Off Beat: As new pope was chosen, local display touted long-ago papal ties

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A dozen popes ago, the man who'd commanded Fort Vancouver received some serious papal recognition.

As fate would have it, two of those awards were on display in Vancouver on March 9, just as the process for picking the new pope was gearing up in the Vatican.

Pope Gregory XVI awarded the artifacts to John McLoughlin in 1846. They were part of the museum collection open house (held on the second Saturday of the month) at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

The McLoughlin family focus was very timely for treasures, including the golden cross of the Knights of St. Gregory.

Pope Gregory XVI sent the medal by way of the Rev. Francis Blanchet, a priest who had ministered at Fort Vancouver while McLoughlin ran the place.

After returning from Rome, Blanchet delivered the honor to McLoughlin in Oregon City, Ore., where the former Hudson's Bay chief factor lived after retiring.

Accompanying the medal was a document -- too fragile for the display, museum technician Meagan Huff said -- in which Pope Gregory XVI declared (in Latin):

"Nothing gives us greater pleasure and satisfaction than to decorate with the titles of honor and special marks of our favor men possessed with lofty gifts of mind and heart."

McLoughlin also was given a link to an earlier era of missionary work in the New World: a reliquary containing bone fragments of two saints who were martyred in Canada two centuries earlier. Jesuit missionaries Jean de Brébeuf and Gabriel Lalement were tortured to death by Iroquois Indians in 1649.

Maybe those fragments weren't McLoughlin's only link to that event. Since Fort Vancouver's diverse workforce included Iroquois Indians, distant relatives of those torturers could have been on his payroll.-- Tom Vogt

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.