Chalice acquired by Archives reveals little-known story of Samuel Cardinal Stritch's final days

by Rebecca Clausen, '16

In a lighted glass display case, the University Archives holds numerous artifacts from Samuel Cardinal Stritch’s life and ministry. A recent addition—a chalice Cardinal Stritch used in the final Mass he celebrated—is especially precious, and the story of how it came to the University is one that archivist Sister Margaret Ruddy, OSF, enjoys recounting:

On March 1, 1958, Pope Pius XII appointed Samuel Cardinal Stritch Pro-Prefect of the Congregation for the Propagation of Faith. In this role, he would direct the Church’s missionary efforts throughout the world and become the first American to be recognized in the Roman Curia, the administrative body in the Vatican. On April 14, 1958, Cardinal Stritch began his journey to Rome, crossing the ocean by ship.

Many people did not know that Cardinal Stritch was ill when he left for Rome. While aboard the ship, he suffered a blood clot in his right arm. Although he received immediate medical attention upon his arrival in Italy, surgeons had to amputate his right arm above the elbow.

In good spirits and with notable progress in his recovery, Cardinal Stritch was able to celebrate Mass on May 18, one month later. This marked his first and last Mass since the loss of his arm.

The next morning, Cardinal Stritch suffered a stroke. He died on May 27, at the age of 70.

Before Cardinal Stritch left for his trip, the people of the Archdiocese of Chicago gifted him with a chalice. An inscription engraved on the base reads, "To His Eminence, Samuel Cardinal Stritch on the occasion of his appointment to the Roman Curia, March 1st, 1958."

Cardinal Stritch used the chalice only once—at the Mass he celebrated in Rome. Following his death, an additional inscription was added, "Cardinal Stritch—RIP—offered Holy Mass once with this chalice May 18, 1958—after his amputation of his arm."

The chalice is on display in the University Archives located in the lowest level of Clare Hall. Visitors are always welcome to view the chalice, other Samuel Cardinal Stritch artifacts and countless other University treasures. 

A chance encounter 57 years later between Greg Hoerter of Milwaukee and Brother Joel McGraw, F.S.C. of Memphis led the one-of-a-kind chalice being delivered back to Samuel Cardinal Stritch’s namesake university.  As Brother Joel recalls, “I was Father Morris Stritch’s (Cardinal Stritch’s nephew) caretaker, then power of attorney and executor of his estate. In his effects were possessions of his uncle … and among them were the chalice.” 

When Hoerter visited the school where Brother Joel teaches and began to talk about Milwaukee and the University, Brother Joel concluded, “Why not give those items to the University?” since at the high school in Tennessee the chalice, some vestments and other artifacts were hidden in the sacristy.

On his return to Milwaukee, Hoerter contacted the University about his visit and delivered the items this past spring.

“Needless to say, it was with delight and gratitude that these gifts were received,” Sister Margaret Ruddy said.

Additional little-known details about Cardinal Stritch’s life and death:

 - Pope Pius XII sent messages to Cardinal Stritch while he was in the hospital to express that the Pope and the rest of the Roman Curia were praying for him.

- There was a funeral held in Italy at the church that Cardinal Stritch sponsored, and then he was brought back to the United States for another set of burial services.

- A three-day visitation drew so many people that they waited in line all day and all night to pay their respects.

- His final resting place is just outside of Chicago in the Bishops’ Mausoleum of Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hillside, Illinois.

Photo of Cardinal Stritch courtesy of University Archives.