"Big Four" Highlights


Holy Ground

New York shrine is testament to courageous faith

By Brian Caulfield, FFG Editor

It is among the holiest places in the United States, with ground made sacred by the blood of martyrs. Located atop the rolling hills of central New York, far from the teeming immigrant cities so closely associated with American Catholicism, it seems an unlikely site for a religious shrine. Yet here the faith was planted by French Jesuits around the time the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth.

The place is Auriesville, Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs. Sts. Isaac Jogues, Jean de Lalande and RenĂ© Goupil were killed on the grounds, and the Mohawk maiden St. Kateri Tekakwitha was born there. The witness of the Jesuits’ lives and the stories of their heroic, tortured deaths are expressed in the simplicity of the shrine overlooking the scenic Mohawk Valley, at the site of the one-time Indian village of Ossernenon. Three spare wooden crosses stand at the shrine’s reception area, with the names of the saints who died there at the hands of those whom they sought to serve and convert. Scattered throughout the sprawling acres are plaques marking significant spots of their lives and deaths, and the place where St. Kateri was born.

The site’s center of sanctity is the Ravine, where the tomahawked body of St. RenĂ© was tossed, and where St. Isaac buried his companion’s relics in an unmarked grave. The entire route down to the creek is considered a natural outdoor reliquary. The shrine’s crowning jewel is the Coliseum Church, with 6,000 seats arranged as a theater-in- the-round, and four separated altars at center stage facing in four directions.

We remember the heroic Jesuits today, October 19, the feast of the North American Martyrs.

The site became a place of pilgrimage in the 1880s, and was once filled with Catholic faithful on weekends and holy days, but no longer. Last year, the Society of Jesus announced that it would no longer staff the shrine. Laypeople devoted to the holy site responded by forming a nonprofit called Friends of Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine, and the Knights of Columbus, on the national and state levels, donated a total of $600,000 for the repair and maintenance of the buildings and grounds. Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany has pledged to keep the shrine open, with a schedule of Masses and events.

As we observe the feast of the North American Martyrs, commemorating the evangelizing zeal and holy deaths of Jesuits who brought the Good News to the New World, let us pray for the continued life of the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville.

Learn more at auriesvilleshrine.com.