On this inaugural Solemnity of Our Lady of Champion, the faithful gathered on a crisp Fall morning to hear Bishop David L. Ricken’s inspiring homily. With deep reverence, Bishop Ricken shared profound insights about our faith and the loving presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary in our lives.
Transcript of the Most Rev. David L. Ricken’s October 9th Homily
Welcome to each one of you to this inaugural celebration of the Solemnity of Our Lady of Champion on this crisp Monday morning. A special welcome to my brother bishops from the province of Milwaukee, which includes the state of Wisconsin. Archbishop Listecki could not be here today because he is leading a pilgrimage to Poland or getting ready to go. But he was just here yesterday to celebrate Sunday Mass at 11:00 a.m. on October 8th. And to kick off these days of celebration at the shrine here with us today is Bishop Don Hying, Bishop of the Diocese of Madison, Bishop James Powers of the Diocese of Superior, Bishop William Callahan of the Diocese of La Crosse could not be here in person with us, but is joining us through live stream broadcast on Relevant Radio. Also joining us here are the auxiliary bishops of Milwaukee, Bishop Jeffrey Haines and Bishop James Sherman. A special welcome to all of our bishops today.
A heartfelt note of gratitude also to Father David Wilton, superior of the Fathers of Mercy, who is here with us as well. We are so grateful to the Fathers of Mercy for staffing this shrine with Father Joseph Aytona as the rector who’s up here on the daïs as well. The Fathers provide daily Mass and Sunday Masses, countless confessions here every day and do so with great compassion and fidelity. My gratitude goes to Don Warden, our operations officer, and his team, and the huge team of volunteers here who help with this ministry and help this place to become a place of welcome, solace and refuge. As I look at all of you here present, I am so reminded of Cardinal George, who came here several years ago for the Feast of Our Lady of the Assumption, and said to the people as he was gazing at them, you are so beautiful. Welcome to each and every one of you. I’m so pleased to have so many priests here with us today from the diocese and from other dioceses and religious orders who are joining us for this beautiful Mass and con-celebrating with us. Some of you have traveled many miles to be here with us for this important day and have made many sacrifices on Our Lady here.
Thank you to each one of you here present and to all those joining us on live broadcast through Relevant Radio. And for those who are also joining us in live streaming, Mary is calling all of God’s children, wherever you are, to hear the good news of God’s love for each person and for the entire world. Why are we here today? Why is this day different from all the other days at the shrine? Today we celebrate the inaugural Solemnity of Our Lady of Champion. October 9 will, in perpetuity recognize and recall that Our Lady appeared here as Our Lady of Champion, which is the name of the little-known town just down the road, known as Our Lady of Good Help for decades. Why the change in her title now? After the official approval by the Church in 2010 of Our Lady’s appearance here, there developed a practical challenge because people kept referring to her by different titles. For example, Our Lady of Good Health, Our Lady of Good Hope, Our Lady of Perpetual Help. By the way, for those who are not familiar with Catholic teaching and practice, there are not multiple Marys. (Laughter) There is one mother of God.
And over the 2000 years of our history, she has appeared to people in many different locations around the world with a unique message highlighting different aspects of revelation and her role in salvation history. What is not so well known is that when Mary first appeared to Adele Brise here in this place, Adele went to her parish priest for guidance, and he instructed her to ask the woman, who are you, dear lady, and what do you want of me? When Adele did so, the beautiful lady answered I am the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners. The Queen of Heaven touched down here, right in front of you, not quite to the ground, but she came very close. The Queen of Heaven. Can you imagine that? That is mind boggling. And it’s a realization in and of itself that eventually grows mature. Then she revealed her identity and her mission to Adele. I am the Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners.
That is what she is doing here, and she is asking us to do the same, to pray for our own ongoing conversion and for the conversion of sinners. Then where did the name Our Lady of Good Help come from? This was the name that helped people in this area, mostly from southern Belgium, to identify with the mission of the Blessed Mother given to her. “Adele, gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.” Adele, in humble obedience, replied, “But how shall I teach them I who know so little myself?” Mary lovingly replied, “Teach them their catechism how to sign themselves with the Sign of the Cross and how to approach the Sacraments. That is what I wish you to do.” Our Blessed Mother concluded these words, however, with profound words that echo the voice of her own son. “Go and fear nothing. I will help you.”
