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Shrine has raised one-fifth of goal in capital fund drive

Saturday, June 21, 2014 - Updated: 4:08 AM


AURIESVILLE -- The Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs has received nearly $200,000 in donations for a fundraising effort that began to keep the facility open.

The shrine needs to raise $1 million to fund nine major capital projects that include roof replacement on both the 82-year-old coliseum and the St. Kateri Chapel.

Saratoga-based TV and radio personality Joey Caruso, who is coordinating the fundraiser, said donations have been coming in from all around the world. He is optimistic they will be able to reach their goal by the end of the year.

"We have been getting donations from Hawaii, Taiwan, Vietnam, France and Portugal. It is incredible," Caruso said Thursday. "I have been in the profession of fundraising for many years ... but never have I ever seen an outpouring of love for the shrine in the past seven weeks."

The Rev. George H. Belgarde could not be reached for comment, but in a message posted on the shrine's website, Belgarde asks for the community's help.

"Never in the history of this shrine ... have we ever faced such a financial crisis that could close the doors of the shrine," Belgarde wrote.

In a release issued in November, Belgarde indicated the shrine is having trouble making payroll and funding day-to-day operations due to a decrease in attendance and collections.

The holy grounds saw a boost in attendance in connection with the October 2012 canonization of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, but the numbers have since dropped compared to the past two years.

Caruso has been involved with the effort since last year, and helped devise the list of major improvements needed to prevent closure. In addition to the aforementioned projects, the campus needs a new water system to meet code, and 72 windows must be replaced on the coliseum, which also needs updated electrical work and interior painting due to water damage.

The list also includes projects in the ravine area, and the visitor's center reportedly needs an updated heating system.

Caruso said unlike other Catholic churches that are able to raise money all year, the shrine is only open for 25 weeks of the year, with four masses each week, which is why the fundraiser is so important.

To get the word out, a committee has worked to get the word out through mailers, and the distribution of 50,000 books on the shrine.

Currently, the shrine is averaging 1,000 people at their masses, but Caruso said with tourist season beginning in July, attendance is expected to double.

Even if they don't make the full $1 million, Caruso said there will be enough to fund the replacement of both roofs and the windows in the coliseum, which is estimated at $500,000.

"We are already halfway there, and we have the rest of the season," he said. "We just got $10,000 yesterday," he said. "A woman from the city of Amsterdam came by yesterday to write a check for $5,000. People really do care about the shrine."

The site of the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs was once a 17th century Mohawk village called Ossernenon, where three Jesuit missionaries were martyred during the 1640s. The Rev. Isaac Jogues, Rene Goupil, and John Lalande, a lay missionary, are the only canonized American martyrs. Together with five Jesuit priests killed in the native missions of Canada, they are known as the North American Martyrs.

The "Lily of the Mohawks," St. Kateri Tekakwitha, was born on the grounds in 1656.

By 1895, more property and a larger chapel were needed to accommodate thousands of pilgrims. The addition included "the ravine," the holy place where a grieved Father Jogues interred the bones of Rene Goupil in an unmarked grave.

With the canonization of the North American Martyrs in 1930, an even larger church was needed. The construction of the coliseum was completed in 1931, and holds 6,500 people with standing room for an additional 3,500.

Today, the shrine is comprised of 400-plus acres, including five chapels, two museums, a candle shrine, Jesuit cemetery, outdoor Stations of the Cross, and visitor center and gift shop, according to its website.

Those interested in donating to the shrine can make checks payable to the Our Lady of Martyrs' Shrine Building Fund Drive, 136 Shrine Road, Fultonville, 12072.


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