New Tourist Meccas in Wisconsin

Dateline Wisconsin:

The afflicted and the faithful have long made pilgrimages to the quiet country site where Belgian immigrant Adele Brise said in 1859 that she saw the Virgin Mary three times. For the past few years, maybe 30 or 50 people had trickled in daily to visit the chapel, Brise’s grave and the candlelit crypt that marks the site of the apparition.

That changed in December, when Bishop David Ricken of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Green Bay certified after investigations by three theologians that Brise had indeed seen a beautiful lady in white who said she was the “queen of heaven.”

That made the shrine, which is a mile from the unincorporated town of Champion, the USA’s only official site where Mary is said to have appeared.

Now there’s a steady flow of traffic into the recently enlarged gravel parking lot. Cars, vans and buses bring 500 people — and often many more — here daily. License plates from Ohio, Minnesota, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana were spotted one recent weekday.


The farming area around the shrine is changing already.

“If the rumors are right, it’s going to look like downtown Chicago pretty soon,” says Louie Gomand, who owns a farm adjacent to the shrine.

A farm stand on his property sells vegetables and water to visitors. A sunflower costs 50 cents and a gourd 35 cents. A handwritten sign reads “bus specials.” There’s a lot more traffic, he says, but he has no complaints.

Neither does Kelli Vissers, 34. She and her husband, David, 38, own two buildings in Champion. “Since the shrine happened” in December, “the traffic has quadrupled through here,” she says.

They have converted a small trailer into the mobile On the Way Cafe. Kelli Vissers said she hopes to cater meals for tourists and turn one of the buildings into a bed-and-breakfast and the other into a full-scale cafe.

Barb Cornette, 58, who grew up in the area and now helps run a dairy farm a couple of miles from the shrine, says some residents have mixed feelings about its growing popularity.

“Traffic has increased tremendously,” she says. “Some of the area farmers that are retired want to sell their land … for possibly a hotel, a restaurant. They’re looking for the gold mine, unfortunately,” she says.


The Roman Catholic Church never did a thorough inspection of into this one, unfortunately.
On the afternoon of the fifth of April, 1997, Police Officer Chico Rodriquez noticed a strange shape seemingly painted on the back of a road sign. The sign was located near Sunnyside, Washington, at the intersection of Washington Sate 241 and the Yakima Valley Highway. He described the shape as a silhouette of the profile of a woman, he identified as the Virgin Mary. The Virgin wore a dress with ruffles. Some said they saw that her hands were clasped together, but most could not make out her face clearly. Word spread throughout the predominately Hispanic Catholic community. Within a few hours, over a thousand people had gathered to look at the sign.

Many came with flowers, which they laid beside the sign. Others lit candles and prayed. The crowd was so large that the State Patrol closed the road intersection for several hours. Other members of the faithful looked at other road signs nearby, and a few said they saw the Madonna’s image there too. One person claimed to have seen the image of the Virgin on a road sign near Moses Lake, one hundred miles away.

Maybe they should.  Everyone should start lobbying on behalf of their church signs and toaster images, and the Church should liberalize its process to  give boost s to local economies.

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