Mary has many names, or shall we call them titles? The Litany of Loreto refers to many different titles of Mary, but not all of them. Some of her titles refer to a city name corresponding to an apparition location, for example, Our Lady of Lourdes or Our Lady of Fatima. There are also devotional titles of Our Lady such as Our Lady, Undoer (or Untier) of Knots. And then there are many variations of titles which all have a unique history. One such devotion is to Mary under the title of Our Lady of Good Help.
Each year pilgrims from around the world visit the first and only approved Marian apparition site in the United States of America located in Champion, Wisconsin (close to Green Bay). Pilgrims arrive at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, and learn the story of Mary’s apparition to Adele Brise, a 28-year-old Belgian immigrant, who the Queen of Heaven visited three times, speaking only once, on October 9, 1859. Mary asked Adele to offer her Holy Communion for the conversion of sinners, make a general confession, and gather the children in the area and teach them what they needed to know for salvation.
I’ve reflected at great lengths on the Wisconsin apparition, writing about its theological, spiritual, and pastoral implications, and I speak about the apparition often at conferences and gatherings. In my conversations, I often hear people refer to the National Shrine as “Our Lady of Good Health,” “Our Lady of Good Hope,” “Our Lady Help of Christians,” and “Our Lady of Perpetual Help” to name only a few.
The National Shrine welcoming pilgrims to commemorate the 1859 Wisconsin apparition is dedicated to Our Lady of Good Help, and I can understand the confusion. The title Our Lady of Good Help, is rather obscure, and not common in the United States; the title’s historical roots lie in France, Belgium, and Canada. Since Adele came from Belgium, she had a devotion to Our Lady under this title, and asked for the chapel to be dedicated to Notre Dame de Bon Secours (Our Lady of Good Help). Thus, the reason we call it the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, instead of the title by which Mary revealed herself to Adele as the Queen of Heaven, or even by the geographic location (Our Lady of Champion). Further confusion occurs, especially among Wisconsinites, with some calling it “Our Lady of Good Hope” because in Milwaukee, a popular exit is called Good Hope Road, which also has a church dedicated to that title of Mary.
When it comes to Mary’s many titles, a lot of them use the adjective good or refer to her help. Each title of Mary is unique, and has its own history. None of the devotions are the same. To distinguish these titles of Mary, I’d like to offer brief snippets of the historical origin of each title, thereby making clear the history of Our Lady of Good Help, as set apart from the other various “Good” and “helping” titles of Mary.
Our Lady of Good Health- A title associated with a Marian apparition to a young boy in the 16th or 17h century in Velankanni, India. Beyond the apparition, perhaps people called upon Mary with this title asking her to intercede in times of sickness.
Our Lady of Good Hope – The 19th century apparitions of Mary in Pontmain, France are known as Our Lady of Hope, but not Good Hope. A devotion to Mary exists under the title “Nuestra Senora Esperanza” and is oftentimes modified with the word “buena” translating to Our Lady of Good Hope. The Spanish devotion centers around the Virgin Mary and the Advent season, in which the Christian people are given hope by the birth of the savior. As mentioned earlier, also the name of a parish in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Unfortunately, I did not have time to contact the parish to ask about their parish’s namesake.
Our Lady of Good Counsel – The image of Our Lady of Good Counsel is often associated with some book covers of St. Louis de Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary. The image of Mary miraculously appeared in a Genazzano church in 1467.
Our Lady of Good Success – A title of Mary rooted in two different cultures. The first dates to the 1400s in Belgium where a statue from Scotland (formerly called Our Lady of Aberdeen) quickly became known as Our Lady of Good Success, winning the conversion of Calvinists to Catholicism. A second emergence of Our Lady of Good Success arises out of Ecuador in the late 1500’s and early 1600’s following apparitions of Mary received by a Conceptionist nun named Mother Mariana. People devoted to Our Lady of Good Success, like Matthew Arnold, have suggested remarkable similarities between the words Mary spoke then and our culture today.
Our Lady, Help of Christians– The National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help is not the only National Shrine in the Wisconsin dedicated to a helping title of Mary. The Carmelite friars at Holy Hill serve the National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians in Hubertus, Wisconsin. Historically this title of Mary was promoted by St. John Bosco and the Salesian order. The title dates back as far as St. John Chrysostom, and spread during the time in which Our Lady’s assistance was invoked by Christians during war. St. John Bosco constructed a basilica in Turin to Mary under this title.
