Do you ever watch the TV show "History Detectives"? It's a lot of fun, and a wonderful depiction of the joys of historical research. In the show, someone will present an old diary or an artifact they might have found in their basement, and a team of researchers will attempt to verify its authenticity or to learn as much as they can to interpret it. Last week I had a chance to be a history detective. Here's the story:
Deacon Silvio Mayo called me into his office and handed me a box containing a carrying case which turned out to be a portable Mass kit that had just come to us as part of the estate settlement of one Monsignor Edward John J. Mitty. Msgr. Mitty is identified in an accompanying document as a namesake nephew of our Bishop John J. Mitty (1926-32) who became Archbishop of San Francisco until his death in 1961.
The chalice in the Mass kit presents an intriguing mystery because attached to its base is what appears to be the set of a diamond wedding ring! Engraved inscriptions underneath the base offer more concrete information: "Rev. John J. Mitty from Will In Memory of our Dead Ut nobis et illis proficiat ad salutem in vitam aeternam. Amen Dec. 22, 1906" and "Rev. Edward J. J. Mitty, April 26, 1950. Mihi vivere Christus est." My not-so-good Latin would yield the following translations: "In order that it may lead us and them to safety in eternal life," and "To me to live is Christ." (Philippians 1:21) That scriptural quotation was the motto of the Dunwoodie seminary in Yonkers, New York, where both Mittys trained for the priesthood, and it became Bishop Mitty's episcopal motto as well. But who was "Will," and what is the significance of the dates?
For that, I Googled Edward John J. Mitty and found his New York Times obituary from last November. It was a rich source. "Will" turns out to be his father William F. Mitty, Bishop Mitty's older brother. The obit indicates that Edward was ordained by his uncle on April 26, 1950, so the chalice was apparently an ordination gift of the bishop's chalice that had been given him by his brother, Edward's father, in 1906, on the occasion of his own ordination.
Why was the chalice willed to us, a diocese where Bishop Mitty served only six years, and not to San Francisco, where he served twenty-nine years? Edward Mitty was a lifelong New Yorker who may never even have visited his uncle in Salt Lake City. That mystery remains unsolved; even history detectives don't have all the answers!
And the ring? Linking that with the "our Dead," the illis of the inscriptions, we can reasonably speculate that it must be the stone from the wedding ring of the mother of the Mitty brothers. And I'm sorry to have to report that it's not a diamond: I had a jeweler test it, and it turns out to be zirconium, a less expensive diamond lookalike which in fact was in my own mother's wedding ring. History doesn't always produce the romantic endings we want!