Born in the town of Dion-le-Val, Brabant, Belgium, Adele Brise was known for her charming and inviting personality, fervent piety, simple religious ways, and confidence in the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, despite the loss of an eye as a young child and a meager education. During her early childhood, Adele and several of her friends made a promise to the Mother of GOD to join a religious order in the town of Champion, in the adjoining province of Namur, and devote their lives to the foreign missions. While the other girls fulfilled their promise, Adele continued to live and work at home. In 1855, when Adele was 24, her parents made the decision to immigrate to America. Because of her promise to the Blessed Mother, Adele had mixed feelings about the move and discussed this with her confessor. Listening to her story, the good father counseled Adele to remain obedient to her father and mother, and join them on their move to America. He further assured her that “If God wills it, you will become a sister in America. Go, I will pray for you.”
After the move to Wisconsin, Adele and her family began the arduous task of developing their homestead. In early October of 1859, while on her way to the grist mill, Adele experienced the first of three apparitions: She saw a lady clothed in dazzling white, with a yellow sash around her waist and a crown of stars around her head standing between two trees, one a maple, the other a hemlock. Adele was frightened and stood still. After several minutes, the vision slowly disappeared, leaving a white cloud. On October 9th, the following Sunday, Adele was on her way to attend Mass at Bay Settlement in the company of her sister Isabel and a neighbor woman when the second apparition occurred. As they came near the same set of trees, the lady in white once again appeared to Adele. After Mass, Adele met with her confessor who told her that if it were a heavenly messenger, she would see it again, and it would not harm her, and to ask in God’s name who it was and what it desired of her.
The third apparition occurred as they approached the hallowed spot on the return trip home. Adele could see the beautiful lady and asked, “In God’s name who are you and what do you want of me?” “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 is well. But you must do more. Make a general confession and offer Communion for the conversion of sinners. If they do not convert and do penance, my Son will be obliged to punish them.” “Adele, who is it?” said one of the women. “O why can’t we see her as you do?” asked the other weeping. “ Kneel,” said Adele, “the Lady says she is the Queen of Heaven.” Our Blessed Lady turned, looked kindly at them and said, “Blessed are they that believe without seeing.” The Lady continued, “What are you doing here in idleness while your companions are working in the vineyard of my Son?” “What more can I do, dear Lady?” Adele said weeping. “Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.” “But how shall I teach them who know so little myself?” replied Adele. “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. Go and fear nothing. I will help you.”
The manifestation of Our Lady then lifted her hands, as though beseeching a blessing for those at her feet, and slowly vanished, leaving Adele overwhelmed and prostrate on the ground. Once the story of the apparitions got out, Adele’s father built a small chapel on the site and Adele went about fulfilling the mandate she received, a mission to which she devoted herself until her death in 1896. Throughout the 1840s and ’50s, Wisconsin’s population expanded rapidly. The Church, however, was unable to keep up with the growing need for pastors. When the Brise family settled in Green Bay in 1855, the nearest church was located in Bay Settlement, eleven miles away, and there was only one pastor to serve the entire northeastern part of the state.