Shrine starts critical fund drive

AURIESVILLE – The Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs is undertaking a $1 million capital building fund drive for what organizers hope will be major improvements to help save and preserve the shrine for the future.

The Rev. George H. Belgarde, shrine director, announced the drive, which will start fundraising immediately and have several events in 2014.

He said today the shrine is in danger of closing.

“Like any other corporation or business, if you don’t provide and keep up your building, you close,” Belgarde said.

He said the campaign is starting with a goal of $1 million, but the shrine could need twice as much to pay for renovations and repairs.

“You’ve got to start somewhere,” Belgarde said.

A news release issued to announce the drive noted Belgarde has reached out to local retired broadcasting personality Joey Caruso of Saratoga Springs, formerly of Johnstown, to help with the effort.

The Very Rev.-Provincial David S. Ciancimino, Jesuit Provincial from the New York Providence, stated in the release the list of needed shrine improvement are “endless” and must be done to “save” the shrine.

Caruso, who couldn’t be reached today for comment, said in the news release he has been reviewing the shrine’s needs for several months.

He said if improvements are not made, the shrine could close because of safety concerns.

Among the issues listed by Caruso: replacement of tier roofs and windows in the main coliseum is needed, a steel cross of Jesus is tilting on the coliseum’s main roof, windows need replacement, electrical work inside must be updated, major repair work to the St. Kateri Chapel is needed, the heating system for the visitors center needs to be updated, and major work is needed in the ravine area of the shrine.

The immediate concern is the main coliseum, which Caruso said is one of the largest circular church coliseums in the United States.

Caruso said the shrine saw a slight increase in attendance in 2012 because Kateri Tekakwitha, who was born on the holy grounds of the shrine, becoming a saint last year. But he said attendance and collections have been down this year.

Caruso is the current president of Caruso’s Broadcasting Company of Saratoga Inc. Caruso is credited with helping to raise more than $50 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital of Memphis, Tenn., during his 25-year career. He organized radiothons and telethons to raise the money.

The news release said Caruso also is credited with fundraising successes that have included the Farano Center in Albany, the Fulton County YMCA, Gloversville Little League, Mt. Loretto Nursing home and St. Mary’s Hospital in Amsterdam.

Anyone who wants to volunteer for the shrine effort is asked to contact the shrine at 853-3033, and Caruso will return the call. Those who want to donate can make a check payable to: Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine Building fund drive. Mail the check to Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine, 136 Shrine Road, Fultonville, NY 12072.

Michael Anich can be reached at