There is a tradition in the Catholic Church, that when a priest is ordained, he needs a chalice to use when giving communion. The chalice must be made or layered with precious materials, and Alex Roche had a vision of the chalice in which he planned to use following his ordination into the church.
Roche, a native of Williamsport, studied for two years at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia. From there, he was sent to Vatican City, Rome, Italy, to study at Northern American College for four years.
As his time in Rome was coming to a close, he began talking with goldsmiths, telling them of his plan for the chalice he wanted to have created. He wanted to use local artists from his hometown area, as well as local materials.
It was going to be a tall order for anyone to pull off in a short amount of time, not to mention Roche was still in Rome and the artists would have to complete his vision without personal contact. A true act of faith.
In March, just more than three months before Roche's ordination date of June 30, his father, David, spoke with goldsmith Stephanie Long about the chalice project. Long, owner of the Goldcrafter's Corner, which at the time was located in Williamsport, quickly accepted the project.
Long studied jewelry at the State University of New York, Plattsburgh, and Mansfield University, was prepared to take on the chalice challenge.
"I have the concept, the contacts, the facility - You have a vision, a worthy cause and a deadline, and no one else will? (help you) Sure, I can do that," she said about her conversation with Roche. "It was a project and a challenge, on a short deadline."
The chalice was first to be made of wood, then gold leaf and coal inlay would be added later.
Long put Roche's father in touch with Steven Godfrey, a wood turner and owner of Arcane Artifacts and Arcane Images. Godfrey was excited to be given the opportunity to create the chalice for Roche.
"This was the first time that I'd ever participated in something of this significance," Godfrey said. "I was very excited. The idea of this project was very appealing. Especially Father Alex's desire to use local materials."
Godfrey, who also crafted a paten for Roche, said he originally planned to use dogwood for the two items because of the wood's significance to Christianity. He had an ailing dogwood tree that needed to be taken down and thought he could use the wood for the project. He roughed out a number of blanks but couldn't get anything the right size, so he decided on cherry instead, getting the wood from Lewis Lumber in Picture Rocks.
When the wooden chalice was complete, it was Long's turn to add the gold and coal (anthracite). Long covered the interior and lip of the cup with thin "leaves" of pure gold, and 24 karat gold leaf was applied under and around the edges where the coal was going to be inlayed. Long said the gold work alone took her about three days.
Harry Lewis, the lapidarist, roughed out and fined down the anthracite into curved rectangles.
"Coal is extremely messy and a rather fragile medium," Long said. "And all of the rough stones he (Lewis) intended to work with had to be fortified and sealed first."
Long said as Lewis began to polish the stones, they lost their semblance of coal and became nondescript black stones. Long began to work with the coal herself to try to develop a more rough style to the stones.
"For the true feel of Pennsylvania, the smooth gold and polished wood needed to be offset by a more rugged look," she said. "I had cut and carved the coal into a highly textured mosaic, and then sealed the surface ... It was a learning experience and certainly enriching. I may never get the coal dust out of my workbench, but I expanded my horizons, met a challenge and made some people very happy."
Godfrey said the project was very challenging and is pleased with the end result and the fact that he had the chance to work with Long.
"Stephanie did an amazing job with the gold and stone work," Godfrey said. "She and I have been friends for over 20 years - this was the first time that I've gotten to collaborate on a piece with her. It was a lot of hard work, but very much worth it."
The chalice was completed less than one week before Roche's ordination at St. Peter Cathedral in Scranton.
Roche arrived back in the country from Rome the weekend before his ordination and drove to Harrisburg to pick up his new chalice. He saw his vision come to life and will now give communion with his new chalice and paten, created by local artists, using local materials - just as he envisioned.
Goldcrafter's Corner is now located at 5301 Jonestown Rd., Harrisburg. Visit www.goldcrafterscorner.com or call 717-412-4616 for more information.
Godfrey's work can be viewed at Harvest Artisan Cooperative and Gallery, 46 1/2 W. Fourth St.; Patinaz, 400 Pine St.; Port Penn Peddler, 585 Pepper St., Muncy Creek Township; or online at nuin.redbubble.com and Arcane Images and Artifacts on Facebook.