Rose, better known as Duke to anyone who stops long enough to listen, received a gift recently from two women on campus, a mother and daughter. He says they went to the Vatican together, attended a Mass presided over by the new pope, Benedict XVI, and were offered a special audience with him.
“They had a minute with the pope,” Duke says, staring through milky blue eyes weakened by diabetes. “He asked what he could do for them and they said, ‘Old Duke at Xavier, he’d like a blessing.’ And they gave this item to him and he blessed it.”
The item he blessed is a laminated prayer card with a gold-colored crucifix inside a clear plastic sleeve. It sits on Duke’s counter in his guard house, and he shows it to people who show an interest in him. As they drive up and stop, he ambles out with the card in his hand.
“I’ve been here 30 years and I never expected this,” he says. “This is fantastic.”
Then Duke, 65, launches into another story, this one about Edward Brueggeman, S.J., a former Xavier theology professor who also went to the Vatican to attend a conference with Pope John Paul II. He also asked Duke if he wanted anything from the pope, and Duke said to tell him he wanted a blessing. When he came back, Brueggeman produced a handmade rosary blessed by Pope John Paul. Duke digs through the drawer in the guard house, dust flying, and pulls out a long string of black plastic beads with a metal crucifix attached.
“He’s one of the most loved men in the whole world,” Duke says of the pope, while holding the rosary. “It’s not the material thing but the thought behind it that Fr. Brueggeman would care about an old hillbilly. That’s the story. Two popes. It’s an honor.”