Since October is the Month of the Rosary, it’s good not only to make an extra effort to pray the Rosary in October, but also to remember why we pray it. Reflecting on why I pray the Rosary myself, an old story that my grandpa told me came to mind: the true story of how a group of children and Sisters were saved through perseverance and through the power of the Rosary.
The same night the Great Chicago Fire struck in 1871, the terrible Peshtigo Fire raged in northern Wisconsin. The Chicago Fire was tragic, but the Peshtigo Fire was devastating. The fire ravaged almost 2,000 square miles, an area the size of Delaware.
By some estimates, the Peshtigo Fire claimed as many lives as the attack on Pearl Harbor, with some 2,500 souls losing their lives. The fire was so horrific that it’s almost impossible to describe it.
Although various wildfires had been burning in the previous weeks, on October 8, the fires combined, erupting in a terrible tornado of fire that spanned five-miles wide and spewed flames in every direction. Many of those caught in the firestorm truly thought that it was the end of the world.
In a desperate panic, they fled in every direction, but there was nowhere to go. Some tried to escape by jumping in the Peshtigo River, but even the river was dangerous; flames kept shooting across the river, causing the poor people to catch on fire. Of those who managed to avoid the flames, many of them later died of hypothermia.
This was the fire that was burning across northern Wisconsin and this was the fire that was making its way towards Robinsonville and the convent school of Sister Adele Brise (now known as the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help). With so many children under her care, the good sister knew they wouldn’t make it far by running for it.
In a great act of faith, the sisters called the children together; lifted up the statue of the Blessed Virgin, and they began to pray the Rosary. They walked around the grounds, praying and praying. When the hot, smoky winds became too strong, they turned and prayed in the other direction. They turned again, and again, and again. The skies darkened and the flames began to enclose in on them from every side; there was no way out. The fire reached the fence of the chapel grounds, but just then, rain began to pour down. The fires were extinguished and they all were saved. Everything surrounding them had been burned, but the convent’s fence had been only charred; the convent school and chapel were left entirely untouched.
It was immediately recognized that a great miracle had taken place and that Our Lady, and the Rosary, had saved them. Is it a coincidence that the miracle happened during the Month of the Holy Rosary? Maybe. But maybe not. Regardless, thousands visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help each year and Our Lady still performs miracles for those who believe.
But the story of Sister Adele and the Peshtigo Fire is one that I will never forget and one that will always encourages me to pray. And I hope it is one that we all can learn something from. Although we probably won’t ever find ourselves in circumstances like that terrible night (thankfully), we do at different times in life all find ourselves in situations where we truly feel trapped and hopeless. And it’s in those moments that we too can turn to the Rosary, knowing that Our Lady is just as willing to perform little Peshtigo miracles in our lives… if we only pray!