- Associated Press - Saturday, October 10, 2015

ST. THOMAS, Mo. (AP) - The colorful panes of artfully-cut glass show brilliantly at night outside St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in St. Thomas.

Although the view outside is beautiful, it’s the precise storytelling of the century-old, stained glass windows that impress those who enter.

Like the other pieces of art in the sanctuary, the windows help draw people to the sacred, said the Rev. Jeremy Secrist, pastor of St. Thomas.

For the last five weeks, workers from Associated Crafts Studios, the nation’s largest stained glass company headquartered in Arizona, have been reviving the windows and ensuring their security for the next several decades.

The parish is looking ahead to its 150th anniversary in 2019, though it was founded as a mission by Father Ferdinand Helias. Before the fundraising effort to cover the repair costs of the stained glass windows, the parish had the four-bell tower secured and re-tuck-pointed.

And after this project, the parish of about 250 families will collect donations to go along with a bequest to refurbish the 1897 J. G. Pfeffer pipe organ in the balcony.

The present project included exposing hidden windows, rebuilding a few panels, replacing wooden sills, replacing exterior protective glass and adding new colored glass to windows that had only been plain white, likely as a quick fix after the tornado of 1948.

The small, rural church, built in 1883, features two Emil Frei Studios windows. The rest are by a yet-unknown artist, Secrist said.

“It’s amazing poor, immigrant farmers were able to build this,” he told the Jefferson City News Tribune (https://bit.ly/1LgyyXl ).

The stained glass windows, installed about 1940, certainly are the dominant features of the church, as each scene is 5-feet-by-15-feet and few feet of plaster-covered wall in between.

Four days each week, the 87 pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade students from St. Thomas School celebrate Mass in the sanctuary, surrounded by these images.

Secrist said he tries to incorporate the visuals into his lessons.

For example, the Flight into Egypt window shows the holy family as immigrants, which ties into the recent visit to the U.S. by Pope Francis, whose major emphasis has been embracing immigration.

Each of the 12 “Munich style” windows in the nave of the church survived the 1948 tornado, which toppled the church tower and destroyed most of the buildings on campus, Secrist said. The two windows closest to the altar are attributed to the Emil Frei Studios, whereas the remaining 10 are from an unknown artistic studio.

Secrist said one of his favorites is the Jesus Christ, King of Eternal Glory by the Frei studio.

The other Frei window is the Nativity, which is featured in the “Gospels in Glass: Stained Glass Windows in Missouri Churches” by Ken Luebbering and Robyn Burnett. That book also features the Death of St. Joseph window from St. Thomas.

During the Mass, Secrist said he recognizes that worshippers do look around. But the windows, along with the statues and Stations of the Cross panels, provide holy distractions.

“As Catholics, we want our buildings also to manifest the faith,” he said.

The Visions of Faith fundraising campaign for the window project went faster than Secrist expected, he said. The windows and the pipe organ are the only remaining pieces of the original church.

“These windows have been present at baptisms and weddings; they’re like friends.”

A few windows had special benefactors.

The Gerling family was once prominent in the parish. Their descendants and extended family responded with gifts to restore the Death of St. Joseph window.

The upper grades at the parish school raised the funds to care for the two, smaller windows on the sacristy walls.

Walled over, likely following the May 1, 1948, tornado, a second full-sized window has been exposed. New, dyed glass panes have been designed and built to match the original painted glass.

Each week, the church building has had many “inspectors” taking a look at the work in progress.

“This will extend the life of the windows,” Secrist said. “From day one, it looks a lot better.”


Information from: Jefferson City News Tribune, https://www.newstribune.com

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