Fort Wayne's Historic Tie to the Vatican

By Eric Olson

March 8, 2013 Updated Mar 8, 2013 at 12:34 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Indiana--As Catholic cardinals convene at the Vatican to elect the churches 266th pope, the 265th pope, Benedict the 16th, is adjusting to retirement. But he’s not out of the public discourse just yet. People are still talking about his ring, the papal ring, and whether this golden work of art will be destroyed, defaced or left untouched.

Half a world away from Rome in the basement of Fort Wayne’s Cathedral Museum, curator Father Phillip Widmann cares for the precious papers and objects that tell the story of the Fort Wayne South Bend Diocese. He’s just received several new items bequeathed to the museum by the late Bishop John Darcy…the bishop’s pectoral crosses, given him by Pope Paul the Sixth and John Paul the Second…and his letter of appointment to the diocese signed by John Paul the Second. And among the other treasures here in Fort Wayne…this incredible piece…a papal ring that belonged to Pope Pius the Third, who was elected pope eleven years after Columbus discovered America.

“We did some investigation on it,” says Widmann. “It was made late October, early November 1503.

Widmann thinks the ring was brought back to Fort Wayne by Bishop Dwenger from his pilgrimage to Lourdes in 1874.

“The ring gives you the power of the pope, the office of the papacy,” Widmann explains. “It has his particular seal on it and anything official that comes out at the time can be sealed with that ring. Once he’s out of office or deceased the ring is defaced.”

Pius the Second was very ill when he was elected pope and died just three days later. The ring bears his seal, but the massive setting in which it sits belonged to his predecessor, Julius the Second, and bears his name. This magnificent artifact’s story is unique in the body of church history. The fact that it resides in Fort Wayne, Indiana makes it even more so. Eric Olson reporting, out in Your Country.

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