Elizabeth “Beth” Lynch is the Event Coordinator and Museums Manager for the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs at Auriesville. She holds degrees in nursing and in Religious Studies. She has experience in historical research, museum exhibit design, and public speaking. A freelance writer, she regularly contributes to The Evangelist, the newspaper of the Albany Diocese.
In chapter 10 of St. Luke’s Gospel, Jesus sends out 72 disciples to evangelize, that is, to preach the Good News, to heal, and to bring the lost into reconciliation with God.
The 72 doors of the massive, circular “Coliseum” church at the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville, NY symbolize the evangelical zeal of Sts. Isaac Jogues, René Goupil, and John Lalande, the three Jesuit missionaries martyred here by the Mohawks during the 1640s.
To the aborigines of 17th century North America, the Catholic religion was peculiar to their understanding of the universe, restrictive to their sexual customs, and threatening to the authority of their shamans. It stirred mistrust but also roused curiosity and admiration. Reframed in 21st Century America, these reactions are not dissimilar to what counter-cultural Catholics face today, although the consequence of their witness is not, in this country, physical brutality.
Even so, the 72 doors remind us that the commission of Jesus to “go and preach to all nations” did not end with the lives of Martyrs or with the conversion of many Native Americans including the revered Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, born on the very ground where the Martyrs perished.
The priests and staff of the Shrine obey this great commission of Jesus. By their programs, tours, prayers, liturgies and sacraments, they carry on the mission of the Martyrs by bringing the saving graces of Jesus Christ to a confused culture and to people seeking healing, nourishment, and truth.
As the event coordinator and museums manager at the Shrine, I meet pilgrims in various degrees of faith and of need. By citing examples of charity, forgiveness, hope and an intense love of Jesus in the lives of the Martyrs and Kateri, I can witness to the truth and wisdom of the Catholic faith. For some this invites debate. For most, it encourages sharing of how the intercession of the missionaries and the maiden have impacted their lives.
A young man told me his hearing was restored as a baby when his parents prayed to Blessed Kateri. A teenager, inspired by the Martyrs’ story, said he would take “Isaac” as his Confirmation name. While a Protestant was gazing at paintings of Blessed Kateri, she admitted, “I’m not suppose to pray to saints,” but she attributes a life-saving event to the “Lily of the Mohawks.”
A man related that his wife felt her chronic depression lift when she walked under the three red crosses bearing the names Jogues, Goupil and Lalande. A woman in the Ravine, nature’s reliquary that somewhere holds the bones of René Goupil, wiped tears from her face as she read Father Jogues account of what transpired there. Overwhelming waves of love and repentance envelope the teens who give their lives to Christ during the St. Isaac Jogues Youth Conference. And a young boy with cerebral palsy shyly asked, “Do you think Blessed Kateri would cure me?”
The temporal manifestations of the intercession of the Martyrs and Blessed Kateri are of course grounded in a constant reliance upon God the Father, trust in the Cross of Jesus Christ, and guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Blessed Sacrament is reserved in four Tabernacles on this property, creating a tremendous power of Divine Presence. Pilgrimages, school groups, private retreats and even the “accidental tourist” are affected by the Holy Hours, the availability of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and Masses and Eucharist.
In the midst of these on-going devotions, I acknowledge daily that the blood of the Martyrs was spilled on these grounds Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, “for the greater glory of God.” What grew from that seed is indeed the cornerstone of the Church in this part of the New World.
Because theirs is a sensational story, it is tempting to reside with them in the past. In early evening when few people or vehicles remain on the property, the stillness is palpable with their memories. I often walk through the grass that has sprung up from the ruins of the ancient village and pray the Divine Office for all the times Father Jogues, in his torment and captivity, could not. On one cold, dark October night on the anniversary of his murder, I walked with him to the longhouse where his blessed soul departed his body to be united with his beloved Savior. Not infrequently during the workday I find myself breathing his name.
These imaginings from history serve the present. By drawing from, rather than living in the past, I am strengthened by St. Isaac’s spiritual presence and edified by his earthly example. I can then interpret and share this with pilgrims who come here to search, question, worship and to pray.
Our evangelization at the Shrine of Our Lady Martyrs is as it was over three and half centuries ago, “for the greater glory of God.”
Participants at a recent discernment retreat
held at the Martyrs' Shrine in Auriesville.