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“These champions of the first evangelization reach across time

to inspire us to take up a new evangelization”

Remarks of Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson

Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs

Auriesville, New York

June 13, 2015

There are special places around the globe where the spiritual history of the world unfolded. These places are holy ground. We think of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, built atop the burial place of our first pope, of Tepeyac Hill where Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared and changed the course of evangelization for an entire hemisphere, and today we think of Auriesville, where the blood of martyrs brought forth within a single generation a lily — St. Kateri Tekakwitha — from the people who spilled that blood.

What happened here was a fate every missionary to the New World knew was not just a possibility, but a probability. As St. Isaac Joques wrote to a colleague in France, “I shall go, but I shall not return.” Martyrdom for these brave men was not an abstraction. And yet they came.

And, in the case of St. Isaac Jogues, even after being tortured, he came back. And then he came back a third time — when the ultimate sacrifice was exacted. Little wonder the Mohawks called him, "the indomitable one”[1]

Places like Auriesville are spiritual heritage sites. They are holy places where people changed the spiritual future of our nation. The history of America is incomplete without the memory of such places — and especially of this place. Here, the New World was made truly “new” because the Gospel message was proclaimed: sometimes by preaching, other times by living, and in the end by dying.

When we remember what the missionaries did on this continent, we encounter an immense truth. As St. Irenaeus tells us: “the glory of God is man fully alive.”

What does it mean to be “fully alive” in this way? It means to live a life that overflows with such love of God and love of neighbor that no evil on earth can triumph over it.

In the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius we are invited to make this prayer: “Eternal Lord of all things, I make this offering with thy grace and help… to imitate Thee in bearing all injuries, all evils, and all poverty both physical and spiritual, if Thy Sacred Majesty should will to choose me for such a life and state.”

The men who died here prayed that prayer many times.

They laid down their lives for those they loved, even when those whom they loved brought about their death.

St. Isaac Jogues returned here, after he had been brutally tortured, his fingers bitten off, made to run the gauntlet. And what impressed his former captors most? That he loved them.

Across the country, we learn a similar lesson from Blessed Junípero Serra, the Apostle of California, whom Pope Francis will canonize this September in Washington, D.C.

When his confrere was murdered by Native Americans, Father Serra successfully argued against the death penalty for those responsible. Such a punishment, he said, was not consistent with the witness to the Christian faith.

The heroic life of each missionary martyred here is a witness to all of us. Two of the three missionaries killed here were not priests; they were laymen — John Lalande and René Goupil. Their sacrifice was no less important, and no less demanding.

We live on a continent that met Christ through the tireless, selfless work of missionaries and this encounter, more than any other attribute, is what unites our continent — from the Canadian and Alaskan arctic to the tip of Argentina.

Today, too many have forgotten these missionaries and their witness. But on this day we re-dedicate ourselves to cherishing the treasure that they left us.

The example of America’s heroic missionaries calls out to us to live lives of Christian witness. These champions of the first evangelization reach across time to inspire us to take up a new evangelization. As Pope Francis has written: “All of us are called to offer others an explicit witness to the saving love of the Lord” (Evangelii Gaudium, 121). Today, we honor the French Jesuit martyrs of this place as supreme examples of that saving love.

We are pleased to join with our brother Knights of Columbus throughout New York to help renovate the shrine of these great martyrs. Soon, a spiritual son of St. Ignatius will visit our country. Pope Frances reminds us that “every Christian is a missionary” and that all of us are called to be “missionary disciples” (Evangelii Gaudium, 120).

If we answer this call, then the most enduring shrine to the martyrs of this place will not be made of bricks and timber. It will be those pilgrims who leave this place renewed with a spirit of missionary discipleship.

Martyrs' Shrine could have new ownership
Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger likes to term the future of the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville a "concelebration."

As when priests celebrate a Mass together and each recites one portion of the prayers, he explained, various entities will be collaborating to ensure the shrine's future.

However, the Bishop cautioned that some of the information circulating in the secular media about future plans for the shrine is premature: The planning process is still underway and is likely to continue for some time.

"The process could take the entire summer," confirmed Car­mine Musumeci, former New York State Deputy of the Knights of Columbus and a leading member of The Friends of Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine, Inc., a foundation of concerned Catholics formed by the Bishop that could end up with title to the shrine.

The new not-for-profit organization currently has seven board members and several other interested parties participating in conference calls and other communications to discuss the shrine's future, Mr. Musumeci told The Evangelist. Not all the participants are local; board members include Rev. Terry Brennan,  a priest who ministers to Native American communities in New Mexico with a devotion to St. Kateri Tekakwitha; and John DeJak, co-editor of a forthcoming book, "With God In America," featuring the writings of Rev. Walter Ciszek, SJ. Father Ciszek wrote extensively while he was on retreat at the Auriesville shrine; his cause for sainthood is being considered.

Future owners
Bishop Scharfenberger said he'd like to see the organization attain 503(c)(3) non-profit status. If the planning process for the shrine continues, ownership could eventually be transferred to The Friends of Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine.

