Looking Forward: Auriesville Shrine seeks future property transfer

AURIESVILLE – As the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs prepares to close its 131st season, the new group managing day-to-day operations is looking toward the future.

The Friends of the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs took over running the shrine earlier this year from the Jesuit Order, which had previously run the shrine.

President of board for the Friends of the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs, and Bishop of Albany, Edward Scharfenberger said the Shrine is still owned by a foundation of the Jesuit Order. He said at some point in the future, a transfer of a large portion of the Shrine property will be made to The Friends of the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs group. Scharfenberger said a Jesuit cemetery on the site will still continue to be owned by the Jesuits.

“There has been a presumption that the Albany Diocese is actually running this, but it’s bigger than Albany,” Scharfenberger said.

Scharfenberger said the foundation is primarily made up of laypeople with higher archdiocese supervision and is not a part of the Albany Diocese.

“We see the Shrine as a national or even international spiritual oasis,” Scharfenberger said. “The interest in the Shrine has always been beyond the immediate area.”

Board member Bill Baaki said the transition has been going well, with ongoing cooperation between both the Jesuits and the Friends foundation.

“Thankfully, the doors were able to stay open this summer and barely missed a beat. All the usual pilgrimages were able to come and enjoy the beautiful Shrine this summer,” Baaki said.

The Kateri Shrine site was home to a saint who is growing in popularity, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, who is called the Lily of the Mohawk by the shrine and was the first Native American saint.

On Oct. 21, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI named Kateri the patron saint of the environment and ecology with much fanfair at the shrine during the event.

In 2014, the shrine started a fund drive to make needed repairs to several buildings around the property. The drive eventually raised more than $2 million for the repairs from people across the United States as well as France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Vietnam.

In February, the Knights of Columbus gave a donation of $500,000 to the shrine for its fund drive. The Capital District Knights and New York Knights will also add $100,000 in donations.

Repairs to the Shrine included updating the 86-year-old coliseum, the largest in North America. The upper windows and roof were replaced, the inside was painted and a two-ton steel cross was repaired.

Scharfenberger said the Shrine is looking better than it ever has been since the construction projects were completed. He said it is especially important to maintain the site and the Shrine’s spiritual focus because of its important part in Catholic history in the United States as the birthplace of both Saint Kateri and the likely resting place of three other Saints.

“What I’ve always felt is that the area is really holy ground. It is the cradle of Catholicism in not only New York State but in the region,” Scharfenberger said.

Baaki said he keeps hearing how wonderful it was that the Shrine is open and how special it is to people.

“I think the overwhelming sense is one of gratitude that it was able to stay open and a real feeling that it has a great future,” Baaki said.

Scharfenberger said some work continues for upgrades to the ravine and planning for a grotto on the site. Scharfenberger said plans are still being finalized.

Scharfenberger said that going forward the Friends group has discussed the possibility of building someplace for people to stay overnight at the Shrine.

“Going forward, we have had offers to build a retreat house where people can come and stay,” he said.

On Saturday, the shrine will host a Martyrs Feast featuring talks, a Mass and a feast dinner. The event will cost $50 and tickets can be purchased by calling 630-9922 or by emailing [email protected] or by visiting the shrine’s Visitors Center.

Scharfereber said that during the event, the Friends group will speak about plans they have for the Shrine in the coming years.

Mass to celebrate the Martyrs Feasts will begin Tuesday at the Shrine. The Shrine will officially close for the season on Oct. 19 with a Mass for the Feast Day of the North American Martyrs at 5 p.m.

Scharfenberger said the current plan is to keep the same spring to fall schedule as the Jesuits and reopen the Shrine in April 2017.

“Who knows as time goes on we may be able to extend that. But for right now we plan to continue what people have come to expect over the years,” Scharfenberger said.

Kerry Minor covers Gloversville. She can be reached at [email protected].

By -