COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The Rev. Jerry Bruggeman of Colorado Springs wept when he saw his golden chalice this month for the first time in 22 years.
Bruggeman was given the chalice, engraved with his name, on the day of his ordination in 1949. He used it for 40 years during the Eucharist until it was stolen from a cabinet of chalices at Corpus Christi Catholic Church on North Cascade Avenue.
The chalice was returned to him this month, and after some refurbishing, it looks nearly as good as new.
"Miracles still happen," Bruggeman, 87, said.
It is customary for priests to receive a Eucharist chalice on the day of their ordination. The gift can be as special to them as wedding rings are to married couples.
Bruggeman's family funded the chalice, which is gold-plated silver with a strip of black onyx. On the bottom is engraved a blessing to Bruggeman's family that ends with, "Rev. Gerald Bruggeman, Ordained May 26, 1949."
In 1988, someone broke into Corpus Christi through a side door and stole the chalice, the only item taken, Bruggeman said.
Over the years, Bruggeman has had nightmares about the chalice being melted down for its silver.
Bruggeman retired as priest of Corpus Christi in 1994. Since then he's celebrated the Eucharist as a guest at various Catholic churches. He also volunteers two days a week at Penrose Hospital, where he blesses and anoints patients and conducts Mass on Sundays.
The events leading to the return of the chalice began Nov. 30, when Larry Resel of Las Animas walked into Prairie Junction antique store in Fowler and bought a chalice for $12.
The store owner told him it had a curious past. A couple in 1997 apparently were hiking in the Manitou Springs hills after attending their son's wedding and reception, he was told, and noticed a sliver of gold protruding from the ground.
It was the chalice.
The couple displayed the chalice at their home and business for years, Resel was told. That was all that was known.
Resel bought the chalice to sell on eBay. He makes extra money buying Catholic items and auctioning them online.
But the chalice never went up for sale. A couple days later, his mother, Nona Resel, noticed the engraving on the bottom. Mother and son decided to try to return the chalice to Bruggeman.
A Google search and a few phone calls led them to the priest. After speaking by phone with Bruggeman, Larry Resel boxed the chalice and overnighted it to Bruggeman's home. Bruggeman couldn't bring himself to open the package for 10 minutes, he said. When he did, a flood of emotions erupted.
"I always held out hope that someday it would be returned," he said.
The chalice has also been reunited with its original chalice case, which Bruggeman kept in a closet.
For the past two Sundays, Bruggeman has been arriving at Penrose to conduct Mass carrying his 61-year-old black chalice case with the chalice inside. The Eucharist, Bruggeman said, feels at times like it did all those years ago.
Resel, a Roman Catholic, is overjoyed the chalice is back to its rightful owner.
"It's amazing it worked its way back to him during the Advent season," he said.
"This is a Christmas miracle."