A prominent staff member at the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville was laid off less than a week after thousands of pilgrims visited to celebrate St. Kateri Tekakwitha’s canonization.
Beth Lynch served as museum manager, event planner and editor of the shrine’s publication, “The Pilgrim.” For more than four years she was the face of the shrine to curious religious travelers and to news media looking for a story.
For the last few months of her time at the shrine she was busy helping to plan the Kateri Mass of Thanksgiving on Oct. 21, which arguably marked the most important moment of the shrine’s existence.
“It’s a shame,” she said of the elimination of her job. “I love Kateri. Her story has become part of my personal faith.”
Lynch’s lost her position as part of a series of cutbacks at the shrine over the past year.
According to the shrine director, the Rev. George Belgarde, shrine staff was cut by half starting in September 2011. Previously the shrine was run by a paid staff as large as 12 people during the summer. This year there were only six, with the gaps filled by volunteers. Lynch’s job was full time.
“We’re completing the necessary steps to survive,” Belgarde said.
He explained the shrine is run exclusively on pilgrim donations. Two events packed the shrine this season, the most recent the Mass of Thanksgiving, which nearly filled the coliseum, and the previous Kateri Tekakwitha Conference Pilgrimage, bringing in almost as many people.
With two such well-attended events, it would seem the shrine would be in better shape financially, but Belgarde said the situation is exactly the opposite.
“The larger the gathering, the less usually goes in the basket,” he said. “We minister to the children and the elderly and all those who have no pockets.”
He also said the larger the event, the greater cost to put it on.
While Lynch seemed surprised to lose her job after four years, Belgarde said the risk is to be expected.
“All our employees know it is a summer shrine,” he said. “[Lynch’s] main office, the museum, is closed. There would be nothing for her to do all winter.”
The shrine is now in its soft season. The grounds are still open but buildings are closed. Aside from Belgarde, one other Jesuit and a skeleton grounds crew, the place is empty.
Superintendent of Operations Larry Steiger is one of the few still holding a year-round job.
“I don’t know how far the layoffs will go,” he said. “There have been some serious budget cuts and we’re just trying to keep the shrine open.”
In Lynch’s absence, Belgarde will take up her duties. Next summer employees will be hired based upon donations. He could not comment on whether Lynch will be brought back, but she is actively looking for other work.
Before working at the shrine she worked as a psychiatric nurse. As a devout Catholic, she said she hopes to continue in a faith-based job, catch up on her essay writing and deliver lectures on Kateri to religious retreats and schools.
“I’m 59 years old,” she said. “It’s not going to be easy.”