May 2, 2014

New York martyrs shrine launches funding campaign to remain open


 

NATIONAL


(CNS file photos/Nancy Wiechec)

By Angela Cave
Catholic News Service
 

AURIESVILLE, N.Y. (CNS) -- A popular New York pilgrimage site where Jesuit missionaries were martyred has launched a $1 million fundraising campaign to stay open.

The National Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville since the late 19th century has commemorated the site of a 17th-century Mohawk village called Ossernenon. There, Jesuit missionaries Sts. Isaac Jogues, Ren, Goupil and John Lalande were martyred in the 1640s and St. Kateri Tekakwitha was born in 1656.

But attendance dropped by more than 50 percent during the shrine's 2013 season. Collections brought in less than $100,000. That was despite a deluge of 20,000 pilgrims the weekend in 2012 that St. Kateri was canonized. The crowds even forced law enforcement agencies to close part of the New York State Thruway while the Mohawk maiden's sainthood was celebrated.

The martyrs' shrine is not supported by the Albany Diocese, so it relies on its 100 Masses per 24-week season and periodic novenas to support its staff and operate its 400-acre facility. The property includes five chapels, two museums, a candle shrine, a Jesuit cemetery, a visitor's center and gift shop, outdoor Stations of the Cross and a 10,000-capacity coliseum.

In September, wind and water damaged a two-ton crucifix, 230 windows and the three-tier roof of the coliseum, as well as pews and paneling. Repairs and upgrades will cost $500,000.

"It's a very serious situation. This is not a scare tactic," said Joey Caruso, a retired radio broadcaster and shrine volunteer who is overseeing the fundraising campaign.

If the coliseum problems aren't addressed, he explained, mold could create health hazards and the roof could cave in.

The St. Kateri Chapel, public bathrooms and water system also need repairs and upgrades.

"It's the most holy grounds in New York, the best-kept secret upstate," Caruso said. "There are many private miracles that take place there. As (retired Albany) Bishop (Howard J.) Hubbard said not too long ago, we have more saints than any other place in the western hemisphere."

The martyrs' shrine was founded in 1885 by the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), who also at one point operated the National Shrine of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha in Fonda, N.Y., and the Shrine of St. Kateri Tekakwitha in Kahnawake in Quebec, Canada. The Jesuit community has been the shrine's largest benefactor, staffing it with three priests.

Caruso said it is uncertain whether the Jesuits will keep a priest there if the coliseum can't open this spring. "It would behoove us, the Catholic community, to get these repairs done," he said. "We need to rely on Catholics who will claim ownership of the shrine. Generations of Catholics have gone there.

"In the silence of that place, you can almost hear a holiness," Caruso added. "It's such a special place that we cannot afford not to save it. It's up to us, the laity. We're confident that we're going to raise the money."

"This is my way of giving back," he said of the shrine campaign. "God has blessed me in so many ways. The shrine can't run on nickels and dimes anymore. I will invite the pope or the cardinal if I have to.

"I've got to believe that God is going to make this thing work," he continued. "It's not my shrine. It's the Catholic shrine. It we can't pass down the saints to the next generation, who will?"

Donations by check may be sent to: Building fund drive, c/o Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine, to 136 Shrine Rd., Fultonville, NY 12016. Online donations may be made at: www.martyrshrine.org.

  • Cave is staff writer at The Evangelist, newspaper of the Diocese of Albany, N.Y.