Father Richard Kunst, pastor of St. John the Evangelist in Duluth and St. Joseph in Gnesen, has made an international name for himself as a collector of papal memorabilia and as the host of the EWTN show “The Papacy: A Living History,” which is based on his collection.
The most recent addition — from the popular Pope Francis — drew a flurry of media attention in May from coast to coast and even to Sports Illustrated: a signed baseball.
At a papal audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Father Richard Kunst hands a pen and a baseball to Pope Francis, who autographed the ball for the Duluth Diocese priest. (Photo courtesy of Father Richard Kunst)
Getting to meet the pope wasn’t easy. “This was my fourth attempt to get to meet him,” Father Kunst said. He finally was one of about 50 for the event who got a prized ticket allowing him a brief moment to greet the pope.
He handed the pope a copy of the DVD of his EWTN show, and he said the pope took it and thanked him. Then came the other part.
“I had the baseball in my other hand, and quickly I handed it to him,” Father Kunst said. The pope seemed happy to sign it, Father Kunst said.
“I was super pumped about it,” he said. “I actually had the idea for quite a long time.”
He said the idea of asking him to sign a baseball wasn’t related to any particular interest by the pope in the game — he’s a well-known soccer fan — but rather the uniqueness of it as a piece of papal memorabilia. Signed baseballs are a unique niche.
He said he knows of maybe four or five other baseballs signed by popes in the past 50 years or so.
The story was picked up by Duluth’s ABC affiliate WDIO and then quickly spread through an Associated Press story and some coverage by other Minnesota media outlets.
That has meant a lot of comments in day-to-day life. “A lot of people want to see it,” Father Kunst said. “I jokingly tell people, ‘No, I’m still sleeping with it,’” he added.
He has shown it to a relatively small group of people, including weekly Mass-goers at St. John’s. He said the baseball will be part of his famous collection.
— Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross