Walking around the grounds of the Kateri shrine in Auriesville, even the most unabashed and unapologetic doubting Thomas might begin to wonder about their lack of faith.
The place, officially the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs, has that effect on you. I know because I am one of those doubting Thomases.
I don’t expect to convert to Catholicism anytime soon, but my interest in history drew me to the site, and there’s no getting around it; the birthplace of St. Kateri Tekakwitha seems like a very mystical, dare I say spiritual, spot.
The shrine was founded in 1885 on a hillside along the southern bank of the Mohawk River, and was officially dedicated in 1930. Just a few miles west of Fort Hunter in Montgomery County, the view from the visitor center is magnificent. During one afternoon earlier this summer, I was lucky enough to see four modes of transportation — the automobile traffic on Route 5S, a boat on the river, a freight train across the water and an airplane low in the sky — all at the same time. And I didn’t have my camera.
The visitor center, with its large picture window looking out over the Mohawk Valley, is a treat in itself, but there is so much more. Two small museums on the grounds tell the story of the Indian maiden named Kateri who converted to Catholicism at a young age and then died when she was 24 in 1680. She was canonized in October 2012.
Visitors can also learn about Father Isaac Jogues and two other French missionaries, Rene Goupil and Jean de Lalande, who were martyred at that spot in the late 17th century.
From the visitor center, a short walk through the trees will take you to Kateri’s coliseum, built in 1930 and designed to sit 6,500 people and hold nearly 10,000, including standees. Masses are held at least twice every day, and as much as devout Catholics love the place, historical architects will also be fascinated by the structure.
Among its many interesting features are 72 single doors leading into the coliseum, one with a nameplate that reads Bob and Dolores Hope. Yes, that Bob Hope. The legendary comedian made a few stops at the site, and his wife was evidently a regular visitor throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
Along with the view and all the spiritual, historical and architectural elements the place offers, those looking for some hearty exercise can park their car in the visitor center parking lot and use Kateri’s hilly terrain to get in a hearty aerobic workout.
And all of it is free, but be careful: The visitor center store has plenty of interesting items you can purchase.