Msgr. Graef’s Chalice and Paten Find Home in Uganda

1216Franz-Chalice

by Bonny Van

Every Sunday, when Fr. Gregory Owor lifts his chalice during the Eucharistic prayer at a village church in Uganda, he is not only blessing the Blood of Christ, he is saying a special prayer for a former Louisiana priest.  That’s because the chalice he is raising once belonged to that priest, Msgr. Franz Graef, whose gift is allowing the African priest to share eternal life with thousands of others.

Graef died in June while visiting family in Heidelberg, Germany.  He was 85-years-old.  “Years ago, Franz said he wanted his chalice to go to someone or a church who couldn’t afford one,” said long-time friend Christie Weeks.  “He had a great concern for people who were disadvantaged.  It was another part of his ministry.”

Msgr. Franz Graef grew up in Heidelberg, Germany, attending Mass with his family at the U.S. army base. “He got to know the priest at the base who was from the Diocese of Alexandria-Shreveport,” says Weeks.  “So, Franz decided he would study to become a priest for the Alexandria Diocese.”

The journey of the gold-plated chalice and paten began in 1957, when Fr. Graef took Holy Orders while studying at the Collegium Canisianum in Innsbruck, Austria.  To commemorate the event, his family commissioned a silversmith from the Heidelberg region to make the set.  It was housed in a velvet-lined carrying case.

After graduation in 1958, with chalice and paten in hand, Graef immigrated to the U.S. and began his ministry.  Over the years, his appointments included pastoring at churches throughout north and central Louisiana; teaching posts at Maryhill Seminary (Pineville), Notre Dame Seminary (New Orleans) and Centenary College (Shreveport); and, director of religious education for the diocese.  In 1989, he was named an Honorary Prelate of the Holy Father with the title of Reverend Monsignor.

Msgr. Franz Graef

While at Notre Dame, Fr. Graef met student Deogratias Ekisa of Uganda. “He was a good teacher.  He wanted us to apply deep theology to people’s daily lives,” recalls Fr. Deo, who now teaches the same courses once taught by Fr. Graef.

It was that friendship that led to the final journey of the chalice and paten.  Christie Weeks, along with her husband Bill, took care of Fr. Graef for more than two decades as friends, neighbors and surrogate family members.  Christie was named executrix of Fr. Graef’s property.

“Franz always thought a great deal of Fr. Deo,” says Christie.  “So, after the Memorial Mass at St. John’s Cathedral, I told him that Fr. Graef wanted him to take the chalice and paten and give it to a church in need.”

In August 2016, Fr. Deo took the precious gift to Uganda and presented it to Fr. Gregory Owor, who was ordained August 6th and serves in Fr. Deo’s home parish in the Archdiocese of Tororo.

Fr. Deo says it’s very “helpful” for a priest in that part of the world to have his own chalice.  “There are so many churches, priests go to a village once every two months,” he says.

Fr. Gregory sent his heartfelt appreciation for the set in an email to Fr. Deo:  “…thanks to your generosity, (I) am now comfortably celebrating Mass for the people of God here in Dabani Parish on (a) daily basis using this chalice and also praying for Msgr. Franz Graef.  I used to ask myself where could I get a chalice to celebrate Mass for the people, but now, although I do not have a full Mass kit, in my bag I proudly pack the chalice and reach out to the people with ease.  Yours in Christ, Fr. Gregory Owor.”

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