When the Rev. Jeffrey Dauses was starting out in his life as a Catholic priest, tradition held that the parents of a newly ordained young man should give him a special gift to mark the occasion: the chalice, or goblet, he’d use to offer Holy Communion to the faithful.
In many ways, Dauses’ was more special than most. His working-class parents scrimped and saved $1,800 to have his brass-and-silver version made. William Borders, the 13th Archbishop of Baltimore, blessed it at a private Mass. And Dauses brought it with him to one parish posting after another, from Frederick and Clarksville to Baltimore and Bel Air.
All of which is why Dauses, now pastor of St. Andrew by the Bay Parish near Annapolis, was devastated when the chalice mysteriously went missing five years ago.
“Maybe I can get across how precious a chalice is [to a priest] by saying it’s like someone’s wedding ring,” the 56-year-old cleric says. “Imagine taking a trip to Ocean City, and your ring goes missing, and you never find it. It’s the kind of thing that can haunt you for years."
Suddenly, he got it back last month. But that’s just part of the story.
Dauses was educated by Franciscans — an order of Catholic priests and brothers with a notable indifference to possessions. Congregants say he’s known for giving away nearly every present he receives.
So when they heard him speak so often about the chalice, they knew it meant something.
“Father Jeff is a minimalist,” says Erin Tate, a former director of faith formation for children at St. Andrew. “He owns very few possessions, and the chalice is the only one I’ve ever heard him talk about.”
It was early in 2015 when Dauses told friends he planned to send the chalice, tarnished from years of use, to a silversmith for repair in honor of the approaching 25th anniversary of his ordination.
Tate, now a stay-at-home mother in Annapolis, recalls him being nervous about even putting it in the mail.
“I’m thinking, ‘This is going to be fine,’” she says. “'It’s insured; they’re going to track it.' But I do remember Father Jeff was very focused on getting it there safely and back.”
It turned out his fears were not unfounded.
More than two months after Dauses shipped the chalice in a carefully padded package to Adrian Hamers Inc., a high-end metalsmith in Larchmont, New York, he still had heard nothing.
He called his friend Adam Miller, the Pennsylvania-based church supplier who had brokered the transaction, and asked when he might expect the treasure back.
Miller was incredulous. “It was finished and shipped to you weeks ago," he said.
A panic seized the priest.
His first move was to contact Hamers. A company official confirmed it had finished the job and returned the chalice by Federal Express a month earlier. They supplied the tracking number.
It was harder getting a response from the shipping company.
“After numerous, numerous phone calls and hours and hours on the phone with them, I finally got a FedEx inspector assigned to the case,” he recalls, still frustrated at the memory. “They insisted they had delivered it on a specific day and had some kind of electronic signature captured."
The report triggered a housecleaning at St. Andrew.
The priest and his staff ransacked the closets, emptied desk drawers and searched the basement of the gray-shingled church. No chalice. Dauses replayed the church’s security-camera footage from the day in question. It showed no delivery.
Tate says the situation maddened church staff, all of whom were in a “paranoid” state wondering whether somehow they had made a mistake or missed a clue.
“We love Father Jeff, and this was definitely weighing on everyone in the office,” she says.
FedEx later told Dauses they had interviewed the driver, and he not only remembered making the delivery, but described the workroom he had entered that day in a church on College Parkway on the Broadneck peninsula near Annapolis — details that describe St. Andrew.
They did concede that the driver hadn’t recorded the street address as required; he’d written only the word “church.”
“I could only think of one good explanation," Dauses recalls. “The driver had to have arrived after hours, and instead of coming back to return the package the next day, he got lazy and left it on the doorstep. Somebody saw it there, realized it must be valuable, and made off with it."
After Dauses asked an attorney friend to send FedEx a “nasty lawyer letter,” the company agreed to pay for a replica chalice. The $7,000 facsimile was a near-perfect match, Dauses says, but using it only sharpened his yearning for the one James and Janice Dauses commissioned and that the archbishop had blessed.
All three had since died, "so the original felt more irreplaceable than ever,” Dauses says.
As the months became years, Dauses says he continued to include the situation in his prayers even as he kept a close eye on eBay and pawnshops. The encouragement of parishioners helped. So did relentless prayer from his devout Aunt Mary.
One day last month, the phone rang as Dauses was preparing for another of the masses he has been celebrating online every day since coronavirus restrictions took effect in March. It was the pastor of nearby congregation.
“I found something I think you might be interested in,” said the Rev. Shawn Brandon of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church.
Brandon, it turned out, had been completing a long-delayed chore by cleaning out the sacristy, a storage room for church materials, when he came across the beautiful but unfamiliar object. The inscription on the bottom drew his attention: JEFFREY S. DAUSES, ORDAINED A PRIEST, MAY 26, 1990; GIFT OF THE DAUSES FAMILY.
He knew Dauses from their previous work on an interfaith council.
The FedEx driver, it would appear, had in fact delivered the package that day in 2015, but to the church at 461 College Parkway, not St. Andrew at 701. The chalice was stowed away and forgotten as church leadership changed.
“All that time it was in a closet [2 miles] away," Dauses marvels.
The priest related the story in detail as part of a livestreamed mass and on his Facebook page.
The posting sparked more than 300 “likes” and comments.
“It once was lost, but now it’s found! True Amazing Grace,” one parishioner wrote.
“God tested your patience, and you passed the test,” another commented.
More than one saw the news as a sign of hope amid the pandemic, a period that has separated the members of a close-knit parish.
Dauses plans to donate the replica chalice to a sister church, San Francisco de Asis, in El Salvador. He describes the parish as so poor it has dirt floors but whose members are “the most unbelievably generous people you could ever meet.”
A FedEx spokeswoman, Rae Lyn Rushing, wrote in an email that a “lack of available information about the shipment due to the passage of time” leaves the company unable to confirm the details of Dauses’ story, but FedEx is ”gratified to learn that this shipment was located and reunited with its owner.”
The priest will use it during his 30th anniversary Mass this week.