The visitor center at the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville will open for the season Wednesday from 10 a.m. to noon, and that’s just part of the good news.
“The shrine is alive and doing well, and we’re hoping to run the place pretty much similar to the way it’s been run for the past 100 years or so,” said Carmine Musumeci, a New York City attorney and one of the leaders of a group called The Friends of Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine. “It’s a beautiful place, and we’re very happy to keep it going and maintain it.”
Musumeci’s group has a lease with the owners of the property, the USA Northeast Province of the Society of Jesus in New York City, allowing them to run the facility, also referred to as the Auriesville or Kateri Shrine. Officials of the Jesuit group said Tuesday that the process is in place for them to donate part of the grounds to the Albany Diocese, which will in turn have the friends group operate the visitor center, museum and coliseum.
“The society is in the process of preparing to make a gift of a large part of the shrine to a group under the sponsorship of the Albany Diocese,” said the Rev. Phillip Judge, representing the Jesuits in New York City. “Until that happens, we are leasing the visitor center to the friends group for a dollar. We will remain owners of the cemetery; we still bury our people there, and we will continue ownership of the ravine and other historic parts of the property.”
The large visitors center, which sits on a hill overlooking the Mohawk River just off Route 5S, will be open limited hours throughout May — 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Fridays through Sundays, and 10 a.m. until noon on May 17. The schedule for June has not yet been determined.
“We have one full-time person, a couple of part-timers and we are blessed with some very wonderful volunteers,” said Musumeci, explaining who will staff the visitor center. “It’s a large facility, but our goal is to keep the place open for as many events as we can.”
Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of the Albany Diocese said he is happy to be a part of keeping the shrine open and available to visitors from all over the world, as well as providing priests to handle any scheduled religious services.
“I was there last Saturday and I’ve never seen the place look more beautiful,” said Scharfenberger. “We founded our little not-for-profit to keep the visitor center going, and we’ve worked with the Jesuits, who felt they were unable to keep the place going as they have in the past, much to their regret. They just don’t have the presence they used to have, but we’ve been finding ways to work with each other. We’re calling this whole process a celebration, and I’m delighted to be a part of it.”
There were three Jesuits who lived on the grounds last year, but they had all moved out by January of this year. The only people at the shrine Tuesday were three employees of Parish Property Management, which handles maintenance.
Kateri Tekakwitha was a Mohawk woman born near the present shrine, who converted to Catholicism at a young age and then died when she was 24 in 1680. Nicknamed Lily of the Mohawks, she was canonized in October 2012. The site is also where three French missionaries, Father Isaac Jogues, Rene Goupil and Jean de Lalande, were all martyred in the late 17th century.
“This is a very unique place,” said Scharfenberger. “There’s something about the combination of its natural beauty and the awareness of what actually happened here. It’s the birthplace of the blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. It’s got a wonderful history; the Jesuit fathers did a great job of putting the capital campaign money to work to fix up the place, and the groundskeepers are doing a great job. There’s a lot of good will and blessings there, and it’s best days are still ahead.”
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]