By Marilyn Welch
Mascoutah Historical Society
Sounds like a mystery, doesn’t it. This could be a really long story, because there have been so many twists and turns in the development, but in order to keep it short, we will kind of slide through it quickly with only the main facts and a few of the details:
• St. John United Church of Christ has recently been given this antique pewter chalice, identified as the original communion chalice of St. John church.
• It has been returned after being missing for one hundred and twenty three years–from 1896 to 2019!
• It was sent to Mascoutah from Minnesota by someone who has no connection to this church or community.
• The story is circulating in Minnesota and two magazines are featuring articles on it–one Minnesota magazine to be released in August and a national magazine article in September.
So by now, you should think…
• How and why did it leave the church?
• Who originally took it?
• Who currently had possession of it?
• Where has it been since 1896 and how in the world did it ever get to Minnesota?
• Who sent it back and how did it all come about?
See the answers on page 5
Here are the answers:
• On May 27, 1896, there was a mile-wide F-5 tornado which roared through Mascoutah in its path from St. Louis, to East St. Louis, to Belleville and from here in Mascoutah on to New Baden, in what Wikipedia still in 2019 calls “the third deadliest tornado ever in United States history” leaving much of our town and St. John church in rubble.
• Philip Pfeiffer was an active member of the church. (In fact, in church history, he is listed as one who made the pulpit when the church preceding the current one was built.) In cleaning up the rubble after the tornado, Pfeiffer retrieved the chalice in the debris and took it home and kept it as a keepsake.
• The last steward of the chalice identifies herself as Rita Johnson of Minnesota, the great-great granddaughter of Philip Pfeiffer–her family were dedicated members of St. John for 4 generations before her. Rita grew up across the street from St. John Church as Rita Stoffel, graduated from Mascoutah High School as a classmate of Donna Mae Schlueter, Pat Schrempp, Treva Butler Carr, Pam Pullen, Mary Jane Korte, Carol Seibert, Rosemary Captain and others. She moved with her family to Minnesota after her graduation.
• Recently widowed, Rita is downsizing her home to move into smaller quarters. She took a number of things to an antique dealer, Barb Urlab, in Champlin, Minnesota to see if she would be interested. Barb unwrapped one large piece and recognized it as a church communion chalice. She asked Rita to tell her about it–Barb thought it should be sent back home.
• Barb contacted Rachael Bearth, youth and education minister at St. John church, on the church Facebook address. Rachael asked me, Historical Society researcher, to pursue it and I have spoken with Rita and Barb a number of times. Rita agreed that it should be back at St. John.
• Rita says since childhood she remembers the chalice being in a glass-doored cabinet at her Grandparents Marcella and Herb Pfeiffer’s house on East Green Street–it was always there; however, she never really knew what it was. When it was passed on to her mother in Minnesota, her Grandpa Herb told her its story. Now, her children are not interested in keeping the chalice, and she brought to Barb’s shop.
• After the story circulated around her dealer friends, Barb received a call from the editor of a national magazine and also a Minnesota magazine to do a story on it. She, Rita, and I were interviewed for the magazines articles and Gene Schnur sent pictures of the destruction of the church and the original church.
• Barb sent the chalice back home to Mascoutah, and……
• On Sunday, August 11, St. John church celebrated the return of this chalice, an early part of our town’s history. It will be on display in a glass-front cabinet in the church parlor!
And that’s the end of the story. Except for we will be getting copies of both magazines when they come out. Come by and read them at St. John church or the Mascoutah Heritage Museum.