, but in his humility, he begged St. Aelred to oppose the election and not oblige him to accept.

Waltheof died in 1160 of old age. It has been said that he strove so greatly for perfection, that his confessors often found him irksome.

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The Virgin Mary Rewards a Bandit

In the days of yore, when travel must be had on foot or by horse, many were the dangers to be found along the roadways. Bandits plagued travelers and made their living by depriving others of their goods and often their very lives.

A young woman in the Papal States, who was very devout towards Mary, met in a certain place a chief of the bandits. Fearing some outrage, she implored him, for love of the most holy Virgin, not to molest her.

"Do not fear," he answered, "for you have prayed me in the name of the mother of God; and I only ask you to recommend me to her." Moved by the woman’s mention of the Blessed Virgin, the bandit accompanied her himself along the road to a place of safety.

The following night, Mary appeared in a dream to the bandit. She thanked him for the act of kindness he had performed for love of her. Mary went on to say that she would remember it and would one day reward him.

The robber, at length, was arrested, and condemned to death. But behold, the night previous to his execution, the blessed Virgin visited him again in a dream, and first asked him: "Do you know who I am?"

He answered, "It seems to me I have seen you before."

"I am the Virgin Mary," she continued, "and I have come to reward you for what you have done for me. You will die tomorrow, but you will die with so much contrition that you will come at once to paradise."

The convict awoke, and felt such contrition for his sins that he began to weep bitterly, all the while giving thanks aloud to our Blessed Lady. He asked immediately for a priest, to whom he made his confession with many tears, relating the vision he had seen. Finally, he asked the priest to make public this grace that had been bestowed on him by Mary.

He went joyfully to his execution, after which, as it is related, his countenance was so peaceful and so happy that all who saw him believed that the promise of the heavenly mother had been fulfilled.

From the Glories of Mary, by St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori.

In the days of yore, when travel must be had on foot or by horse, many were the dangers to be found along the roadways.