|A window in the nave of St. Mary's depicting the finding of Jesus in the temple. St. Mary of the Assumption Church had all its stained glass windows restored and re-installed. The project cost nearly half a million dollars and 11 years of saving and planning.|
Father David Bristow sits at his desk on a Thursday afternoon in an office filled with books and religious artwork. In his hands he holds a four-inch-long strip of lead — the material used in the construction of stained-glass windows that holds all the individual glass pieces together. But this is no ordinary piece of lead. The lead is old, discolored, and frail to the point that you could easily crush it in your hands. And yet this lead is what used to hold up St. Mary of the Assumption’s treasured stained-glass windows and a key reason why Fr. Bristow and his parishioners toiled and fundraised for nine years to have the windows restored.
When Fr. Bristow, a history buff and art connoisseur, arrived at St. Mary’s 11 years ago, he saw the cathedral-style stained-glass in the nave, or area extending from the narthex to the altar, cracked and even curving to the outside. So he rallied his parishioners to save the windows that have been a fixture at the parish since 1931.
“It was as if several of them could fall in at any time, and that was the actual warning when the assessment was done,” said Suzanne Yowell, director of the Partners for Sacred Places Texas Office, which assisted St. Mary’s with a $5,000 grant for an assessment to be done on the windows and later with a $10,000 grant for the actual restoration.
Fr. Bristow started looking into the process of restoration in 2002 and began gathering bids. In 2006, he joined forces with Partners for Sacred Places, a nonprofit whose focus is to provide congregations with funding to care for their historic religious properties, and along with a group of parishioners he became involved in the historic restoration organization’s one-year training program, learning how to structure a capital campaign and find funding resources. After finally saving up the nearly $500,000 for the restoration, the parish sent the windows to Franz Mayer Studio in Munich, Germany in 2010 — the studio that originally made the windows and also provided the most affordable bid.
The studio worked on the badly damaged windows for 17 months, re-leading each window, replacing some pieces with new ones, and fixing every crack. The newly restored windows arrived and were re-installed in St. Mary’s this spring. Bishop Kevin Vann rededicated the windows on Easter Sunday.
Yowell said St. Mary’s is known locally for not only its strong ministries (which provide $1 million in social services each year) but for the windows, and saving them was a thoughtful and visionary move.
“I know that people come from all over to see those glorious windows… They’re works of art that will keep that building architecturally significant,” Yowell said. “I think it’s wonderful somebody is looking out for the artwork, I think it will draw folks to their facility and draw awareness to their story.”
The 2,000 families in the parish also reveled in the restoration. That pride in their church is evidenced by parishioners’ many donations to make the project possible, business manager Debbie Alvarez said.
Alvarez said parishioners mainly donated by giving during the second collection to a church fund earmarked for restoration and repair work, although some families gave larger personal donations for windows their ancestors sponsored.
“Everybody loves them. They say the church is whole again,” Alvarez said of the windows.
As the stained-glass windows were removed from the historic St. Mary’s, built in 1924 by Fort Worth’s famous architect Wyatt Hedrick, new tempered-glass windows were installed on the outside, and all the framing and woodwork was re-done. The tempered glass serves to protect the stained-glass from vandalism or hail without detracting from the beauty of the windows. All 28 stained-glass windows in the church were restored, from the 10 large windows in the nave depicting the Joyful and Glorious Mysteries, and the windows depicting various saints in the apse, behind the altar, to the large window above the choir loft depicting St. Cecilia, patron saint of music, surrounded by a multitude of angels.
“After we got [the windows] back I could see so much more detail,” Fr. Bristow said of the choir loft windows as he walked through the church showing off the fruits of the restoration. “Each little face is a little bit different.”
He paused in the nave and looked around the church he calls a “precious jewel,” soft light pouring in through the windows, before saying, “It’s amazing isn’t it? It’s amazing. So you see what she looks like. It’s an incredible church.”
But preserving the beauty of the church wasn’t the only motivation for Fr. Bristow, it was also a way to minister and give back to his parishioners. “The people at St. Mary’s love their church profoundly,” he said, adding that several parishioners have a family connection to the parish and others travel long distances to attend Mass.
“Think of that very first window on the east side of the building… the expression on Mary’s face as the angel addresses her, how serious the face of the angel is as he brings this awesome message to her. This sense of absorption and taking in what she’s been told, you can see it in [Mary’s] face. You can see it and the Holy Spirit descending. The window teaches the Catholic faith, all the windows do, if you let them, if you take a good hard look at them.”“A lot of people are meditating on the windows,” Alvarez said of St. Mary’s parishioners on Sundays. “All the windows, there’s something to them.” The windows help do that because they aren’t just a source of beauty, they’re a source of contemplation, said Alvarez and Fr. Bristow. That’s because each window tells a story, he explained.
Father David Bristow sits at his desk on a Thursday afternoon in an office filled with books and religious artwork. In his hands he holds a four-inch-long strip of lead — the material used in the construction of stained-glass windows that holds all the individual glass pieces together. But this is no ordinary piece of lead.