By S. Georgia Kitt
Taken, Blest, Broken and Given. At the Table of the Eucharist and in our relationships these words hold deep meaning. This is especially true for a 1644 gold chalice, referred to by some as the wandering symbol of Irish faith. What a surprise when the lost, almost 400-year-old vessel, was found in safe-keeping at the Sisters of Charity Motherhouse. It was an event well-covered in Ireland via television, radio, newspapers and video interviews over several months.
In pre-pandemic 2017 Veronica Buchanan, SC Archivist, received an email from Monsignor Liam Kelly who was in the process of researching the history of Franciscan communities in Leitrim County, Ireland. Monsignor Kelly, a diocesan priest and historian for the Diocese of Kilmore and County of Cavan in the northwest of Ireland, came upon an article in the 1916 Catholic Historical Review indicating that there was a gold chalice, 9 inches high with a cup 3 inches in diameter, a base 4½ across with the inscription: pro residentia fratrum minorum de Munter oluis, 1644 in the possessions of the Sisters of Charity, Mount St. Joseph-on-the-Ohio. This finding helped Kelly to confirm the approximate year when Franciscan Friars established a residence in Muintir Eolais near the city of Jamestown, and his findings were later published in a chapter of the book Leitrim: History & Society.
It appears that the friars’ chalice has had a checkered history. Nine years after it was given to them, Jamestown fell to the Cromwellian forces, the friary was suppressed and all priests were ordered to leave the country; the Franciscans ignored the edict and fled instead to the woods, bringing the small chalice with them, using it when celebrating Mass in secret. One-hundred years later, in 1750, the Penal Laws were eased and Catholics could safely gather to celebrate Mass in public again.
Prior to Monsignor Kelly’s request, the Sisters of Charity Archives had no knowledge of the chalice’s significance. It is not known how the chalice made its way from Ireland to Mount St. Joseph. It is assumed that it came to the Motherhouse from the Sisters teaching and ministering to health care needs in missions in Albuquerque or Santa Fe, New Mexico where they worked with Franciscan Friars who had a shared history with the Friars in Leitrim.
When the request came, repurposing and downsizing of the contents of Motherhouse Art Room were in progress; some items in the chalice collection were being sent to a group specializing in reconditioning and reuse of sacramental items. The Sister Sacristans and Buchanan were able to separate the historic chalice from the others. The email correspondence the Archives had from Monsignor Kelly was revisited. He immediately responded and helped to find a new home for the chalice in Muintir Eolais at St. Mary’s Church in Carrick on Shannon.
Sacristan S. Marie Irene Schneider shared, “I could not believe that this very old, tarnished chalice could be so wanted. After I polished and very carefully wrapped it, I found out how much Ireland wanted it. Handing it over to Monsignor Kelly was a thrill – just seeing the joy in his eyes gave me a great sense of peace and happiness, knowing that I was able to find, clean and care for such a valuable Franciscan treasure.”
On Oct. 17, 2022 Monsignor Kelly made a personal visit to the Motherhouse from Ireland, connecting with those who were instrumental in the chalice being located, found in fine condition and having the promise of ‘going home’ again. It was an occasion for smiles and gratitude, all taking place in the Motherhouse chapel.
Sacristan S. Mary Dolores Schneider sees it as a true God event. “The story of the 1644 chalice and the Sisters of Charity is nothing but amazing! Every person connected with the SC Archives, leadership and the Motherhouse chapel was sent as part of God’s plan for this small chalice and its return to its original parish in Ireland. Every day it seems brought a new connection. With each new name, move and finding I felt new energy, enthusiasm and amazement! None of this was coincidental; we could have planned none of it.”
Now, after nearly 400 years, the chalice has ‘come home’ to acknowledge its important role in Church history, to be preserved and celebrated for future generations. Buchanan added, “I would say that Divine intervention certainly was at work at every juncture of the process, guiding the chalice back to its homeland. You could really feel the presence of the Holy Spirit and that is something I felt incredibly honored to be a conduit for its guidance!”
On Gaudate Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022, a special Mass was celebrated at St. Mary’s Church in Carrick on Shannon to welcome the chalice home. It was livestreamed for the Sisters of Charity to join in; a timely scriptural quote from the liturgy: “Be Patient, do not loose heart” spoke to its significance. In his homily during the Mass, Monsignor Kelly expressed gratitude to all who helped bring the precious chalice home. “It is a happy day, one of relief as well.”
To the Sisters of Charity he said, “Thank you for your self-keeping; you are a special part of the chalice’s historicity.” The wandering symbol of Irish faith has indeed been taken, blest, broken and given once again at the Table of the Eucharist.