Once upon a time…

My paternal grandparents had two lovely summer homes on a large piece of property on Lake Michigan that were used alternately by my parents and my Dad’s sisters and one brother throughout June, July and August every summer.  The main home was called White Ledge and was a legend in the area for many reasons but mainly because it could accommodate about 30 guests on a weekend – many bedrooms, baths and, of course, a huge dining room and kitchen. My grandmother spent six months a year at this home and hosted many philanthropic and church events in the house or gardens.

One of my grandfather’s brothers – our great-Uncle Frank Lewis and great-Aunt Julia – had a rather large estate about a mile up the road from White Ledge. Because the Catholic populace grew so much when people came up for the summer, the small local church could not handle everyone, even with multiple Sunday morning Masses (no evening Masses in those years), and so my aunt and uncle obtained permission to have Mass outdoors on the grounds of their home on Sundays.

They were very much into philanthropy and the Church was the focus of their lives. It was quite common for them to invite some of their close friends – cardinals, bishops, priests and seminarians – to spend the weekend at their Michigan summer home. The main house was quite large and there were a number of almost equally big year-round homes on the property for their many children and extended families.

Every Saturday night, the caretaker Ignatz would set up the “pews” – the benches and kneelers – for perhaps two hundred people. And every Sunday morning, before the 10 a.m. Mass, big bunches of gladioli were cut and put into tall vases near the altar – which was at the top of some steps going up to my uncle’s main porch. My brothers and some of our young cousins served as altar boys in those years.

My Dad and uncles served as ushers and Sunday morning Mass at Aunt Julia and Uncle Frank’s was largely a family affair! I do remember Aunt Julia telling us once, years later that, for 30 summers, it never rained on a Sunday morning between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m.!  I know she had several relics she would bring out each Sunday and place on her pew.  Over the years, as a young child, I met many prelates, as you can imagine. I just wish I had thought then about keeping a diary!

One of the priests I remember seeing when I was fairly small was Fr. Toohey. I remember him as a delightful man who always wore a big smile and was very grandfatherly.

Years later, when I arrived home on vacation one summer, I noticed a beautiful chalice in my parents’ home and asked them about it.  Dad told me that his parents – my grandparents – had paid for a young man to attend seminary on Chicago and on his ordination day, gave him this chalice – Fr. Leo  Toohey.

When I received the chalice and was showing it to a younger brother, I noticed an inscription that said that Fr. Toohey was ordained on April 16, 1927!  The very day Pope Benedict was born!  And, of all the truly amazing things, the chalice was made in Germany!

I have been told  – and have to explore this further! – that several hieroglyphic-type markings on the bottom of the chalice indicate exactly where in Germany this was made and by whom.

The bottom of the chalice reads: “Presented to Rev. Leo Raphael Toohey by Mr. and Mrs. William H. Lewis on his ordination day – April 16 AD 1927


The chalice was purchased at Edward Koenig Company in Chicago. It was given to my grandfather when Fr. Toohey died at 53 on January 8, 1950, then passed to my Dad, and my parents eventually gave this chalice to me.  Fr. Toohey for years was pastor at St. Simon Church in Ludington, Michigan. I have found articles about him on the Internet.


I hope to set up a scholarship for a seminarian from Chicago at the Pontifical North American College in Rome and will arrange to have this chalice given to a seminarian from Chicago – so that, after many decades, the chalice makes a “round trip,” returning from whence it came.

My biggest dream is to have Pope emeritus Benedict XVI celebrate Mass with this chalice.

– – – – – – –

I wrote the above story on Pope Benedict’s 85th birthday, three years ago.

Since then, my dream has come true.

At 7:30 a.m. on the morning of October 19, 2013, I attended Mass in the chapel of the monastery where Pope emeritus Benedict XVI lives in retirement with Abp. Georg Gaenswein and four memores or consecrated women.

Benedict XVI said Mass with Fr. Toohey’s chalice, Abp. Gaenswein did the readings. It was beautiful and intimate and very moving for me. The Pope emeritus came from the sacristy after Mass and we spoke for about five minutes – it was as moving and wonderful as the Mass itself

Benedict XVI’s first words to me, said with a big smile, were: “What a beautiful story that chalice has.”

I had written the story down in English and one day gave it to my friend Michael Hesemann who knew I had hopes that Benedict would celebrate Mass with the chalice. He translated it into German and, during a trip to Regensburg, Germany, gave it to his friend, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, the Pope’s brother who, two weeks later, gave it to Pope emeritus Benedict.

I received a phone call, telling me that Pope emeritus Benedict would be delighted to say Mass with this chalice – would I like to be present?!

Following Mass and our brief but ever so memorable conversation, Pope Em. Benedict gave me a rosary and two holy cards for the young man who will receive this chalice some day and he gave me – for myself – a rosary and two holy cards. Abp. Gaenswein handed me an envelope and inside was a note with his crest that stated that Pope Em. Benedict said Mass with this chalice on October 19, 2013.

I have yet to write the final line to this story – the name of the seminarian to whom the chalice will go.

Stay tuned!

P.S. Three hours later I met Pope Francis at a gathering of the Patrons of the Vatican Museums! The day of two Popes!

And now just a handful of the many photos I took over the years

Benedict XVI on his 2010 apostolic trip to the UK:

Benedict UK 2010 031

Benedict UK 2010 040

On his 2012 trip to Lebanon:


His final audience:


His final public Mass – Ash Wednesday, February 13, 2013, two days after announcing his resignation (as you can perhaps tell on the faces of his assistants)