As parishioners entered St. Polycarp Church in Stanton on the annual feast day of their patron saint, they were able to marvel at the light cascading through large mosaics of stained glass that replaced the former monochrome yellow windows that had been installed when the church was built.
They also could view depictions of saints significant to the congregation, ranging from the church’s patron saint, to newly sainted Mother Teresa and former Pope John Paul II, that greeted them at the entrance.
On Saturday, Feb. 23, Bishop Kevin Vann celebrated Mass at St. Polycarp, as part of the feast day, and formally blessed the windows, which were installed over the past nine months.
A nearly full house of English, Spanish and Vietnamese-speaking congregations attended the Mass to take part in the celebration. It was conducted in three languages, accompanied by tri-lingual music.
During his comments, Bishop Vann compared the new windows to a kind of family photo album that linked the congregations and their shared history.
Vann explained that in addition to providing beautiful light, the windows were “once a major means of teaching the faith.”
For those who could not read in the days before mass media and printing presses when literacy was limited, the pictures of God and the saints told a story of the Catholic journey.
Bishop Vann said the windows “bring in the light of Christ and the saints. It’s as if the Lord and the saints are right here with us.”
At St. Polycarp, depictions of eight saints, created by Marie Tatina, an Oblate Sister whose works grace churches across the country, filled the spaces high above the sanctuary. The windows with the depictions of saints alternate with other decorative stained-glass windows between the entrance and the altar.
In addition to Mother Teresa, the canonized nun and missionary of Calcutta, India, John Paul II, Pope from 1978-2005, and St. Polycarp, other saints are depicted that relate to congregations and local history.
- Saint Juan Diego, whose vision of Mother Mary in Mexico led to the original Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine and are a cultural touchstone
- Saint Lorenzo Ruiz, first martyr of the Philippines, persecuted and killed in Japan in the 17th century
- Saint Andrew Dung Lac of Vietnam, who was beheaded in 1839, and 116 companion martyrs persecuted over the years and collectively canonized in 1988
- Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, Lily of the Mohawks, an early convert in the Americas and patroness of Indigenous People of the Americas
Also included is Saint Stephen, first martyr of Christianity.
- Saint Polycarp was a second-century bishop martyred by being burned at the stake and stabbed.
“This is the cultures we have,” said Fr. Michael St. Paul, gesturing to the windows.
An unexpected gift
The church’s acquisition of the stained glass is a story unto itself.
Tom Ryan, owner of Trinity West Liturgical Supply and a parishioner at St. Anne Catholic Church in Seal Beach, took note of the glass last year as the chapel at Daniel Freeman Hospital was being prepared for demolition.
Ryan, who said he has rescued and helped repurpose statuary and other artifacts across the country, thought of Father Michael St. Paul in Stanton and the “nasty yellow” windows at the church.
St. Paul called the bishop and told him about the opportunity. He said the response was, “Go right away, don’t miss it.”
Although finding reusable church ornaments and glass is not particularly unusual in other parts of the country, St. Paul said, “it’s a rare thing in Orange County.”
The St. Polycarp priest said he gaped “just like a cod fish,” when he first saw the beautiful glass.
He enlisted the help of Tatina, who not only created the stained-glass depictions of the saints, but also crated, transported and organized the glasswork in her workshop north of San Diego, She also supervised the installation.
“I go all over the United States doing this,” she said,
While talking to congregants about the project, Fr. Michael said, “It took nine months, but was it worth it?”
The congregation gave a hearty applause.
Donor families and groups paid for the artwork and their names are included in the glasswork.
While blessing the windows, Bishop Vann said, “They help us see what we cannot see and understand what we cannot see as well. To see and understand through the images in the windows and take those images in our souls into daily life.”
The blessing was conducted with water, to sanctify, and incense, which the bishop said, “rises like our prayers to God.”
“We are so excited about the windows,” said Steve Owens of Garden Grove, a lifelong member of the church. “It was an amazing blessing.”
Summing up what the windows meant to him, Owens said, “It just makes the environment a little more spiritual, just the feeling with the saints overlooking us.”