However, the Jesuit order would retain its cemetery for priests and brothers on the shrine grounds, the cemetery's related buildings and the portion of the property known as the "Martyrs' Ravine," where where St. Isaac Jogues buried the remains of his fellow missionary, St. Rene Goupil, after he was martyred in the 17th century.

The ravine, where pilgrims to the shrine often pray, "is a sacred space important to the Jesuit community," noted the Bishop.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs covers 400 acres in Auriesville on the site of the 17th-century Mohawk village of Ossernenon, where "Lily of the Mohawks" St. Kateri Tekakwitha was born. Also called the Shrine of the North American Martyrs, the site includes a massive coliseum used for outdoor liturgies, several chapels, Stations of the Cross, a visitors' center, picnic areas and the Jesuit cemetery.

Until now
The Jesuit order, facing a decreasing number of priests and the significant cost of the shrine's upkeep, decided last year to discontinue staffing the site. The Jesuits have continued to provide for maintenance of the grounds through a company called Parish Property Management, Inc.

Mr. Musumeci said the current annual operating budget for the shrine is about $400,000-$450,000 and that the shrine is "self-sufficient," with cash flow and donations covering expenses.

A fundraising campaign and radiothon last year raised more than $2 million for necessary repairs and renovations to several of the shrine's buildings, including the coliseum -- money the Bishop called "well spent."

After Bishop Scharfenberger expressed interest last year in keeping sacramental ministry alive at the shrine, the Jesuit order offered to transfer ownership to the Albany Diocese. But the Bishop reiterated this week, as he has stated previously, that "I don't think the shrine can just be managed by one ecclesiastical entity."

Keeping the shrine open, he said, is not a matter of "just transferring it" to another owner. In fact, Mr. Musumeci said he'd like to see all eight Roman Catholic dioceses in New York State involved in the shrine; to that, the Bishop added religious orders and others nationwide.

Bigger than us
A statement in an area newspaper that the Diocese would be sending priests to celebrate Masses at the shrine every day is not only premature, Bishop Scharfenberger said, but does not account for the priests from outside the Diocese who have expressed an interest in participating.

"I'm hopeful that will happen," he added.

Bishop Scharfenberger and Mr. Musumeci both referred to the canon law concept of "alienation," meaning taking the property out of Church hands -- something they say cannot happen.

Instead, the Jesuits have taken the initial step of leasing the shrine's visitors' center to The Friends of Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine. The center reopened last weekend for the Albany Diocese's Vocations Summit, a meeting of parish representatives about promoting vocations at the grassroots level.

At the moment, the visitors' center is being managed by local Catholic Julie Baaki and a few part-time employees and volunteers. Mr. Musumeci said the foundation has purchased insurance to cover visitors' center operations and will likely seek more volunteers and possibly a few additional paid employees in the future. So far, the center is only open on weekends.

Coming events
Seven or eight groups have already requested use of the shrine for events this summer, Mr. Musumeci said, and a webpage run by the Jesuits at through which groups can "book" the shrine will now be overseen by The Friends of Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine.

Among the groups that will be using the shrine this season is the Magnificat Foundation, which has planned a "pilgrimage of Mercy" to the shrine May 14, with prayer, music, witness talks, activities for children and a Mass for the vigil of Pentecost.

Rev. Peter John Cameron, OP, editor-in-chief of Magnificat magazine and one of the pilgrimage's leaders, said that "we are so blessed in this country to have this sacred space. We feel that there can be no greater communion with divine mercy than by being assembled in faith in the place where great heroes of mercy sacrificed their lives in faith." (See for information on the pilgrimage.)

Bishop Scharfenberger told The Evangelist there's also a possibility that, in future years, the annual St. Isaac Jogues Youth Conference could be held at the shrine again. The conference draws hundreds of teens from around the Diocese each year for a week of talks on faith, music and activities; it had initially been located at the shrine, but moved to St. Ambrose parish in Latham.

The Bishop said he also hopes to have more diocesan events at the shrine, possibly including a summit in the fall on family prayer and the Year of Mercy.

Months ahead
Mr. Musumeci foresees fund-raising for the shrine's future beginning soon, providing that an agreement is reached with the Jesuits, the foundation and all others involved, including the Jesuit superiors in Rome and the Holy See. He said he has "a reasonably high level of confidence" that the transfer of ownership to The Friends of Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine will proceed.

"I'd like to be part of the 77th annual pilgrimage of the Knights of Columbus to the shrine in September," Mr. Musumeci continued. Since the K of C has existed in the area for a century or more, "the shrine has always been a special place for the knights. I feel like like we have a coexistence."

Bishop Scharfenberger envisions the shrine's future as focused on four things: evangelization; remembering the saints martyred there; honoring St. Kateri Tekakwitha and her connection with the Native American community; and continuing the tutelage and support of the Jesuit community in relation to the site.

"Many, many people have a great interest in the future of the shrine," the Bishop stated. "There is no question the shrine has a prominent place in the hearts of many people."

With enough involvement, he mused, "it may well eventually become a national shrine."

(Contact The Friends of Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)






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