“Go and fear nothing. I will help you.” This title, used locally for decades now, Our Lady of Good Help, came from Our Lady’s words to Adele “I will help you”. These words ring as true today as they did when Mary first said them. Adele faithfully carried out this task for many years. And now we remember this apparition through a high and solemn mass so that we might seek the grace to carry out this mission today, so that we might spread the faith to all children, so they know the basic teachings of our faith, even how to sign themselves with the Sign of the Cross and approach the Sacraments with reverence and understanding. Mary’s words to Adele ring just as true today but they are spoken now to you and to me. Let me be very clear to all of you that we, as Catholics do not worship Mary.
She is not God, nor is she a goddess. She is one who, like us who also said yes to the request of an angel to become the very mother of the Son of God. Can you imagine the courage and generosity it must have taken for her as a young woman to say yes to such a request? Yes, she said. A simple one word response from Mary would alter the entire course of human history. Her yes was the means by which our Father chose to share his Son Jesus with the whole world to reach all people with a saving gospel of merciful love. It is her person and her unconditional yes to all that God had for her which inspires our position of honoring her in such a way throughout 2000 years of church history in the Catholic Church. What a gift! So why is she now referred with the title Our Lady of Champion? Other shrines where she has appeared bear the name of the place of the apparition so that they are easily identified and distinguished from other places.
The name chosen here is not chosen on a whim nor in a precarious fashion. Before coming to Wisconsin, when Adele was still a young person in Belgium, she and some close friends had made a promise to Our Lady that they would enter the religious life in an Ursulin convent in Champion, Belgium a few short kilometers away from her home. She was never able to follow through on that promise because her parents pressed upon her to go with them and help them settle in a new country of great promise, America. Her parents settled just a short distance from here and she helped them to get established and was living that life when the Blessed Mother appeared to her here. (She) appeared to her on her way to the Grist Mill in Base Settlement. Later, some of the townsfolk in the little settlement close by asked her what she would like this little town to be called. She said without hesitation Champion. And so it is she was able to fulfill the promise she made with her friends many years before by living a life for God as a Third Order Franciscan here in Champion.
Champion, Wisconsin I am happy to share with you today a portion of the letter I received from the Holy See the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. On December 15 of 2022, the Dicaster responded to my letter of request to celebrate this solemnity with the following words however, according to the abovementioned instruction, this is a Latin term the calendaria particularia. Individual churches can by right celebrate the anniversary of their dedication as well as of their title with the rank of a solemnity. Therefore, at the sanctuary, the Blessed Virgin Mary of Champion. And then they put in parentheses ‘Good Help’. The anniversary of her apparition can be celebrated as a solemnity without the need for it to be inserted in the proper calendar of the diocese, thus nurturing devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary at the shrine, while at the same time respecting the norms of the calendaria particularia. Therefore, this solemnity in honor of Our Lady will be celebrated every year on October 9, here at the shrine under the title of Our Lady of Champion. Why don’t we give thanks for this great gift? (Applause) Today, as we celebrate this solemn Mass, we keep in mind several intentions, and I ask you to bring these intentions with you to this mass. We pray for the Holy Father, the bishops and all those gathered with them in Rome for the synod. In my recent column in the diocesan newspaper The Compass, I have asked my parishioners to join me in uniting with the Universal Church in prayer throughout the entire month, to ask the Holy Spirit and Our Lady to guide and to protect the Church. I am asking all the faithful here in the diocese to pray the rosary together or individually every day, specifically for the intention of the synod. I am also asking everyone to fast one day a week for the synod. This could be the giving up of food, social media, TV, video games or something else one day each week. We pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to accompany and guide the entire synod, most especially the Holy Father and the bishops, who serve as shepherds of the Church in the person of Christ. Intention Number Two: The second intention of this Mass today is for peace throughout the world.
For peace, we beg the Lord for true and genuine peace throughout the world. As the war between Russia and Ukraine continues, we pray for peace. After the recent attack by Hamas on the nation and the people of Israel, wars and rumors of wars continue because people and countries do not know how to properly work through difficulties and do not accept that all human beings are children of God and must be treated with love and respect. When a nation is attacked, of course, it must defend its own people, and thus the cycle of violence keeps repeating itself. A profound gift of Our Lady here at the shrine of Our Lady of Champion is the profound interior peace that pilgrims and visitors experience. I’m sure that many of you have experienced that here other times or today. That unearthly peace that Our Lady gives here in this holy place, nearly all pilgrims comment on the gift of interior peace that Our Lady gives so generously. I hope and pray that each one of you and our world comes to experience this heavenly peace.
Number Three: the conversion of sinners. When Our Lady, the Queen of Heaven, appeared, she was strikingly clear in establishing her identity and mission. She directed Adele, as I said before, and she directs us to do the same. “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 as well. But you must do more. Make a general confession and offer your Holy Communion for the conversion of sinners. If they do not convert and do penance, my son will be obliged to punish them.”
