Welcome to my blog via The Catholic Messenger. My name is Bob Heisdorffer. I am age 29 and still trying to find my place in this world. As we take this journey together in faith, I hope to share with you some of my spiritual inspirations, questions and reflections.
I grew up on my family’s 143-year-old family farm outside Keota. Two miles from home is the former Ss. Peter & Paul Church. One year ago on April 3, 2010, I was able to examine the slate altar stone that had been removed from the high altar in that church. In some cases, these altar stones housed the relics of a saint. In other cases, the consecrated stone was placed into a surface that then could serve as an altar if a consecrated altar was not available.
The first line engraved in this stone, in Latin, “Paulus Georgius Maria dePont des Loges,” translated Paul George Marie DuPont des Loges, is the name of the man who was bishop of the Diocese of Metz, France from 1843 to 1886. Also engraved is “1854,” the year of consecration. The third line engraved, “Episcopus Metensis,” is the formal Latin title of the Bishop of Metz. There is no record of how this altar stone came to arrive in Keokuk County, Iowa.
I am interested in genealogy and history and have made my family history a lifelong pursuit. I found these facts fascinating because Metz, France is only about 35 miles from where the Heisdorffer family lived near Wintrange, Luxembourg. In addition, the Ss. Peter & Paul altar stone was consecrated there in 1854 and the Heisdorffer family departed from the port of Le Havre, France to the United States on April 4, 1855.
I made contact with Virginie Giron, who is responsible for communications requests to the Diocese of Metz. She checked diocesan records and found that the only documented consecration of an altar stone by Bishop DuPont des Loges in 1854 was for the chapel of the small seminary of Montigny-lès-Metz.
Giron offered several possible explanations for why Bishop DuPont des Loges might have consecrated the Ss. Peter & Paul altar stone. From the French Revolution in 1789 to 1823, Luxembourg was part of the Diocese of Metz. From 1823 to 1840, Luxembourg was part of the Diocese of Namur, Belgium. In 1840, Luxembourg became an Apostolic Vicariate and did not have a bishop until the Archdiocese of Luxembourg was created in 1870. Since Luxembourg had no bishop in 1854, it is possible that neighboring bishops were called upon to perform episcopal duties for the people of Luxembourg, Giron said, and one of the Luxembourg emigrants might have brought the altar stone to the United States. She also said that bishops often consecrated altar stones for priests and perhaps there was a priest among the emigrants. However, we know that there was not a priest living in Keokuk County, Iowa, at that time. It was also possible that the altar stone was later presented to the people as a gift from a visiting priest, who had himself brought the altar stone to the United States, and the altar stone had no connection to the original immigrants.
We still do not know how the altar stone made its way here. However, it is an inspiration to know that a physical piece of this community’s homeland, from the region where France, Luxembourg and Germany come together, a place that remained in the hearts of its immigrant people, remained in Ss. Peter and Paul Church all those years, at each and every Mass, on the high altar, in front of the tabernacle, the heart of the universal Church.