A ‘gift of heaven’
Rare baseball card brings unexpected treasure to
School Sisters of Notre Dame
By GEORGE P. MATYSEK Jr.
Catholic News Service
BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Sister Virginia Muller grew up rooting for the Dodgers at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, N.Y. Ministering in Baltimore, she has more recently adopted the Orioles as her hometown heroes.
But ask who her favorite player is and the white-haired School Sister of Notre Dame turns to a Pittsburgh Pirate from another generation.
“Honus Wagner!” Sister Virginia exclaimed with a laugh.
Sister Virginia made the comments during a Nov. 5 news conference at her religious congregation’s motherhouse in Baltimore, announcing that a rare 100-year-old Honus Wagner baseball card bequeathed to the School Sisters of Notre Dame brought them $220,000 in an online auction that closed Nov. 4. The card, graded authentic though in poor condition, was left to the sisters’ Atlantic-Midwest province by the brother of one of the congregation’s members.
The sister died in 1999 and her brother died earlier this year. He left everything he had to the congregation, including the card, which surpassed initial estimates of its auction price by $162,900.
Sister Virginia, former treasurer of the Atlantic-Midwest province, was the personal representative of the donor’s estate.
The card was part of a series called T206 produced by the American Tobacco Company. It was discovered in a safe deposit box with a note that said: “Although damaged, this card will be exponentially valuable in the 21st century.”
Sister Virginia said that when she opened the safe deposit box, she had no idea who Honus Wagner was.
“I did take myself to the Internet and to the library to quickly find out some things about Honus,” she said.
After news of the card began to circulate across the country, Sister Virginia received a telephone call from South Carolina. It was Leslie Roberts, Wagner’s granddaughter.
“She was absolutely thrilled that the School Sisters had this card and will be receiving such a gift,” Sister Virginia said.
Sister Virginia noted that Roberts recounted how her famous grandfather sat her on his lap while chewing tobacco and feeding her bits of Hershey’s chocolates. The retired baseball star enjoyed telling tall tales and once explained to his granddaughter how he hit his longest home run when he smacked a ball out of the park and into a train heading to California.
Sister Kathleen Cornell, provincial leader of the sisters’ Atlantic-Midwest province, said the money from the auction has not been earmarked for any specific project but will be used to support the congregation’s educational ministries in North America and the work of sisters in Latin America and Africa. She called the bequest a “tangible sign of the goodness of people to us.”
“We are grateful to benefactors like the one who gave us this Honus Wagner card because such generosity enables us to continue our ministries,” Sister Kathleen said.
Doug Walton, managing partner of Walton Sports & Collectibles, won the auction for the card. The final price, including a buyer’s premium of 19.5 percent, was $262,900.
“For many years I have been in the hunt for an original T206 Wagner in any condition and the back story on this card makes it that much more special,” Walton said. “We will proudly display this card throughout our seven card shops in Tennessee, South Carolina and Florida in the coming months.”
According the news release, only about 50 of the T206 Wagner cards are known to exist, with this one being new to the census of known examples. This card was in the collection of the donor since 1936, and caused a major stir in the sports collectibles hobby when its existence was revealed earlier this past summer.
When asked if she thought there was divine intervention at play with this card, Sister Virginia had a quick response.
“It’s certainly more than luck,” she said. “We believe we are about God’s ministry -- God’s work -- and so we know it’s a gift of heaven.”