What are we to do for sinners? Our lady asks us to pray for the conversion of sinners and offer your Holy Communion for that person. Do any of you have a loved one in mind that has drifted away from your family or from the Church and the Sacraments? Pray for them and never give up. Receive our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. When you come to receive Communion, offer each Holy Communion for that person, for the repentance and the return of that loved one. Do not give up, persevere! Keep praying for that one person. Pray for their conversion and full return to the sacramental life of the Church! If they do not return to the Lord, they will have to face the consequences of their choices!
And the consequences are not insignificant. If you yourself have fallen from regular practice of the faith and weekly attendance at Mass, ask Our Lady, a champion, to help you to accept the grace to return to Mass each week, no matter what the obstacle. As a Catholic, you can go to confession, unburden yourself of all of your sins and return to Holy Mass. Receive the body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord each week. It’s that easy. Our Lord wants to give Himself to you in the most intimate way. Come prepared, come with a hungry heart and be fed by the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Himself.
My next point is that this revelation, this message here, this appearance of Mary to Adele, is all about the children. People often ask what is distinctive about Our Lady’s appearance of Champion? How is this apparition different from Lourdes or Fatima or Guadalupe? Each is unique. But the uniqueness of the message here in Champion is quite clear. It’s all about the children. “Gather the children in this wild country. Teach them what they should know for salvation. Teach them their catechism. Go and fear nothing. I will help you.”
After the apparitions, Adele devoted the remainder of her life seeking to fulfill this mission. She walked on foot for miles to teach the children in people’s homes. She often would ask to help the parents with household duties in exchange for them, allowing her to teach the children their catechism. Later, she started a school, which became a boarding school which is right here in front of you next to the chapel because some of the children were orphans and had no home to stay in. Adele truly is what we would call today a catechist and a missionary disciple to people in this formerly wild country. In thanksgiving to Our Lady and Adele, we have so much to be grateful for in this Diocese of Green Bay. Adele valued teaching the faith and now we are blessed with Catholic education… 54 Catholic schools and 9000 students in those schools and faith formation for around 14,000 children throughout our parishes in the diocese. For this we are most grateful and we are grateful to Our Lady and to Sister Adele who has pursued this so diligently.
A Cause for Repentance: While so much good is being done for children in our country. There’s also something evil that I must bring out into the open. Terrible sins and criminal actions against children are occurring regularly in our culture. Corruption and heinous actions of adults against children are causing systemic victimization of children. Predatory activity flourishes in segments of society and has become a horrible problem here in the United States. It has been reported that the United States has become the largest consumer of child pornography, which is a multibillion-dollar industry. This must stop violating our children!
Jesus is very clear about his love for children and the need to protect them. In Matthew 18: 5-7 He says whoever receives one such child in my name receives me. But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin it would be better for him to have a millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Jesus is very serious about this harming children. These heinous sins and crimes against children are clearly mortal sins that would cause someone to be separated from the love of God and perhaps even lose their soul if repentance does not happen. Let’s pray for a huge outpouring for the gift of purity into our minds and our hearts. The gift of purity into our minds and hearts. The gift of chastity to be poured out upon our country and the entire world.
Whatever sin has been committed by us or by others let us turn toward the Lord Jesus and His Church and immense ourselves in the merciful love of God and the mercy of the Blessed Mother so we can truly reform our lives. Let us offer up prayer and reparation for those who choose to live in sin. Let us, as Our Blessed Mother asked Adele, offer up our prayers and our Holy Communion for sinners. Considering Our Lady’s message, let us all vigilantly pray and work to protect God’s children. Let us do so here at the shrine of Our Lady of Champion throughout this diocese and throughout the nation. Let us pray, promote and defend children’s rights to life, religious liberty, their right to safety, dignity as human persons and the freedom to know and to live. The freedom to be born in an atmosphere of love. Adele encountered Our Lady and faithfully lived out her message to her.
We thank the Lord Jesus and His Mother for their continued, constant presence among us. They are here. They are begging us to accept their love and to reform our lives. We thank our Lord and the Church for granting this new solemnity to honor Our Lady of Champion! May we respond to their loving interventions by reading and responding to the word of God and living faithfully the sacramental life of the Church. And may God, who has begun this good work in us, bring it to fulfillment. Our Lady of Champion, pray for us and for the whole world. May Almighty God bless each and every one of you, your families, your parishes and your diocese.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.