Editor’s note: Today’s Catholic is launching a new series focusing on Cathedral Museum in Fort Wayne and its artifacts.
Cathedral Museum is a treasure trove of religious artifacts that bring to life the Catholic faith’s awe-inspiring history, especially in northeast Indiana. The items on display are sometimes thought-provoking, sometimes amusing, but always significant in telling the story of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. Those artifacts include a mid-13th century handwritten Bible; an 85-year old statue showing a scourged Jesus, with wounds in graphic yet beautiful detail; a collection of dolls dressed as nuns, each one representing a different religious community; and so much more.
Father Phillip Widmann is the museum’s director. He also serves as pastor of St. Mary, Mother of God Parish in Fort Wayne. Father Widmann was the driving force behind the museum’s creation. As a seminarian in the early to mid-1970s he worked summers at Fort Wayne’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, doing mostly yard work and sometimes office work too. During that time, the Cathedral’s rector, Msgr. Thomas L. Durkin, expressed an interest in establishing a diocesan museum one day.
When Msgr. Durkin died in May 1977, just four months after Father Widmann’s ordination, Father Widmann thought he would go forward with the museum idea as a tribute to Msgr. Durkin. In 1979, he began collecting items and the museum opened on May 17, 1981.
Originally, the museum was in the Cathedral Center, immediately to the northeast of the cathedral; it then expanded to the St. Mother Theodore Guerin Chapel basement before it relocated a second time to its current home, the lower level of the Archbishop Noll Catholic Center, 915 South Clinton St.
Items for the museum have been donated for public viewing, but the museum also serves as a repository. For example, Father Widmann explained that sometimes when a priest dies, his chalice is donated to the museum and then given to a newly-ordained priest who does not yet have a chalice. Another example would be the museum’s recent donation of items for display and decoration at the new Divine Mercy Funeral Home, also in Fort Wayne.
The museum has attracted and is geared toward both Catholic and non-Catholic visitors. It is a stop on Fort Wayne’s annual “Be A Tourist in Your Own Hometown” day, and Father Widmann said that is often the museum’s busiest day of the year. For the benefit of all visitors, each piece has an accompanying sign that briefly explains the item and its importance in Church or diocesan history as well as its use in the Church, if needed.
Cathedral Museum is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., except holidays or holy days. The museum is also open anytime by appointment and serves as a school field trip destination. Admission and parking are free.
The museum is staffed by volunteers and runs primarily on donations. According to Father Widmann, donations go toward restoring items, like re-plating chalices and monstrances in silver and gold. Contributions are welcome in the museum’s offering box.
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