Chalice related to assassination attempt on Paul VI finds home at Mundelein

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Historic Paul VI chalice given to Mundelein

To thank him for saving his life in Manilla in 1970, Pope Paul VI gifted Chicago native Archbishop Paul Marcinkus with a chalice. That chalice is now in the collection of Mundelein Seminary.
Bishop George Rassas and Father Brad Zamora examine a chalice that belonged to Archbishop Paul Marcinkus and was given to the seminary by the Sisters of St. Casimir. Archbishop Marcinkus was a Cicero native and seminary graduate but was best known for his tenure as President of the Vatican Bank from 1971 to 1989. In 1970, Marcinkus overpowered an attacker armed with a knife who lunged at Pope Paul VI at the Manila Airport, during a papal visit to the Philippines. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Archbishop Paul Marcinkus (CNS file photo)
The chalice made of German silver and given to Archbshop Marcinkus by Paul VI bears a personal inscription and the papal seal. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Pope Paul VI greets the crowd as he visits the Verano cemetery in Rome in 1973. The pontiff gifted a chalice to Chicago native Archbishop Paul Marcinkus for saving his life in 1970. (CNS photo/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)
Pope Paul VI’s papal seal is affixed to the top of the green box that holds the chalice. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

On Nov. 27, 1970, Pope Paul VI arrived in Manila, Philippines, for his first papal visit outside of Europe. Waiting for him on the crowded tarmac was a knife-wielding Bolivian man who charged after the pontiff as soon as he came near.

Luckily for Pope Paul VI, his friend and Chicago native Archbishop Paul Marcinkus – a burly, 6’4” man – was nearby and helped to tackle the would-be assassin, saving the pontiff’s life. In thanks for Marcinkus’ quick thinking and actions, Paul VI gave him a chalice the pope used while ordaining priests during the visit.

The chalice has a personal inscription on the bottom: “Chalice used by Pope Paul VI in ordination in Manila November 28, 1970. Gift of Paul VI to Paul C. Marcinkus by Paul VI.” Paul VI’s seal is embedded in the center.

Thanks to Auxiliary Bishop George Rassas and the Sisters of St. Casimir, the chalice is now in the care of the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary and will be used for special celebrations and liturgies. 

Paul Casimir Marcinkus was born in Cicero on Jan. 15, 1922. His parents were Lithuanian immigrants and he was taught by the Sisters of St. Casimir at St. Anthony School in Cicero. Later he studied at Quigley Preparatory Seminary and then at Mundelein. He was ordained in 1947.

Marcinkus served briefly at a Chicago parish before moving to Rome in 1950 to study canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University. A temporary holiday relief job at the Vatican Secretariat of State turned into a permanent job where he befriended Giovanni Battista Montini, the future Pope Paul VI, according to BBC News archives.

In 1968, he formally became part of the Curia and Paul VI appointed him head of the Vatican bank. Fluent in English, Italian, French, Spanish and Lithuanian, Archbishop Marcinkus frequently accompanied the pope on papal trips. It was during one of those trips that he saved the pope’s life.

In 1982, Archbishop Marcinkus was indicted as part of a scandal involving the Vatican bank. He retired to Arizona in 1989 and died there in 2006. His funeral Mass was held at Holy Name Cathedral.

While Bishop Rassas knew Archbishop Marcinkus in passing and met him on various occasions, he didn’t know about the chalice until the Sisters of St. Casimir told him about it last fall during a visit to their motherhouse at 2601 W. Marquette Road.

A few weeks after the visit, the sisters contacted Bishop Rassas and told him they wanted to donate it to a priest. The sisters were selling their motherhouse to Catholic Charities and downsizing.

Bishop Rassas headed back down to Marquette Park to pick up the chalice.

“She [Sister Margaret Zalot] brought down the green box with the papal seal on top and there’s this chalice,” Bishop Rassas said. “I looked at it and I thought ‘Oh my goodness.’ Then she said, ‘Well, read the inscription.’”

He told her that it was too important an artifact to give to a priest for personal use.

“This is a piece of history,” Rassas recalled saying. “I said, ‘This really belongs in a museum or at the seminary.’”

He offered to have the chalice appraised by expert Peter Stemper in Milwaukee in case the sisters wanted to sell it.

Made from German silver -- a sturdy and valuable alloy -- in a design from the early 1970s, the chalice needed no repair, just polishing. Stemper valued the materials at $6,000 and the inscription from Pope Paul VI at another $4,000, for a total of $10,000.

Bishop Rassas called Sister Margaret and told her the news.

“Later that afternoon she called back and said ‘We would love to make it a gift for the seminary,’” Bishop Rassas recalled.

On June 19, during Mass in the Immaculate Conception Chapel at Mundelein with Bishop Rassas and seminary rector Father John Kartje, the Sisters of St. Casimir formally donated the historic chalice to the seminary.

In her remarks during Mass, Sister Regina Dubickas, general superior, explained how the community ended up with the chalice.  

“At some point, Archbishop Marcinkus gifted the chalice to Msgr. John Kuzinskas. Both Archbishop Marcinkus and Msgr. Kuzinskas have strong roots in the Archdiocese of Chicago and to our religious community. Both were taught by our sisters in their respective parish schools: St. Anthony in Cicero and St. Bartholomew in Waukegan,” she said.

Eventually Msgr. Kuzinskas gave the chalice to the sisters. They decided it should continue to be used to celebrate the Eucharist.

“The Eucharist is the central point of our lives. We Sisters of St. Casimir value and celebrate the presence of God in our midst in the homes in which we live and the gathering of the community around the table of the Lord in the many places in which we worship with our brothers and sisters,” she said. “May all those who see this chalice appreciate not just its beauty but that it witnesses how in so many ways people wanted to give the best of their culture and their artistry to God. May everyone who sees this chalice be reminded of their relationship to the universal church and the diversity of the people of God. May we never lose sight of the great gift of the Eucharist, God with us.”






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