September 1, 2023 | Archives
Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

Bishop Francis R. Cotton’s chalice – technically his second, following his original chalice being stolen. COURTESY OF ARCHIVES

Bishop Cotton’s original chalice was stolen


Earlier this year, the Office of the Bishop contacted the archives with a request. The office inquired about the possibility of using the chalice of our first bishop, Bishop Francis R. Cotton’s, for the Chrism Mass. This was not surprising to me as Bishop Medley is quite passionate and very knowledgeable about history, and I was very happy to provide this request. This is exactly what we in the archives love to see.

The Holy Spirit must have been at work because the timing of this request was perfect. As I covered in a previous article, we recently opened a safe in the archives that had gone unopened for more than a decade. There were several very important items inside, including Bishop Cotton’s chalice. Had Bishop Medley’s request been made a year prior, we would not have the chalice to loan. So, with the chalice in our possession, we were more than happy to proceed with the archival loan procedure.

However, though this is Bishop Cotton’s chalice, it is not his original chalice.

It is tradition for priests to be given their chalice on their day of ordination. This was no different for then-Fr. Cotton. He recorded that he received his chalice on “Die 17a Junii 1920” (June 17, 1920), the day of his ordination. A later notation on this record states, “This chalice was my original one – It was stolen.” This must have been a harsh loss for the bishop.

So then, what is the history of the chalice that we have? Bishop Cotton’s notes tell us that he consecrated this new chalice himself on “Sept. 17, 1943.” However, there is a very touching line of succession with his original chalice. The new chalice was given to him by Archbishop John McNicholas, the bishop who ordained Bishop Cotton over 20 years prior. There is little doubt that this gave Bishop Cotton great consolation.

The new chalice found its way to the archives in 1998, nearly 38 years after the death of Bishop Cotton. It was in the possession of Fr. George Hancock. It was then given to Sr. George Mary Hagan, OSU, to give to her fellow Ursuline and diocesan archivist Sr. Emma Cecilia Busam, OSU. It was accessioned by Sr. Emma Cecilia on Jan. 20, 1998.

Just as Bishop Medley’s use of the chalice shows, the archive does not mean the end of the story for the artifacts that find their way here. These items still have a role to play in God’s plan and the archive is happy to be the intermediary for whatever God has in mind for them; even if that means going through all of Bishop Cotton’s early notes which he, of course, wrote entirely in Latin.

You can’t help but smile knowing that even in Heaven, Bishop Cotton is making us play by his rules.

Edward Wilson is the director of the Diocese of Owensboro’s Archives and the Archives of the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph. Comments and questions may be sent to [email protected].

Originally printed in the September 2023 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.

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Publisher |  Bishop William F. Medley
Editor |  Elizabeth Wong Barnstead
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