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A Legacy of Art
Stained Glass
A LEGACY OF ART FOR THE CHURCH OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST

The Second Vatican Council, in its "Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy," stated, "The fine arts are rightly classed among the noblest activities of man's genius; this is especially true of religious art and of its highest manifestation, sacred art. Of their nature the arts are directed toward expressing in some way the infinite beauty of God in works made by human hands. Their dedication to the increase of God's praise and of his glory is more complete, the more exclusively they are devoted to turning men's minds devoutly toward God." (Sacrosaiictun Conciliuni, No. 122)

The parishioners of St. John the Baptist Church for many generations have been blessed with outstanding artifacts, primarily due to the efforts of three former pastors who were remarkably attuned to fine art particularly the media of glass and wall painting, mosaics, music, and sculpture.

The first of these was Rev. William Kiernan, who had the joyous task, along with architect Joseph Jackson, of selecting and commissioning 17 major and five minor intricate stained glass windows from a Bavarian glass studio in Germany. It is a painstaking process to produce such superb works of art. Each window starts as a painting, which is next transferred into transparent colors fused to segments of glass by being fired in a kiln at high temperatures. Thereafter, all the colored pieces are reassembled and held together with lead caning in window panels, before being shipped and framed into a pointed gothic window space in a thick church wall able to absorb the weight.

At St. John's church, every window contains a story of an event in the life of Jesus and Mary, and was done by artists with great care and devotion to the Holy Family. In terms of color, light, and artistry, they are nothing short of a visual feast.

 
In making a tour of the windows, starting with Gabriel's message to Mary (#5), one becomes aware of the unfolding of the Joyful and Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary. (The Nativity (#1) is given special prominence by its placement above the main altar.;) Included in addition is the Cana wedding miracle (#9); Magdalene drying Jesus' feet (#10); and Peter receiving the keys to the Kingdom (#13).

There is no crucifixion window, as that scene is set apart with the Sorrowful Mysteries in the Way of the Cross. Those stations, in the style of bas-relief sculpture (projecting out from a flat surface), are beautifully dispersed between the windows, integrating the two different forms of wall art. (A larger example of bas-relief sculpture can be seen on the base of the original "high" altar white marble replica of the "Last Supper," a fresco painted in 1495-98 by Leonardo DaVinci at Santa Maria della Grazie in Milan, Italy.)
Ironically, one might almost overlook the largest stained glass window in the church, located in the loft above the Austin organ. Appropriately, all the subjects of the window are related to music. At the top is King David, writer of the psalms, and from whom the lineage of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph is traced. At the right is St. Cecilia, patroness of all church music. At the left is St. Gregory the Great, who established Gregorian chant in the Church.

First-time visitors to St. John's church are often awed by the windows and ask, "Where did such beautiful windows come from?" or, "Were they made in America? Who did them?"

It seems that the original records no longer remain, yet their source is not entirely a mystery, since there is a "hallmark" to the special style of all great artists. In this case, it is traceable to comparable Gothic church windows produced in Germany and of which our American bishops were aware in the planning stages of the churches built in this region during the 1 920s, including St. Anne's in Waterbury, which contains windows of comparable style.

Also, in the Divine Word Missionaries Chapel in Techny, Illinois, there are large windows which are strikingly like the motifs and style existing at St. John the Baptist church, which were designed and executed in 1922 by the F.X. Zeitler Glass Studio in Munich, Germany, and dedicated in 1923 the same time 34 frame of our own windows. Thus, there is not, much doubt that our stained glass treasures originated in that Bavarian area. Evidently such craft centers perished in the bombings of World War II, making these examples even more precious.

Not only were the authors of the windows we enjoy at St. John's gifted and educated as painters and skilled craftsmen, but also they used their talents for the glory of God. This shows in all the exquisite details, whether facial expressions, locks of hair, or hand gestures; birds in a cage or moss on the ground; the shiny gold of a helmet or the curly fleece of a lamb all received the same loving attention and high level of artistry that belongs in the house of God. The result is a gallery of the finest illustrative art of that time, as beautiful now as the day it was blessed and dedicated over 70 years ago.

The second pastor who arrived at St. John the Baptist parish and left the parishioners heirs of great art was Rev. Joseph M. Daly, who was blessed with the fine opportunity to prepare for the priesthood in Rome. During his seminary years, he developed a love for all things Italian, the people, the food, the music, the city of Rome, and especially the art of the Renaissance period. He familiarized himself with all the churches and galleries, and developed a deep appreciation of the architecture, mosaics, painting, and sculpture, haunting the great art in the Vatican and its library In his spare time, he readily absorbed a fine arts education and became conversant about types of painting tempera, fresco, and oil, about gold leaf and kinds of marble and murals. Above all, he became a devoted of the great painter of madonnas, Raphael Sanzio (1483-1520), especially one of his great murals, the "Disputa."

