The Great Western Schism: Two Popes at One Time…

The Great Western Schism: Two Popes at One Time…

We were lounging in Dick Scheller’s room in Olsen Hall after a long day of shooting the All Army Combat Rifle Championships at Fort Benning. We had earned our trip by winning the First Army Combat Rifle Championships at Fort Meade just as John Hinckley made his failed attempt on the life of President Ronald Reagan. A year later the Falkland’s War would overshadow our marksmanship skills at Meade. First Army just seemed to be carrying a dark cloud with it in the early 80s, but I digress.

We were planning for the next day’s shooting as Ed Biatowas ambled into the room and announced that an attempt had just been made on the life of Pope Paul II. Ed had been in the Day Room hustling up a pool game when the news flashed on the television. Roger McQuiggan, a former seminarian, asked him if he had any details. The newsfeed from Rome was sketchy but apparently His Holiness was passing through a worshipful throng as he was entering Saint Peter’s Square when Mehmet Ali Ağca, a member of the Turkish ultra-nationalist Grey Wolves organization, fired four shots from a 9mm Browning Hi-Power pistol and critically wounded the Pontiff. The would be assassin then tried to flee but was captured by the Vatican security chief, and-embarrassingly enough-a nun. Although, after Roger described some of the nuns who taught him in Catholic grammar school, it may not have been so embarrassing after all.

Roger gave an off the cuff opinion that it must have been pretty simple for the assailant to do his dirty deed. The Pope would have been an easy target as he was slowly carried along in his sedia gestatoria by thesediari pontifici.At our raised eyebrows he quickly explained that the sedia was simply the Pope’s sedan chair and the sediariwere the gentlemen of the papal household who carried it. As a happily lapsed Catholic and Latin teacher Roger was our go to guy whenever our more esoteric barracks room musings drifted toward the Holy See and the classical language.

Ed brought Roger up to date noting that the saintly John Paul II had done away with the stately sedia a few years earlier, much to the relief of the elderlysediari,to be replaced with a tricked out motorized vehicleknow as “The Popemobile.”

At that Scheller sat bolt upright. The Popemobile he, who was not well versed in the Church of Rome or Papal transport, blurted out, was an extremely rare classic vehicle from the ‘Brass Era’ of automobiles, so called for the extensive use of the metal in headlights, radiators and other fittings. “By rights it ought to be in a museum and not tooling about the streets of Vatican City!” he exclaimed. That observation got much the same appreciative reaction from the team as did Roger’s exposition on thesedia.

Dick went on to expound on the Hartford, Connecticut Pope Manufacturing Company which had produced over 500 vehicles around the turn of the 20th Century. He was pretty well versed on the subject because he grew up in Hartford. As a collector of Schützen rifles he also knew that the finest of them were made by Harry Pope, whose accurate barrels are legendary. He went on to tell us that for some time Pope was both a director and the plant superintendent at Pope Manufacturing. To make the firearms connection all that tighter he mentioned that Hiram Percy Maxim was the company’s head engineer.

Pope was no shade tree barrel maker either. He graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1881 after completing a two year industrial engineering course with a heavy emphases on hands on machining. His MIT degree was an accomplishment of which he was quite proud and made no effort to hide.

Wanting to work on rifles full time Harry left the family concern and took up with the Stevens Arms and Tool Company in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, perhaps the largest producer of sporting firearms in the world at the time. It was an uncomfortable relationship between the prickly barrel maker and the straight laced corporation but it did produce superb target arms, exemplified by the Stevens-Pope Single Shot Schützen Rifle.Pope was, himself, an excellent Schützen shooter and challenged all comers to, “stand on his hind legs and shoot like a man.”

After breaking with Stevens he moved on to San Francisco until rudely awakened on the morning of April 18, 1906 as the San Andreas Fault rearranged itself and destroyed 80% of the city, including Harry’s workshop.The incorrigible chain smoker who admitted that he, “Started to smoke after the San Francisco fire, when grub was hard to get.” was thereafter seldom seen without an ash laden tobacco filled tube dangling from the center of his mouth. After the earthquake he returned to the more stable east coast and settled into a shop at 18 Morris Street in Jersey City, New Jersey from could be heard the humming of belt driven machinery and the occasional popping sound of a rifle being tested.

“And what of the Popemobile” asked an increasingly agitated Dick, “Was it damaged? It is really valuable you know. I’d rather the Pope get lugged around in that sedan chair Roger talked about than risk one of Harry’s priceless cars.”

Roger quietly explained that there hadn’t been two men claiming to be the true Pope since the Great Western Schism of 1378 and the same could be said of two Popemobiles. The one in question wasnot a product of Hartford’sPope Manufacturing Companybut rather a modern Italian FIAT Campagnola.

And, with that explanation, Dick let out a sigh of relief and we returned to the more mundane; a discussion our fire plan for the next day’s Rattle Battle.

About Hap Rocketto

Hap Rocketto is a Distinguished Rifleman with service and smallbore rifle, member of The Presidents Hundred, and the National Guard’s Chief’s 50. He is a National Smallbore Record holder, a member of the 1600 Club and the Connecticut Shooters’ Hall Of Fame. He was the 2002 Intermediate Senior Three Position National Smallbore Rifle Champion, the 2012 Senior Three Position National Smallbore Rifle Champion a member of the 2007 and 2012 National Four Position Indoor Championship team, coach and captain of the US Drew Cup Team, and adjutant of the United States 2009 Roberts and 2013 Pershing Teams. Rocketto is very active in coaching juniors. He is, along with his brother Steve, a cofounder of the Corporal Digby Hand Schützenverein. A historian of the shooting sports, his work appears in Shooting Sports USA, the late Precision Shooting Magazine, The Outdoor Message, the American Rifleman, the Civilian Marksmanship Program’s website, and most recently, the apogee of his literary career,
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