Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine makes a smooth transition

Wednesday, September 28, 2016 - Updated: 7:27 AM

By EMILY DREW

Recorder News Staff

AURIESVILLE -- While the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs has been a place for pilgrimages for more than a century, board members for the nonprofit Friends of Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine, Bishop Edward Scharfenberger and local officials gathered at the site for a ribbon cutting ceremony Monday.

The ribbon cutting was held in honor of the new management at the shrine after the Society of Jesus left active ministry and discontinued its presence at the site in October. The Friends of Our Lady of Martyrs leases a portion of the site and oversees shrine events.

William Baaki, board member of the Friends of Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine, said the process of taking over management has been one of collaboration, rather than change.

"It's not so much changes than the blessed opportunity to continue the mission of the martyrs and the mission of the Jesuit fathers for all those years in a new and creative collaborative way," Baaki said.

The friends group oversees management at the visitor's center, which closed when the Jesuits left at the beginning of this year. The Jesuits lease a portion of the site to the friends group for $1-per year, according to the shrine's website.

The Jesuits maintained ownership of the cemetery and land for its expansion, a caretaker's house with a utility building and ravine. Parish Property Management Inc., a facilities management company founded to serve religious communities, cares for the grounds and upkeep.

Baaki said Friends of Our Lady of Martyrs Shrines entered the picture at the beginning of the season in April, when there were already inquiries about pilgrimages. He said there was no change in summer events.

"We had the same summer season of events and pilgrimages that have happened in the past," he said, adding that about 500 to 1,000 people visited the shrine on the weekends, as usual.

Scharfenberger thanked everyone who has cared for the shrine and the friends board for all their work. He said it was easy to tell the shrine has been loved.

"The Martyrs of North America is really a story of love and it's a love born out of patience. Everyone knows patience is probably the hidden ingredient of any act of love.

"You have to be patient with the slowness of growth, the slowness of change, the difficulty of change, the vision, the sacrifices to make sure we build a good foundation because love can't be built on a lot of visions and words," Scharfenberger said.

Baaki said when discussions first began with Scharfenberger about the friends group, it was always intended to be a blessing both to the Diocese and local region.

He said when discussions were going on, he and his wife, Julie, took a trip to St. Joseph's Oratory of mount Royal in Montreal, where he saw pamphlets for the Quebec's shrines. He said the shrines get about 2 million visitors over the season.

"There's absolutely no reason the same thing can't happen here," Baaki said.