The Silver Chalice: A Story of Faith

What follows is a homily delivered during Mass on August 3, 2021, at Our Lady of Peace Retreat House, an apostolate of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows in Beaverton, OR.

The story of the silver chalice in my possession, which is a Pattee Family Heirloom, began in 1925 when my grandfather, Larry Pattee, arranged with his family to give their son and brother a chalice after his ordination to the Catholic priesthood. My great uncle, Fr. Frank Pattee (1893-1935), was ordained for the Diocese of Sioux City, IA on Saturday, June 6, 1925. In 1930, however, Fr. Frank contracted tuberculosis which became so serious that he had to resign his parish and move to St. Francis Hospital and Sanitarium in Colorado Springs, CO. About the same time Fr. Frank’s sister, my great aunt Sr. Mary Agatha Pattee, responded to a call from her superiors in the Franciscan Sisters of Dubuque to go on mission to China. During her preparations, she visited Fr. Frank who, knowing his time on earth was short, wished to donate his chalice to the China mission. Sr. Mary Agatha received the silver chalice from him, packed it among her things, and brought it with her to China. She traveled by boat, arriving at the missionary compound in Chowtsun, China in late summer of 1934 where she joined four other Dubuque Franciscans who had been there since the fall of 1931.

For several years, the silver chalice served the mission convent. Things began to destabilize, however, when the Japanese invaded China in July of 1937. When the Japanese finally arrived at Chowtsun, Sr. Mary Agatha received permission amid the fighting to consume the Eucharist and gather the precious items of the altar, including Fr. Frank’s chalice, placing them in a trunk which she buried in the back of the compound. The Japanese prevailed and soon after arrested all the sisters, leading them away to internment camps in March of 1943. The conditions in these camps were not as hellish as the death camps of Nazi Germany, but their life was hard, including daily labors with meager food rations. This went on until Imperial Japan was defeated in August 1945, formally surrendering on September 2.

At that time, all prisoners of war held by the Japanese were freed, and Sr. Mary Agatha and the other sisters took it upon themselves to try and make their way back to the mission. The infrastructure had been destroyed by war and there were no train tracks suitable for travel. So, they ended up boarding a truck for the rough ride back to Chowtsun, five hours away under better pre-war conditions. Upon returning, they began cleaning up the mess left by the Japanese occupation and Sr. Mary Agatha went out to see what remained of the buried trunk. She dug it up to find all its contents, including the silver chalice, untouched and unscathed. It was late 1945, but within months squirmishes broke out between Nationalist and Communist Chinese forces. One evening amid the fighting a sleep-deprived Sr. M. Elaine reposed to her room for a nap, soon to be startled by a massive shell from a communist gun blowing a hole in the wall inches above her head.

The fighting raged on until 1950 when the People’s Republic of China was formed on the mainland, but in the meantime Sr. Mary Agatha had returned to the United States in late 1947 at the behest of the local bishop and her Mother Superior in Dubuque, carrying the silver chalice in her luggage. The remaining sisters, mostly native Chinese, departed China by early 1948. At that time, Sr. Mary Agatha left for the West Coast to join Sr. Dulcissima who had also served in China. Sr. Dulcissima had been meeting with several OFM Franciscan Friars and the local bishop in Portland, OR in hopes of establishing a foundation of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows in the United States. They were founded in China in 1939 by Most Rev. Rafael Palazzi, OFM, Bishop of Hengyang, Hunan. These efforts proved successful with some of the native Chinese Sisters joining the Franciscan Missionary Sisters and others the Franciscan Sisters in Dubuque. Both Sr. Mary Agatha and Sr. Dulcissima transferred in June of 1949 from the Dubuque Franciscans to the Franciscan Missionary Sisters in Oregon. Sr. Mary Agatha later died of cancer on July 4, 1958, in the old orphanage adjacent to Our Lady of Peace Retreat House here in Beaverton.

Fast forward to 1982, when I was a second year Third Order Regular (TOR) Franciscan seminarian studying for the priesthood in Toronto, Canada. Larry Pattee, my grandfather who was instrumental in securing the silver chalice for Fr. Frank in 1925, knew it went with Sr. Mary Agatha to China and began inquiring as to its whereabouts. Grandpa Larry’s wife and my grandmother, Nellie Pattee, also had a sister who joined the Franciscan Sisters in Dubuque, Sr. Catherine Hickey (1905-2006). They asked her if she knew anything about the silver chalice. She knew well enough to send letters to the Franciscan Missionary Sisters in Beaverton and asked them to look for the silver chalice. Lo and behold, they found it at Our Lady of Peace Retreat House sitting in a cupboard, bent, and not used for years due to an inability to stand upright on its own. They sent it to Sr. Catherine in Dubuque. She told my grandfather, who was ecstatic and desired that it be prepared for me should I persevere to ordination.

Unfortunately, Grandpa Larry would not live long enough to see the day since he died in October 1983. But he saw to it that the chalice made its way to his son, my uncle Jim Pattee, a medical doctor in Minneapolis. He brought it to Hudson Jewelers for a fresh coat of silver and repair and then placed it in a safety deposit box for the day when I might be ordained a priest. That day came on Saturday, May 30, 1987, in Immaculate Conception Chapel on the campus of St. Francis University in Loretto, PA. When I celebrated my Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Raphael’s Catholic Church in Crystal, MN on Pentecost Sunday, June 7, 1987, I was given the silver chalice and celebrated Mass with it for the first time.

As stated earlier, the silver chalice is a Pattee Family Heirloom. The intention when I received it was that it be handed over upon my death to the next family member who would respond to the call of God and become a Catholic priest. As of this writing, however, there are no immediate prospects of anyone becoming a Catholic priest in the family. It is my intention, therefore, to leave the silver chalice with you after today’s Mass to have and to cherish, bequeathing it to you as a remembrance and an inspiration of the early foundations of your community in China. I shall proceed from the altar leaving the chalice behind as your very own, transferring it from the Pattee Family to you, the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows. My only request would be, should there ever come forward a member of the Pattee family to become a Catholic priest in the future, that he be allowed to come and celebrate Mass with the silver chalice and drink from its inspiration.

Photo by Dawn McDonald on Unsplash


Fr. Dan Pattee, TOR currently serves as a Parochial Vicar at St. Andrew Catholic Church in Fort Worth, Texas. He previously served for 29 years as a professor of theology at Franciscan University in Steubenville, OH and has been a priest for 35 years and a TOR Franciscan for 41 years.

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