Special to the Catholic Herald
For the first time in more than 50 years, windows that once flanked the altar in St. Ann Catholic Church, Saxon, were uncovered, repaired, and reinstalled in their original positions.
The congregation that gathered July 12, the first Sunday in years the windows were viewed in their full glory, was in awe of their beauty. For most, it was their first time seeing the two windows. For those who remembered them, it was a reunion of sorts.
The two stained glass windows depict Jesus and the Virgin Mary standing among flowers against a blue sky with their hands pointing toward the sacred hearts on their chests. Under each picture is the name of the window’s donor. Originally, they flanked the altar sanctuary that was removed not too long after the windows were covered. Their story starts with a seemingly simple beginning.
The church was built in 1908. Before that, St. Ann Parish, founded in 1886, called two previous locations home until the present church was built. In 1909, a year after the structure was completed, the windows were installed. Members of the church could sponsor one of the 14 windows by paying at least $500, after which the donor’s name would be engraved on a special section of the window.
Over the years, the altar windows remained a prominent fixture of the church, until the early 1960s when they were boarded up and plastered over. No one is sure why this was done, and it remains a subject of debate. Some people believe it was a result of the simplification movement that swept through the post-Second Vatican Council church.
Others contend it was an inexpensive way of addressing the windows’ deteriorating condition without having to spend a large quantity of time or money repairing them. Yet, others stated it was the idea of the late Fr. James Nesbitt, who served St. Ann’s from 1958 to 1963 and was known to remodel the churches at which he served.
Whatever the reason, the windows became a legendary and forgotten feature about which only a few knew. When the building reached its centennial in 2008, a brief focus was brought to the windows, but they remained hidden.
They would still be rotting if not for a decision that originally didn’t include them. In 2010, the parish council decided work should be done on some of the other windows.
Leslie Kolesar Soltesz, bookkeeper for St. Ann Parish, related in a recent church bulletin, “Work began in August of 2010 with badly needed repairs to the ventilator windows (windows that have a section at the bottom that can be opened to allow air to come in).”
After the windows were finished, work on the other windows of the church began. This is when the focus once again fell upon the old altar windows. Allen Staige, of Staige Stained & Leaded Glass Restoration, Onalaska, was hired to perform the task of repairing not only the altar windows, but the other windows as well. He insisted the altar windows could and should be repaired.
“(He) begged to remove the windows so he could restore them,” said Soltesz.
“(They are) the nicest windows in the church,” said Staige in an interview.
When he removed them, Staige said he had to take them out in pieces.
“I literally took them home in a bushel basket,” said Staige.
The process required him to lay the windows out in his shop and do all the re-leading. It took three to four weeks to complete. At first, the parish wasn’t sure it wanted them repaired, but he convinced them to go through with it.
He told them, “It would change the whole inside of the church.”
When the diocese’s Faith in Our Future Campaign began in 2013, the completion of the restoration of the altar windows and the other windows awaiting repair was put as a priority on the list of things for which the money refunded to the parish could be used. The total cost of the window restoration was around $74,000, with the altar windows costing around $11,000. Staige said the value of the altar windows is approximately five times that amount.
With the completion of the windows, the members of St. Ann Parish are again experiencing their beauty and enjoying a piece of history.