By Barb Arland-Fye
Sorting through boxes in his garage in Swisher, Duane Krob found a framed picture of a boat on a lake. Lifting the picture out of the frame, which had a broken glass cover, he discovered a 1903 front page of The Iowa Catholic Messenger behind it.
“He came from the garage and said, ‘Look what I found,’” recalls his wife, Mydge. After scanning it, she told him, “I think it’s an early version of The Catholic Messenger.” She was right.
Mydge and Duane, members of St. Mary Parish in Solon, thought the Davenport Diocese might want the 111-year-old front page for its archive. The Krobs also serve on the parish finance council. Mydge decided to ask fellow finance council members for their input.
Days before that meeting last month, the Krobs received their Catholic Messenger in the mail. A front-page story announced the diocesan newspaper’s digital archive that contains 130 years of issues. Mydge figured the diocese might not be interested in the 1903 front page, after all.
But St. Mary’s pastor, Father Tim Sheedy, and finance council member Cheryl Krob said they thought The Catholic Messenger would be interested. They were right. Fr. Sheedy delivered the page, carefully wrapped in plastic, to the newspaper’s office in Davenport last week.
Brown with age, but impressively intact, the Aug. 1, 1903, front page features stories honoring Pope Leo XIII who died July 20, 1903; the visit of England’s King Edward and Queen Alexandra and Princess Victoria to Ireland; and a story that appears to be about the archbishop of St. Paul, Minn., although a portion of that column has worn away.
Cardinal James Gibbons, then archbishop of Baltimore, writes eloquently about the late Pope Leo XIII in a column that first appeared in Collier’s magazine. “Of the 260 popes who have sat in the chair of Peter, few of them have exerted a wider or more beneficial influence on the social, the political and the religious world than the pontiff about to be called to render an account of the stewardship of the church.”
The cardinal described “masterly and luminous encyclicals” that Pope Leo issued during his 25 years as leader of the Roman Catholic Church. Three of them addressed issues relevant in the Church today: Christian marriage, the condition of workers, and the relation of the Church to civil government.
I found one observation on the encyclical of marriage particularly insightful, given the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family that took place last month at the Vatican. “The holy father vindicates in strong and earnest language the unity, the sanctity, and the indissolubility of the marriage bond. He tells us that the married couple are the source of the family, and the family is the source of society,” Cardinal Gibbons wrote.
Concerning the encyclical on relations between the Church and civil government, Cardinal Gibbon said Pope Leo declared that the Church is not committed to any particular form of government, but adapts herself to all. “She leavens all with the sacred leaven of the Gospel.”
Mydge asked me, “Did you read the story about the pigeon? An article about the late pontiff being laid to rest contained wonderful, personal details, one involving his pet pigeon. During his final illness, a favorite pigeon came to his window every morning. A few days before his death, finding the window closed, the bird tapped on it and the pope ordered it to be opened. The pigeon entered the room and perched on the pope’s bed. He instructed his valet to get some crumbs to feed the bird.
I’m thrilled that Mydge recognized this page as a treasure, and not as trash.