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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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 9, 2020

Prayer purifies us, reading instructs us … If a man wants...

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August 9

 

Prayer purifies us,
reading instructs us …
If a man wants to be always in God’s company,
he must pray regularly and read regularly.
When we pray, we talk to God; when we read, God talks to us.

St. Isidore of Seville


My Mother, I will stand with you on OCTOBER 10, 2020

Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

Bl. Amadeus of Portugal

His sister, St. Beatriz da Silva, was the foundress of the O...

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Bl. Amadeus of Portugal

João Mendes da Silva, better known as the Blessed Amadeus of Portugal, was born in 1420 in Campo Maior on the eastern side of the country. The youngest son of twelve children, he was closely related to the Counts of Vila Real and Viana do Alentejo, whose lands lay near the border of Portugal and Spain. St. Beatriz da Silva, the foundress of the Order of the Immaculate Conception, was one of his sisters, and a strong devotion to this prerogative of Our Lady – centuries before it was defined as a dogma – was a profound spiritual characteristic they both shared.

João was married very young, but soon after entered the Hieronymite monastery of Santa Maria de Guadalupe in Spain, where he spent about ten years. Inspired by a vision of the Immaculate Conception of Mary Most Holy to join the Franciscans, he sought admission to their friary in Ubeda in Lombardy where he entered as a lay brother in 1452 and took the name of Amadeus.

Initially not well received by his confreres, some of whom took him for a religious fraud, he was widely persecuted within the Order bearing all the humiliations inflicted upon him with great patience. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1459 at the insistence of his superiors. Amadeus subsequently became renowned throughout the houses of the Order for his holiness and miracles.

In 1469, he founded the Friary of Notre Dame de la Paix under the protection of the Archbishop of Milan. This friary soon became the center of a Franciscan reform which eventually spread throughout Italy and beyond. When the Minister General of the Franciscan Order, Francesco della Rovere, was elected to the throne of Peter as Pope Sixtus IV, he summoned Amadeus to Rome to be his confessor and counselor.

The reform of the Franciscan Order begun by St. Amadeus led to his founding of a distinct branch of the Friars Minor which was ultimately named after him. Amadeus later returned to Milan, where he died in 1482.

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

I was in my first sleep when the sound of the doorbell...

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The Legend of the Locket

I was in my first sleep when the sound of the doorbell awakened me, whereupon I sprang from my bed, and, after a few hurried preparations, hastened to throw open the door. 

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It was a bitter cold night in January, and the moon without threw its pale light over the wan spectral snow-covered landscape. The sharp gust that swept into the hall as I opened the door made me pity the delicate-looking child who stood at the threshold.

Her hair gleamed with a strange and rare effect in the moonlight, long golden hair that fell in graceful ripples about her shoulders. She was lightly dressed, this little child, as she stood gazing straight and frankly into my eyes with an expression at once so beautiful and calm and earnest that I shall never forget it.

Her face was very pale, her complexion of the fairest. The radiancy about her hair seemed to glow in some weird yet indescribable fashion upon her every feature. These details I had not fairly taken in when she addressed me.

"Father, can you come with me at once? My mother is dying, and she is in trouble."

"Come inside, my little girl," I said, "and warm yourself. You must be half frozen."

"Indeed, Father, I am not in the least cold." I had thrown on my coat and hat as she made answer.

"Your mother's name, my child?"

"Catherine Morgan, Father; she's a widow, and has lived like a saint. And now that she's dying, she is in awful trouble. She was taken sick about a few hours ago."

"Where does she live?"

"Two miles from here, Father, on the border of the Great Swamp; she is a stranger in these parts, and alone. I know the way perfectly; you need not be afraid of getting lost."

A few minutes later we were tramping through the snow, or rather I was tramping, for the child beside me moved with so light and tender a step, that had there been flowers instead of snowflakes beneath our feet I do not think a single petal would have been crushed under the airy fall of her fairy feet.

Her hand was in mine with the confiding clasp of childhood. Her face, for all the trouble that was at home, wore a gravely serene air, such as is seldom seen in years of sprightly, youthful innocence.

How beautiful she looked!

More like a creature fresh from the perfect handiwork of God than one who walked in the valley of sin, sorrow, trouble and death.

Locket Upon her bosom I observed a golden locket fashioned in a heart shape.

She noticed my glance, and with a quick movement of her fingers released the locket and handed it to me.

"It's a heart," I said.

"Read what's on it, Father."

"I can't, my little friend; my eyes are very good, but are not equal to making out reading on gold lockets by moonlight."

"Just let me hold it for you, Father. Now look."

How this child contrived, I cannot say; but certain it is, that at once, as she held the locket at a certain angle, there stood out clearly, embossed upon its surface, the legend: 

"Cease! the Heart of Jesus is with me." 

"Mamma placed that upon my bosom one year ago, when I was very sick, Father." And kissing the locket, the child restored it to its place.

We went on for a time in silence. I carried the Blessed Sacrament with me; and, young as she was, the girl seemed to appreciate the fact. Whenever I glanced at her, I observed her lips moving as in prayer, and her eyes seemed, in very truth, fixed upon the place where rested in His sacramental veil the Master of Life and of Death.

Suddenly the girl's hand touched my sleeve-oh, so gently!

"This is the place, Father," she said in soft tones that thrilled me as they broke upon the stillness; and she pointed to a little hut standing back in the dim shadows of three pine trees.

I pushed open the door, which hung loosely upon its hinges, and turned to wait her entrance. She was gone. Somewhat startled, I was peering out into the pallid night, when a groan called me to the bedside of the dying woman.

A glance told me there was no time to lose. The woman lying in that room had hardly reached middle life, but the hand of Death had touched her brow, upon which stood the drops of sweat, and in her face I read a great trouble.

I was at her side in an instant; and, God be thanked for it, soon calmed and quieted the poor creature. She made her confession, and in sentiments of faith and love such as I have rarely seen, received the Last Sacraments of the Church.

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Standing beside her, I suggested those little prayers and devices so sweet and consoling at the dread hour. I noticed, as the time passed on, that her eyes frequently turned toward a little box at the farther end of the room.

"Shall I bring you that box?" I asked.

She nodded assent.

On placing it beside her, she opened it with trembling hands and took out the dress of a child.

"Your little daughter's dress?" I said.

She whispered, and there was love in her tones: "My darling Edith's."

"I know her," I continued. "She brought me here, you know."

I stopped short and caught my breath. The woman half rose in her bed; she looked at me in wonder that cannot be expressed. I, no less amazed, was staring at a golden, oval locket fastened to the bosom of the child's dress which the woman was holding in her hands.

"Madam," I cried, "in the name of God, tell me, where is your daughter? Whose is that locket?"

"The locket is Edith's. I placed it here on the bosom of her dress when my little girl lay dying a year ago. The last thing my darling did was to hold this locket to her lips, and say:

'Cease! the Heart of Jesus is with me.'

"She died a year ago."

Then the mother's face grew very sweet and very radiant.

Still holding the locket in her hands, she fixed her eyes straight before her.

"Edith, my dear Edith, we are at last to be united in the Sacred Heart. I see you, my darling: ‘Cease! the Heart of Jesus is with me."'

Her voice faded with the last syllable into silence.

She and Edith were again united.

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From Fr. Finn's Mostly Boys (New York: 1896), pp. 90-95.
Illustrations by: AF Phillips

 

I was in my first sleep when the sound of the doorbell

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