Located just south of the mighty Mohawk River, halfway between Albany and Little Falls, sits one of North America’s sacred grounds for many Roman Catholics.
Ten acres of farmland was purchased in Auriesville in 1884 to become Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine.
A young Jesuit missionary named Father Isaac Jogues arrived in Canada in 1636, looking to evangelize Native Americans that had lived on the land for thousands of years.
He traveled from Quebec to what’s now Georgian Bay on the western shores of Lake Huron, about 125 miles north of Buffalo. He would spend the next six years of his life living among the Huron people, learning their ways and customs before traveling back east through the Mohawk’s land.
Jogues and several others were captured and tortured for over a year until he was brought as a slave to Beverwyck, a trading post along the Hudson River. The people there were able to help him escape and hide him in a local barn.
Today, that place is known as Albany, and it’s no coincidence that near that site of the barn now sits St. Mary’s, upstate New York’s first Catholic church.
A free man once more, Jogues traveled south, becoming the first Catholic to visit what’s now New York City before returning to France. He wouldn’t stay long, though, and returned to the new world just one year later in 1644 to continue missionary work.
In 1646, he and two others were captured once again by a faction of the Mohawks, but this time, their tactics ended in the death of three men at Ossernenon, now in Auriesville. Sixteen years after their brutal murders, Kateri Tekiwitha was born in the same village, and as a teenager was baptized.
In 1930, Jogues and two other Jesuit missionaries were canonized and a year later, the Coliseum Church was completed, giving more space for the thousands of pilgrims that come here each year to pray and worship.
Tekawitha herself became a saint in 2012, after Pope Benedict XVI believed her belongings and remains caused miracles by saving the lives and curing diseases of several people. Some of her bones are still on the grounds.
The coliseum was given its name due to its circular shape. One of the first designed that way in the United States, Jogues sits above the main doorway, one of 72 entrances to the church.
It has a seating capacity of 6,500, or 2 1/2 times the population of the town of Glen, where Auriesville is located.
It's one of the largest churches in the state of New York, and it’s where bishops from across the state are gathering to take part in the Eucharistic Congress this weekend.