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Papal artifacts in Two Harbors this Monday

The Rev. Richard Kunst during a 1998 visit to Rome, exchanging zucchettos (a traditional Catholic skullcap) with Pope John Paul II. Submitted photo.

A bit of Vatican history will be in Two Harbors on Monday.

The Rev. Rich Kunst, a Catholic priest in Duluth, will bring 25-30 items from his vast collection of papal history to the Holy Spirit Catholic Church.

Kunst began collecting papal artifacts even before he became a priest. He was working for U.S. Sen. Rod Grams and heard about an auction that included some artifacts from the Vatican. He attended, purchased some items, and his obsession began.

"From there on out, it went all things papal," he said.

His collection now contains more than 1,000 pieces, all connected to one of the 266 popes that have led the Catholic Church in the past 2,000 years. He purchases them online or at auctions.

Linda Hoffman of Two Harbors met Kunst through her nephew, also a Catholic priest. She traveled with him to Rome last year and then asked if he would come to her church to do a presentation.

"To be able to learn and hear about these things ... I thought would be interesting not only to me but my fellow parishioners," Hoffman said.

Kunst is believed to have the largest collection of papal artifacts outside of the Vatican, a collection that includes documents dating back to the 1200s and the snuff box of Pope Innocent XI, who ruled from 1676-1689. As for where he keeps all of the artifacts, he's not spilling.

Hoffman asked Kunst to speak because he's a papal historian, but also because he's entertaining, she said.

"He's pretty quick-witted and has very dry humor. He's extremely knowledgeable about history," she said.

Kunst acted as a tour guide for Hoffman, Hoffman's husband and a couple of other travelers during their trip to Rome spanning 11 days in December 2011 and January 2012. She said the depth of his knowledge made their trip all the more fascinating.

"The things that we learned by following closely and observing and listening were awesome," she said, citing the story he told about a bishop from Duluth.

The bishop had been visiting Rome and got the opportunity to meet Pope John Paul II.

"I remember you," the pope told the bishop as they shook hands, assuring him they'd met before. Certain he would remember if he'd met the pope, the bishop told him with confidence him that they had never met. The bishop returned home and received a letter a short time later.

The letter, straight from the pope, detailed the meeting he had been referring to -- they had met at a different church, years before he had been named pope.

"He was able to draw us in with these little tidbits," Hoffman said.

Kunst has his entire collection cataloged on, and the Catholic television network EWTN has done a documentary series on it, but seeing the pieces in person is a rare opportunity. He's only travelled twice before with parts of the collection.

"It's a significant collection," he said. "I've spent my life's work and my money on it."

Kunst encouraged non-Catholics to attend the presentation, too. Lutherans share a history with Catholics until the 1500s, so many of the pieces will be spiritually significant to them, he said. In addition, Catholicism was a dominant force for much of the world's history, so the artifacts are important even outside of their religious connotations.

"The popes, politically speaking, ran the world for about 1,000 years," Kunst said.

At the presentation, Kunst will speak for about an hour and will give everyone an hour to look at the artifacts and ask questions. He should be able to answer almost anything, thanks to his extensive research.

LaReesa Sandretsky
LaReesa Sandretsky is a Two Harbors High School graduate and Duluth native who began working at the News-Chronicle in 2012 as a reporter. She took over as editor in 2014. She covers County Board, including the Lake County broadband project.
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