Father Pere Marquette’s Chalice

Jacques (Pere) Marquette born in Laon, France in 1637.Father Jacques Marquette After joining the Jesuit priesthood at 17 he was assigned to Quebec by his superiors. A black robe, who explored the towering virgin white pines from the shores of Lake Superior to Michilimackinac in the 1600’s.  Not to mention he was the first to establish a route to the Mississippi River for Europeans. In Michigan,  Father Marquette had to face the Great Lakes storms, winters, thick swamps, cougars, wolves, bears and motchimanitou.  He had to have been a man of great faith to set sail across Lake Superior in a birchbark voyager canoe. Of course the area was not discovered by Marquette, he was just one of the first Europeans to document being here in European history. Father Marquette was sent from Quebec because of his propensity and great ability to learn the language of the

Anishinaabe people that had already inhabited Michigan’s peninsulas for thousands of years.

After having heard of the settlement at Sault Saint Marie in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in 1668, Father Jacques Marquette traveled to the village and helped build and establish a mission.   Sault Ste. Marie is the oldest European settlement in the US Midwest,  including the Great State of Michigan.  Sault Saint Marie was however already an ancient city, having been occupied by Native Americans for at least five hundred years.  At this mission Father Marquette would hold daily mass and would offer services to the European settlers, fur traders and Anishinaabe at the Mission.  Father Marquette used a silver chalice during mass. This silver chalice found its way back to the Jesuit order and now the Marquette’s chalice spends the winters as a protected relic at the Manresa Jesuit Retreat House in Bloomfield Hills and the summers on display at the Museum of Ojibwa Culture in Saint Ignace, Michigan.

The story of how the chalice came back to the Jesuit order from Father Marquette’s travels in Michigan begins with Monsignor Partick Richard Dunigan who among other things, earned a Distinguished Service Cross from the US Army for his service in Sergy as a Army Chaplain in the 126th Infantry in World War 1. After the war, Monsignor Dunigan returned to Michigan to be known as ‘Believer in Men’ and was elected a Catholic mayor of a predominant Protestant Lapeer, Michigan.  Monsignor Dunigan had bequeathed to Manresa a chalice which, he claimed, was likely the chalice of Father Marquette, the noted Jesuit missionary who was the black robe to the indians of Northern Michigan.

Here is the story of that chalice as dictated by Monsignor Dunigan to the Jesuits at Manresa before his death.

“I was assigned to duty in the Upper Peninsula during the labor troubles of 1912. There had been much unrest in that portion of the State and the National Guard had been called upon to quell the strikes which had resulted.

Each morning I celebrated Mass in the tiny church. One morning, when I turned to leave the altar, I noticed two elderly Indians watching me from the back row of seats, close to the wall.  The next morning they were there again, but had taken seats a little nearer to the front.  And it seemed as though they never took their gaze from me all through the Mass.  Nearer and nearer they came to the front, a little farther forward each day.  I found myself wondering what was behind those keen, piercing eyes what was attracting them to me.

Finally, one morning, when they had occupied seats close to the altar rail, they waited, and after mass, asked if they might talk to me alone.  The taller of the two asked me if I were the same kind of priest as the black-robed fathers who came to the indians years ago from over the sea. Was my church the same church as theirs?  I assured them that I belonged to the same church as the early missionary priests.  The two spoke together in their own language for a moment, then, having arrived at the same conclusion, the tall one asked me if I would go with them alone into the woods.  He explained that they had been custodians of a treasure, which now they had decided to turn over to me.  I was a bit skeptical, but they seemed so anxious and so much in earnest that I set out with them upon a trail which led deep into the woods.  We finally came to a large tree and the two men paused there. Then the smaller one began to explain.

Many years ago, the black-robed father, Pere Marquette, had been about to embark upon a trip by canoe, to a settlement of unfriendly Indians.  Before leaving, he called to him the elders of the tribe with whom he had been living.  To them he gave a sacred trust.  In case he failed to return from his mission he wished them to take charge of his chalice, which was in a case of cypress wood, and their tribe should guard it with their lives as a priceless treasure.  If he returned, they would give it back to him.  If not, some day they would find a father of his own church whom they could trust, and then they were to turn it over to him.

Pere Marquette failed to return.  Their chieftain appointed three of his men to be the custodians of the chalice.  When they received it, they were to hide it away in a place known only unto themselves.  They swore solemnly not to reveal the secret to any other.  When one of the three died, the other two surrendered the chalice to their chief, who appointed another group of three to take full charge of it.

This procedure continued through the years.  Now, one of their committee of three had just died.  The chieftain had been at a loss to find three among the younger men to act with solemnity that the precious trust required.  The tribe was becoming less and less in numbers, and the young men did not have the same attitude toward the sacred traditions of their people who their forefathers had.  While their chieftain was pondering the problem, I had arrived with the soldiers, and celebrated Mass daily at the little church which heretofore had afforded only an occasional Mass.  The chieftain called the old custodians to him and suggested that they attend Mass each morning, and carefully watch the priest who celebrated it.  If they decided that he were worthy of the great trust, they might inquire if his church was just the same as that of Pere Marquette.  If so, and he would go alone into the woods with them, they were to give into his hands the sacred cup of the black-robed father.

I listened carefully to their explanation outwardly calm inwardly in a turmoil of excitement.  It did not seem possible that, after all these years, Father Marquette’s chalice would actually be found.  But the two began to dig away the black soil at the roots of the great tree.  My pulses pounded a rhythm that kept pace with their strokes.  One uttered a grunt of satisfaction.  The other sat back on his heels after the manner of woodsmen, and awaited the uncovering of the ancient cypress box by his companion.  At last it was brought forth, weather stained and almost at the end of its usefulness.  But it had lasted long enough.  I put back the mouldering lid, and there before me lay a chalice of silver- black and tarnished, to be sure, but pure silver, none the less.

With trembling hands,  I lifted it to the light, and there, engraved in a garland about it, I saw the delicate tracery of the wild rose pattern so often used upon sacred vessels of French origin in the early days.  There was no paten, or plate with which to cover it.  That also marked it as being of a definite period, corresponding to Father Marquette’s ministry.  Still another thing marked it as different from the chalices we use today.  In these later years, a cross has been superimposed upon their base.  There were none upon this.

Overcome with emotion, holding the sacred cup on trembling hands, I made a little speech of acceptance to the Indians, and thanked them in the name of the Holy Mother of the Church for so nobly acquitting themselves of so sacred a trust.

When I returned home, I had a new case made for it.  The old one was too far gone to contain it longer.  And, after having it cleaned, I sent it to have the inside of the cup gold plated, to be in keeping with the altar vessels of today.  

Still it had no cross upon it.  So I had a Distinguished Service Cross, with ribbon attached, reproduced in gold and fine enamel, and superimposed upon its base.  On the bottom, out of sight, I have placed a little inscription telling that it is in all probability the chalice of Father Marquette.”

The chalice has since had the Distinguished Service Cross removed to attempt to return it to it’s original state.


About michiganpirate

Travels of a Michigander.
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