Chalice belonging to priest ordained in 1905 among items donated to museum

ALLOUEZ — Among the religious articles Sherry Steffel, president of the Green Bay Diocese Museum Board, received from the Two Rivers Historical Society last April was an ornate gold chalice.

This golden chalice, given to Fr. Otto Kraus on his ordination Sept. 7, 1905, was among the items donated to the Green Bay Diocese Museum last April. An inscription under the chalice base included the ordination date and church, but not the priest’s name. (Sherry Steffel | For The Compass)

“The minute we saw that beautiful chalice come out of a box, we saw the inscription across the base of it,” she told The Compass. The inscription read: “In Memory of My First Mass September 7, 1905. Presented by Sacred Hearts Congregation, Sun Prairie, Wis.”

Steffel said she was surprised that the inscription mentioned Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Parish because she had friends who were members there: Gary and Julia Hanson.

“It took no effort from me to ask them to check with their pastor to see if they would want to get the chalice back,” said Steffel. “Within 24 hours, the monsignor responded ‘yes.’”

“It’s a wonderful gift to the parish,” Msgr. Duane Moellenberndt, pastor of Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Parish, told Catholic World Report online newspaper last December.

Msgr. Moellenberndt said that since the chalice had no name on the inscription, he had to contact the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s archives for assistance in identifying the chalice’s owner. In 1905, Sun Prairie was part of the Milwaukee Archdiocese.

After some digging, Msgr. Moellenberndt was told the chalice belonged to Fr. Otto Kraus, who was 22 when he was ordained and celebrated his first Mass at Sacred Heart in Sun Prairie on Sept. 7, 1905. Four days earlier, he had been ordained at St. Augustine Church in Milwaukee by Archbishop Sebastian Messmer, who was previously bishop of Green Bay.

How the chalice ended up in Two Rivers is still a mystery, said Msgr. Moellenberndt, but records show that Fr. Kraus was forced into early retirement due to ill health. “By mid-1910, he was back home on the family farm near Sun Prairie,” the Catholic World Report stated. “For nearly two decades, Fr. Kraus lived with his mother.”

When the priest’s mother died in October 1926, he moved to Oshkosh and became a resident at Alexian Brothers Hospital. He died three years later at age 46. His younger brother, also a priest, Fr. Aloysius Kraus, celebrated the funeral Mass.

At the time, Fr. Aloysius was pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Waupun.

With the chalice used by Fr. Otto at his first Mass now back in Sun Prairie, Msgr. Moellenberndt said he planned to put it back into use during celebration of the Mass.