Our Lady (or Mother) of Perpetual Help – This title of Mary is associated with one of the most popular icons of Mary, in which two angels hover around Mary and the Christ-child with the instruments of the passion. The icon hung in various churches over the years and today the Redemptorist order promotes this devotion and has custody of the Church in which it is enshrined. The image has been venerated by countless pilgrims and has also received the attention of many popes throughout history.
Our Lady of Prompt Succor – A title of Mary associated with the Ursuline order and venerated by Catholics in New Orleans. Today her intercession is invoked against storms.
Who is Our Lady of Good Help?
Sanctuaries to Notre Dame de Bon Secours can be traced as early as the eleventh century by oral tradition, or to the 13th century in the historical record. The popularization of this title arises out of Mary’s assistance to those who call upon her, especially in 1477 when the Duke of Lorraine, Rene II, defeated Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, during the Battle of Nancy. In Nancy, France, this victory prompted the building of a chapel to Our Lady of Good Help.
Devotion to Our Lady of Good Help exists principally in France and Belgium, but made its way to North America, to Canada and the United States. In France, there are at least four basilicas, six churches, and seven chapels dedicated to this tile of Mary. Within the devotional cult to Bon Secours, we find the origination of the pilgrimage church, accompanied by the prayers and hymns pilgrims recited and sung. And each devotional center possesses a statue of Mary, niched away in a quiet place of prayer for the pilgrims who seek Mary’s intercession. Presumably, from France, the chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Good Help in Montreal, founded by St. Marguerite Bourgeoys in 1657, takes its inspiration.
The Belgian people also honor Mary under this title. In Belgium, the principal site of devotion dates to 1637 with a basilica constructed on the location of “Mary between two oak trees” in Peruwelz. Adele Brise, the Wisconsin visionary, born in the province of Brabant (Dion le Val), in Belgium, lived approximately 100 kilometers from Peruwelz. There are, at least, two other churches to Bon Secours in Belgium, Zetrund-Lumay (22 km) and Brussels (39 km). In the Church of St. Steven, in Ohain, 20 kilometers from Dion le Val, the faithful venerate a statue of Bon Secours from the 1700s. We know from the chapel’s commemorating the apparitions received by Brise, that she herself had a devotion to Mary under this title. Around Dion Le Val, the Belgian people erected roadside chapels to house a statue of the Madonna. Passersby would stop and pray briefly in front of the image. Wherever they went, on the street corners or in the fields, they would find the Bon Secours, and offer an Ave.
The cult of Our Lady of Good Help originating in Europe, called upon Mary for help during the time of Revolution, war, plague, pestilence, and in the organic development of the cult, took on a unique maritime devotion. The devotion to Our Lady of Good Help existed long before the 1859 apparitions received by Brise, in which, Mary does not reveal herself as the Lady of Good Help, but instead as the Queen of Heaven. The only semblance of help, spoken of by the Queen of Heaven, were her parting words, “go, and fear nothing, I will help you.” Adele relied on the intercession of Mary throughout her years of service in the Lord’s vineyard. This help came through answered prayers when food or money was needed and just happened to show up. Locals received helped on the night of October 8, 1871, when a fire threatened the area of the chapel, and people flocked there seeking Mary’s help. The property was spared and lives were saved, all this being realized on the morning of the 12th anniversary of Mary’s apparition. To this day, pilgrims receive help from Mary as they seek her intercession for miracles in their lives.
Each title of Mary with reference to its modifier good, or the help Mary provides, has a unique history, and each devotion is different. All these titles of Mary might leave her devotees confused, especially when you talk about Perpetual Help, Good Hope, Good Health, and Good Help, among others. As we celebrate another anniversary since Mary spoke to Adele Brise in 1859, I hope you will consider making a pilgrimage to this special place in Wisconsin and the only place of its kind in the United States, where Mary still offers her good help to those who seek her intercession. But when you enter it into your phone app or GPS, make sure you head to the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, otherwise you might get lost, and need to call upon her help to find her shrine.