An outdoors shot of Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland, Ontario, which will celebrate 100 years of operation in 2026. Aleli Paguio of Martyrs’ Shrine

Martyrs’ Shrine prepares for next 100 years

  • May 23, 2024

Leading up to its 100th anniversary in 2026, Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland, Ont., is launching a major fundraising campaign to ensure it another 100 years of service to pilgrims.

The national shrine to the Canadian Martyrs will kick off the campaign for this vital revitalization with its inaugural Spring Gala at Bellvue Manor in Vaughan, north of Toronto, on June 12. 

The campaign is seeking to raise funds for much needed upgrades to the nearly 100-year-old property. Initial plans call for work on the interior of the shrine church which will be insulated in hopes of keeping it open year-round. Currently, the shrine is a seasonal operation. Plans are for the renovations to begin in the centennial year and wrap up by 2028.

"There is a lot of wood panelling that the church is famous for that has begun cracking and buckling in places. It needs a careful artistic replacement along with the hundred-year-old mouldings and ornamentation that have been falling off the pillars," said Fr. John O’Brien, director of Martyrs’ Shrine, adding the aim is to raise upwards of $500,000 to complete the restoration.

Across the property, another project that balances out the aesthetic undertaking of remodelling a church is underway, one O'Brien has deemed “unglamourous yet very human and necessary.”

"The shrine has served literally millions of people over the last century, and so the weight of the burden is finally resting on the necessity of having the septic systems work," he said. "Imagine a giant musical festival that needs to have 100 portable toilets to serve 10,000 people, that is our reality every weekend here. Fixing this practical necessary issue would set us up to be a national shrine that is functional for the next 100 years.”

A new visitor's welcome centre is also planned to provide an indoor space with increased accessibility for visitors that can deepen engagement with the spiritual activities of the shrine. 

Martyrs’ Shrine commemorates the 400-year-old mission of the Jesuit missionaries to Canada. It pays special homage to the eight French missionaries (six Jesuits) — St. Jean de Brébeuf, St. Gabriel Lalemant, St. Isaac Jogues, St. Charles Garnier, St. Noel Chabanel, St. Antonie Daniel, St. Rene Goupil and St. Jean de la Lalande — who laid down their lives during the late 1600s missioning to the Wendat (Huron) people, and who were beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1925 and canonized in 1930. 

It was around that time in 1926 that the shrine was completed in Midland by the Canadian Jesuits and has welcomed Canadian Catholic pilgrims since. 

“Over 100,000 people will visit the shrine this summer, and that includes large pilgrimage groups including everyone from ethnic Catholic groups to school groups and lots of families as well,” said O’Brien. “They come primarily for spiritual reasons and to be blessed by the intercession of the martyrs. We have the bone relics of Brébeuf, Lalemant and Garnier and through the five Masses a day on weekends, there are blessings for healing by the relics of the people.” 

The upcoming gala will feature keynote speaker Archbishop Francis Leo who will send his remarks via video, a performance by the St. Michael's Choir School, a full-course meal and a silent fundraiser auction with chances to win tickets to events such as a luxury suite for a Toronto Blue Jays’ game and a Taylor Swift concert. 

Going along with the woodlands theme that will feature decor reminiscent of Ontario during the time in which the martyrs journeyed 400 years ago, there will also be a retrospective presentation of the shrine delving into its history as its centennial approaches.

June’s gala promises to be the first of several major events preparing for the centennial. Another is the 40th anniversary of the historic visit of Pope John Paul to the Martyrs’ Shrine, which will be commemorated with an outdoor Mass in September. The shrine also will look to bring the relics of Brébeuf and St. Kateri Tekakwitha on the road for a national devotional tour during the centennial year, the first of its kind for the treasured relics.

Though an early start to the centennial celebrations, excitement is already brewing among the Martyrs’ Shrine community. 

“I have been visiting the Martyrs’ Shrine regularly since my parents introduced us to the Polish pilgrimage as children,” said gala chair Anna Migliore. “It has been a place of peace, reflection and inspiration in my life. I am honoured to serve on the board of trustees and to help plan a very special evening for all our guests at our inaugural Toronto gala. The food, decor, auction and entertainment will be spectacular. We hope to see many there or at the shrine this season.”  

For information see

A brief history of Martyrs’ Shrine

1907 - a humble shrine to the Canadian Martyrs’ was blessed by Archbishop Denis O’Connor in Waubaushene, about 12 km from the current shrine in Midland, Ont.

1925 - The English-speaking Jesuits, under superior Fr. John Filion, purchase a farm property across from Sainte-Marie mission. Pope Pius XI beatifies Canadian Martyrs.

1926 - on June 27, the new shrine church is inaugurated by Toronto Archbishop Neil McNeil and six other Canadian bishops before 13,000 pilgrims.

1930 - the Canadian Martyrs are canonized.

1940 - the Sainte-Marie property returns to Jesuit hands when it is purchased for $4,000.

1964 - Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons opens.

1992 - the relic of St. Jean de Brébeuf’s skull is gifted to the shrine by the Jesuits of Quebec. It is housed in a reliquary inside the shrine church along with leg bones of St. Gabriel Lalemant and St. René Goupil.

1994 - Pope John Paul II celebrates Mass at Martyrs’ Shrine during his papal visit to Canada.

2024 - fundraising campaign launched to renovate shrine church.

2026 - 100th anniversary of Martyrs’ Shrine.

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