Shrine eyes raising $1M for improvements

AURIESVILLE – A campaign to raise $1 million to pay for major improvements at the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs will start Tuesday.

Retired broadcasting personality Joey Caruso, the organizer of the campaign, said if improvements are not made, the shrine could close because of health and safety concerns.

“We are in the worst financial crisis in the history of [the shrine],” Caruso said. “Our goal is to raise $1 million, and if not, we are going to have to close.”

However, Caruso said he is confident the fundraising events and contributions from the community will allow the shrine to raise the $1 million by October.

Caruso said the replacement of tier roofs and windows in the main coliseum is needed along with a 2-ton steel cross of Jesus, which is tilting on the coliseum’s main roof. The roof, windows and cross are expected to cost $500,000 while the interior and exterior painting of the coliseum will cost about $50,000.

The water system is also outdated and to meet state mandates it must be upgraded, which would cost about $300,000. There are also major repairs needed to the St. Kateri Chapel – including the roof, doors and painting with an estimated cost of $100,000 while other work is needed in the ravine area, paving issues and upgrades to the public bathrooms which would cost an additional $50,000.

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

“We have several quotes already in and have the approval to move forward once the money is raised, so we are ready to go with this thing,” Caruso said.

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, became a saint. But he said attendance and collections were down by 50 percent last year.

Caruso said there will be a number of events held throughout the campaign, including a $20,000 raffle and various entertainment events in the Saratoga area where the proceeds will go directly toward the repair of the historic structure.

He said the shrine will hold its first Mass on the Sunday after Easter and officially open May 4. It will remain open 25 weeks during the season with daily Mass twice a day during the week and four times on the weekend.

“We have more saints in Auriesville than any other place in the western hemisphere, so it’s a very holy place,” Caruso said.

The fundraiser was first announced in November, but because of health issues within Caruso’s family he changed the official kickoff to Tuesday.

The Rev. George H. Belgarde, shrine director was unavailable for comment, although he did write about the issues in a campaign packet that Tuesday will start to be distributed to 50,000 people.

“It is my prayer and hope that you will ‘HELP’ us save the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs,” he wrote. “Never in the history of this shrine … have we ever faced such a financial crisis that could close the doors of the shrine. Major repairs are required, including a three-tier roof with major water damage to the coliseum.”

He also wrote, “The crisis is very real and our only hope is for you and your family and friends to respond to this Building Fund Appeal.”

Anyone who wants to volunteer for the shrine effort is asked to contact the shrine at 853-3033. 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.

“At the end of the day, we need to preserve history and if there is one thing we can do as a Christian community, [it] is to pass down this history at Auriesville to the next generation,” Caruso said. “You can’t have four saints in Auriesville and not recognize the history behind it.”