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A labor of love

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Stained Glass Committee Chairman Tom Baliga stands in silhouette as the entryway stained glass at the north entrance of St. Richard Church glows in the noon sun last Sunday. – Greater Southwest News-Herald photo by Tim Hadac

 

Stained glass entry glows with inspiration at St. Richard Church

By Tim Hadac

For many years, the north wall of St. Richard Church offered parishioners inside a distracting view of 50th Street.

These days, it offers a glimpse into eternal salvation.

The clear glass in the windows and doors of the church’s main entrance have been replaced by rich shades of blue, gold and more.

When the sun shines, they essentially glow and help cast a warm, inviting light on an already inviting church interior.

Upon closer inspection, they reveal themes central to Christianity.

Jesus Christ stands in profile, next to his mother, Mary.

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are represented.

St. Richard of Chichester is represented with a mitre and shepherd’s staff.

Eternity itself is depicted by the sun, moon and stars, all tied together with a whisper of green, the color of new life.

Throughout the design there are depictions of small red gems symbolizing Christ’s blood, shed so all may enjoy eternal life.

A labor of love, decades in the making

The journey from clear glass to stained glass began in 1985, when the church at 50th and Kostner—then 25 years old—underwent its first major remodeling. Parishioner Ralph Smith, an accomplished commercial artist and the man responsible for the stained glass windows that are still a highlight of the church, presented design concepts for a stained glass entryway.

But those concepts lay dormant until 2012, when they were discussed again during the church’s third remodeling. Smith died in 2014, with the plans still in mothballs.

It was not until 2017 that a three-person Entryway Stained Glass Committee was formed: Tom Baliga, Karen Duddleston and Mathias Schergen.

The trio began by contacting Claudia Smith-Bohanek, Ralph Smith’s daughter and an artist like her father.

“She told us she was overwhelmed, in a good way, by having the opportunity to design the entryway of the church where her father made such a powerful and positive impact, in the parish where she grew up,” Baliga said.

She had retained many of her father’s ideas regarding the proposed stained glass entryway and used those as an inspiration for her own final design.

With the artist secured, the committee got busy with a range of logistical details, including choosing a company to produce the windows. The final choice was Gilbertson’s Stained Glass Studio of Lake Geneva, Wis.—successor to the company that produced St. Richard’s stained glass windows years earlier, from Ralph Smith’s designs.

A campaign to raise the $87,000 needed to transform the entryway began in earnest in 2019. Within six months, some 93% of the goal was not only pledged, but paid for—an achievement almost unheard of in most parishes in the Archdiocese.

‘Vestibule to heaven’

The entryway stained glass was installed and ready to by February 2020, when the pandemic stalled the formal dedication and blessing for more than two years—until earlier this month, when Auxiliary Bishop Andrew P. Wypych celebrated a Mass and blessed the entryway.

In his homily, he noted that church doors can serve as a opening to a new or renewed spiritual life. He specifically called St. Richard’s stained glass entryway a “vestibule to heaven.”

Baliga said the years of work to bring the project to fruition was “certainly worth it” and will “further enhance the reputation of this church as one of the best worship sites in the entire Archdiocese for years to come.”

He also was effusive in his praise of Smith-Bohanek.

“Claudia is the artist,” Baliga said. “This is her design, her work of art, really, and all credit is rightfully hers. But throughout, she said she felt her father’s presence, as if he was providing guidance. I think her finished work complements her father’s work quite well. It’s an artistic triumph, but also a touching and inspiring story of a father and daughter’s devotion to the church. In the end, it was the parish that was overwhelmed, in a very good way, by her fabulous, spiritually inspiring design.”

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