Last summer, on our way back from New England, we made an all-too-quick stop in Auriesville, New York to visit the U.S. Shrine of St. Kateri Tekakwitha and the North American Martyrs at the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs.
I already knew that I would be heading with our toddler to spend some cottage time in Eastern Ontario (Matt was producing and hosting The Son Rise Morning Show back at home, but don’t worry, he had his own adventure, too) with my parents, so a plot was hatched to drive north of Toronto into Muskoka to the Canadian Martyrs Shrine in Midland, before heading on the rest of our 1,798 mile adventure.
On July 9th, my mom flew into Dayton, and then we got on the road in earnest and awash in road snacks by 4:30 AM on the 11th. Besides managing to leave my diaper bag in the Michigan Welcome Center (it was heroically rescued by friends who just happened to be passing right by it that very afternoon!), the drive up through Detroit and around Toronto was fine. We arrived in Midland and checked into our hotel that afternoon. Not really having a grip on the lay of the land there previous to booking the night’s stay, I went with the Super 8 close to downtown Midland, also serving the extremely well-mannered participants in a local motorcycle rally, which served our needs nicely, however, if I was to visit the Martyrs Shrine again, I’d probably try to book the Midland Inn and Suites, as it’s closer to the Shrine, or maybe even stay at the Shrine itself in its guest house. After getting our bearings at the hotel, we headed out to the Midland’s harbor area, located right on the beautiful Georgian Bay and got some dinner.
As dazzling as views on the Bay can be, it is clear, even during prime cottager season, that Midland is ripe for some revitalization. Downtown is also the scene of the nastiest public girl fight I’ve ever seen, but I digress.
The next morning, we headed out early to get as much time as possible at the Shrine before we had to head east.
We spent most of the morning exploring the various ethnic shrines erected by the many Catholic pilgrim groups (a large amount of whom visit from Toronto), as well as the altar area where John Paul II celebrated mass at the Shrine.
Afterwards, we visited the gift shop, where I got Matt a Martyrs comic book and spied a copy of Dr. Matthew Bunson’s book on St. Kateri.
It was around the corner from the gift shop where we found a real gem – the Shrine’s museum. Curated by Steve Catlin, we had the pleasure of not only experiencing the wonderfully arranged and archived museum pieces, but also got to check out his library and office, which were individual museums in and of themselves. He has a truly amazing and engaged wealth of knowledge on all things Canadian Martyrs (know as North American Martyrs in the U.S. and Martyrs of New France in Quebec) and St. Kateri, and we were able to examine a variety of historical texts, as well as the flesh remains of St. Jean de Brebeuf.
(Some of my favorite pictures of the trip are from the museum and our visit with Mr. Catlin, but, unfortunately, iPhoto and WordPress aren’t cooperating together today – they’re all showing errors. In the immortal words of Reading Rainbow, you’ll just have to take my word for it!)
This museum aspect of the Shrine is only available during the summer months when Canadian students are out of school, but if I had to do my trip to the Shrine over again, I would try to schedule my time in the museum close to the beginning of the day, so as to have a deeper appreciation of everything I got to witness later on.
Finally and most importantly, we had the opportunity to observe and pray next to the Martyrs’ relics in the Shrine Church – there are masses scheduled all throughout the day, as well as individual masses for the various Catholic pilgrimage groups. The day that we were there the Shrine was hosting hundreds of pilgrims from Chinese Catholic churches from the Toronto area, as well as Indian and Pakistani pilgrims who were starting to arrive as we were leaving. There are different pilgrim groups scheduled for practically every day throughout the summer season. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit Sainte-Marie among the Hurons across the way, but hopefully on another visit. I’d also now like to go back to visit Auriesville and reread John O’Brien’s Saints of the American Wilderness.
In all, the Martyrs Shrine was well worth the detour and drive!