In 1509, the young Raphael was sum- for artists to come and reproduce his beloved moned to Rome by Pope Julius II to paint "Dispute of the Blessed Sacrament" in the fresco scenes on the walls of four reception curved vault of the apse above the main altar rooms at the Vatican. They were to represent and the four stained glass windows. the high ideals of mankind for promoting harmony among men-a visual history. The first of these rooms, the Chamber of the Signature, is where Raphael created the "Dispute of the Blessed Sacrament" (the word "disputa" in Italian meaning "discussion"), done in the fresco medium-painting on freshly-plastered walls, the paint thus becoming a permanent part of the wall. On the opposite wall, Raphael painted the "School of Athens," portraying the great scholars of antiquity surrounding the master philosophers Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Nearby, he painted "Mount Parnassus," depicting the Greek muses-the apex of literature, art, and culture. Father Daly was drawn back repeatedly by his admiration of the "Disputa."

When Father Daly arrived at St. John's in June of 1938, he found a lovely church building with an interior furnished mainly with painted wood and plaster in the Gothic style. He realized that he could maintain that style with finer materials, a joyous challenge for a man of his background. After he formulated plans, with the Bishop's approval, his parishioners quickly joined in his enthusiasm, although they had only a small idea of his exquisite taste and capable know-how for completing such a project.

He personally arranged for artisans and materials in Italy, and contracted for one main altar and two side altars; a sanctuary floor, railing, and steps; a golden tabernacle door our marble treasures were on the high seas and sanctuary gate and other appointments; headed for America, it was met with mixed four statues-one each of Mary and Joseph emotions, for marble wainscoting for the three altars and waiting, there was a lot of "buzzing" before along the side-aisle walls. Finally, he arranged for artists to come and reproduce his beloved "Dispute of the Blesses Sacrament" in the curved vault of the apse above the main altar and the four stained glass windows.
It was a tremendous undertaking, and all the more exciting once the actual work had been launched in Italy. The waiting was not easy, since several years of labor were required. In fact, it turned out that the timing was very close, for by the time it was completed, war had broken out in Europe and Nazism was on the march. When the news finally came that our marble treasures were on the high seas headed for America, it was met with mixed emotions, for Nazi U-boats (submarines) were threatening the shipping lanes. During the waiting, there was a lot of "buzzing" before and after Mass, with parishioners "storming heaven" with barrages of prayers and novenas for a safe docking and delivery to New Haven.

God was benevolent; all prayers were answered and the reward was great, indeed! Parishioners took time out, regardless of their joy, to pray for the wonderful Italian artists whose labors had made it all possible, and who then were facing the terrors of war.
Father Daly explained all the artifacts to a rapt parish. Included were two surprise golden mosaics: one for Our Lady's shrine of the Miraculous Medal, and the other for the Holy Spirit behind the crucifix above the tabernacle. It took many months of comments after homilies and novenas to cover all the glories which the parishioners beheld all of which, praise God, we can still enjoy to this day. Father Daly's efforts are forever enshrined in our hearts.

The third pastor of the trio who bequeathed special forms of art to the church of St. John the Baptist was Monsignor (later Bishop) Joseph E Donnelly, who was appointed in July of 1958. His contribution would be in the form of an excellent instrument for the finest liturgical music.

Although he was not a musician, Mgr. Donnelly had a deep appreciation for classical church music. As a result of Vatican II, he was more than a little concerned, since it had been decreed that all congregations should participate in the Mass and other liturgical celebrations by singing. Therefore, in November of 1963 he asked Raoul Forest, Jr., then organist and choir director at St. Aedan's parish, to take the same position at St. John's, because he wanted a good organ and a good musical program. The existing organ at St. John's had been second-hand when originally installed, and was falling apart. Since Raoul had been born and raised in St. John's parish and is a 36 lifetime parishioner, he graciously accepted.

Monsignor Donnelly soon discovered that Raoul had excellent knowledge of the workings of an organ, having designed the organ at St. Aedan's. Thus he became both consultant and designer for a new organ which involved not only the physical layout of the instrument but also the choice of all the various sounds of a myriad of "voices" which an organ has, from the very lowest to the very highest.

 
A selection of 1,751 pipes was made, the tallest being a 16-foot principal, a 16-foot gemshorn, and a 16-foot trompette. In contrast, the smallest pipes are the half-inch quint and the one-inch mixture pipes, which produce the highest-pitched sounds. The arrangement of the pipes was planned by Raoul so that St. John's glorious and largest window, located in the organ loft, would not be obscured.

As for the organ console, it is a three manual (keyboard), Holtkamp style design. The contract for the new organ was signed in December of 1963 with Austin Organ, Inc. of Hartford, Connecticut, followed by a 30-month wait for delivery, as there were at least 30 other orders ahead of ours.

The contract price was $45,000 but Mgr. Donnelly had on hand only $36,000 in the parish treasury, and would not consider asking the parishioners for the difference. So, on the first Monday of May 1966, $36,000 worth of the new organ was ready for installation of the remainder of the organ would have to come later. Through the efforts of Raoul and the next pastor, Rev. William Wihbey, parishioners generously loaned or contributed funds to complete the organ. As a result, additions to the organ were accomplished in 1977, 1980, and 1985, and today the organ is completed and conforms to Raoul's original design and Bishop Donnelly's wishes.

Adorning the organ cases are two angels, each 10 feet high, sculpted out of heavy gauge aluminum. These were designed and constructed by Rita V. Forest, who donated her artistic skills in their fabrication. The angels were commissioned by Bishop Donnelly in January of 1967, and were completed for Memorial Day of that year.

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STAINED GLASS
You may click on areas of the floor plan below
to view images of the stained glass subjects.

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