Something will be missing from the Novena of Grace in Honor of St. Francis Xavier scheduled to be celebrated at St. John’s Parish on March 4.
On Sept. 25, 2019, Liturgy Coordinator Chase Becker opened the safe in St. John’s and noticed something unusual. The key that typically sits in a small lockbox inside the safe was missing.
He contacted Public Safety and had a replacement key made. When he opened the lockbox, he was devastated to find that there was nothing inside.
Twelve theca, or round, quarter-sized glass and brass cases for storing relics, were missing from inside the lockbox. The relics that were among the missing property represented 27 different saints. Also missing from the box were the documents of authentication for each relic.
“[I was] shattered,” Becker said. “That’s a part of our history.”
“Because one person decided to take them for themselves, it’s really depriving this whole community of the opportunity to come into contact with the heroes of our faith.”
Many of the missing relics were acquired during the time of the Creighton’s, themselves.
Becker estimated the monetary value of the missing property to be around $6,000, though he said that the true value they bring to the community can’t be labeled with a price tag.
“The value is in the community,” Becker said. “The value is of who these people are and how we connect with them in the community.”
Relics are pieces of bone, clothing and other physical items that belong to a saint. They are used by people of the church as a way of connecting with saints and other religious figures.
One of the relics missing was a piece of bone belonging to St. Francis Xavier, a co-founder of the Society of Jesus.
Becker said that the relic would have been part of the service on March 4 honoring the saint. Worshippers would have been welcome to venerate, see, touch, kiss and interact with the relic as a way of honoring and connecting with St. Francis Xavier.
St. John’s was able to borrow a relic of St. Francis Xavier from Creighton Prep, but Becker said the loss of this relic and others are such a loss for St. John’s, Creighton and the religious community.
Public safety officers responded to the Sept. 25 call from St. John’s reporting stolen property. The crime was also reported to Omaha Police. Michael Reiner, the senior director of Public Safety, said that there are no leads at this time.
Becker requested that anyone who knows anything about the missing property contact him or St. John’s. He said that the church just wants the property returned, even anonymously with no questions asked.
When the 27 relics from the lockbox were discovered to be missing, Becker realized that Creighton had few written records of the artifacts in St. John’s and even fewer photos of the items.
By working with the Creighton archivist, David Crawford, Becker devised a new way to keep St. John’s artifacts safe, as well as to create a digital and photographic record.
The other relics and artifacts from St. John’s were moved to the Rare Books Room in the Reinert-Alumni Memorial Library, where they have been set up in a physical display.
“In our discussions, the idea of building a photographic record of the pieces emerged and then expanded into a realization that we could create a digital gallery,” Crawford said.
Having a photographic record would have helped quickly identify which relics were missing from St. John’s in September. Now, the idea has evolved into an interactive digital gallery that makes the objects more accessible to the public.
“This digital gallery project arose after the relics went missing, firstly to document and catalogue the liturgical patrimony and artifacts that St. John’s has,” said Jon Herrington, a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences.
As the liturgy intern, Herrington works to identify each item, document its history and usage, offer guidance to the photographers and collect data to be published with the photos in the digital repository.
“We realized that this project gives us the opportunity to share with the greater community an important aspect of the heritage of Creighton University and St. John’s Church, and the Creighton Digital Repository was just the medium to do it,” Herrington said.
The photos and information will be combined to form a digital, interactive tour of the artifacts and their historical significance. Becker said the project may be expanded to include an interactive tour of the church itself.
“When St. John’s was first built, it would have been using the newest technology in building and art,” Becker said. “We’re taking what’s our current technology as a way to interact with old technology.”
In addition to the digital project, a select number of artifacts are on display in the Rare Books Room.
“We also recognized that a physical display of the artifacts would be a great way to allow people to see these sacred pieces, most of which have not often been available for public viewing,” Crawford said.
Though the missing items have not been recovered, Becker said that the physical display and interactive digital collections are exciting, positive steps in making the artifacts more accessible to the public.
“This stuff isn’t meant to be locked up in a dusty cabinet,” Becker said. “It’s meant to help people draw closer to God.”
“We may not always be able to [have things on display] for security reasons, unfortunately, but here’s a way that [artifacts] can still serve their intended purpose.”