Knights help save historic Jesuit Martyrs Shrine
Stating that the history of America would be incomplete without a recounting of the events that took place in Auriesville, N.Y., Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson delivered a $500,000 check from the Supreme Council for the renovation and upkeep of the shrine that honors three North American martyrs and marks the birthplace of the first Native American saint.
Joined by Knights from throughout New York, the supreme knight made a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine on June 13 to tour the grounds and deliver the donation, which was provided in honor of Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope, who will visit the United States for the first time in September. The New York State Council, represented by State Deputy Carmine Musumeci and State Deputy-elect Robert Weitzman, made an additional contribution of $100,000. K of C councils in the nearby Albany area also have pledged monetary support.
“Places like Auriesville are spiritual heritage sites,” Supreme Knight Anderson said during the check presentation which followed a Mass of Thanksgiving celebrated in the shrine’s spacious Coliseum Church. “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.”
Established in 1885 on scenic acreage in New York’s Mohawk Valley, Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine was the site of missionary activity by 17th-century French Jesuits. St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American to be canonized, was born on the grounds a few years after three Jesuit missionaries — Sts. Isaac Jogues, Rene Goupil and John Lalande — met their deaths at the Indian settlement known as Ossernenon.
The checks totaling $600,000 were received by Jesuit Father George Belgarde, director of the shrine, who was the principal celebrant and homilist at the Mass. Concelebrants included Dominican Father Jonathan Kalisch, the Knights’ director of chaplains and spirituality, and Father Brian McWeeney, senior associate chaplain of the New York State Council. Providing an honor guard at Mass were Fourth Degree Knights from the Albany and Syracuse dioceses.
New York Knights have conducted an annual pilgrimage to the shrine since 1938. “This is a wonderful tradition…to come here to these holy grounds and honor the memory of these great saints,” State Deputy Musumeci said before Mass.
In his homily, Father Belgarde called the Knights’ donation a “gift of love” that has brought hope to the shrine. “The Knights are helping to build the kingdom of God with their material gift that will reap countless spiritual blessings for all who come here,” he said.
At a dinner after Mass, Father Belgarde presented a first-class relic of St. Kateri to Supreme Knight Anderson, which will be placed in a new altar at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C. The Order is currently constructing a new worship space in the Saint John Paul II National Shrine.
In recent years, the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs launched a major renovation campaign to preserve its holy sites, which include chapels dedicated to St. Kateri and the Jesuit martyrs, a densely forested ravine where the martyrs walked and prayed, numerous statues and stone memorials, and the Coliseum Church that can seat ten thousand people in a round, theater-like arrangement with four centrally located altars.
In his remarks, the supreme knight said that the Auriesville shrine is not only a place to remember great deeds of the past.
“The example of America’s heroic missionaries calls out to us to live lives of Christian witness,’ he said. “These champions of the first evangelization reach across time to inspire us to take up a new evangelization. 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 Francis reminds us that ‘every Christian is a missionary’ and that all of us are called to be ‘missionary disciples.’”
Concluding his remarks, Anderson added, “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.”