Surrounded by the saints in Morton Grove

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, October 23, 2011

When descendants of the Luxembourgers who founded St. Martha Parish in Morton Grove sit in its 1923 church, they will be able to look up at a stained-glass window and see St. Willibrord, Luxembourg’s patron saint.

Immigrants from the Philippines and China can gaze on St. Lorenzo Ruiz, the first canonized Filipino- Chinese saint, and Poles can see Blessed John Paul II, holding an icon St. Faustina Kowalska. Those of Irish heritage can look to windows depicting St. Brigid of Kildare and St. Patrick, and Latinos can turn their eyes to St. Rose of Lima. Koreans can find St. Andrew Kim for inspiration, and Indians can see St. Alphonsa Muttathupadathu.

Those are among the saints depicted on 20 new stained-glass windows dedicated in the parish’s small church Sept. 25. Each of the windows was created by Plamen Petrow of Daprato Rigali Studios and paid for by groups of parishioners, said Father Dennis O’Neill, St. Martha’s pastor.

While most weekend Masses are held in the multipurpose room of the former school — which can accommodate more people and is more easily accessible to people in wheelchairs or with walkers — the 1923 church is used for daily Mass, weddings and most funerals, O’Neill said. It was built in the style of a simple country church, and originally had yellow translucent windows.

“It was what they put in when they couldn’t afford stained glass,” he said.

But more than 80 years later, the wooden frames were rotting and the glass was rattling and the windows needed to be replaced. The previous pastor had installed two stained-glass windows, one above the altar and one above the entrance.

O’Neill originally planned to install stained glass in the nave windows with a simple, wavelike pattern, but then thought that parishioners wouldn’t be too excited about having to pay for those. So he struck on the idea of asking groups to volunteer to buy windows depicting saints that were meaningful to them.

“We thought, ‘Why don’t we just have everyone pick a window from a saint from their country?’ They snapped these up,” said O’Neill, noting that the windows, which cost about $5,000 (for smaller windows that feature one saint) to $11,000 (for larger windows that have two saints). “We’re like a mini United Nations, and we have about 20 ethnic groups, and we all get along marvelously.”

The windows also include St. Eric, king of Sweden, for Scandinavians; St. Frances Cabrini, for Italy and Chicago; St. Thomas Aquinas, for Italy and Santo Tomas University in Manila, the Philippines; St. Bernadette Soubirous and St. Therese of Lisieux for France; St. Francis of Assisi, for Italy; St. Hildegard of Bingen for Germany.

Other windows aren’t tied as directly to ethnic groups. Among them are St. Martha, paid for with earlier donations marked “for stained glass” and gifts from some current parishioners; St. Joseph, donated by the St. Joseph Table committee; the “marriage window” with St. Elizabeth of Hungary and her husband, Blessed Ludwig IV; the “friendship window” with Sts. Sergious and Bacchus; and St. Cecilia, the patron of music, donated by the choir.

The saints are shown in round disks in the rectangular windows. The likenesses of those who died in the last hundred years or so are taken from photographs; others come from earlier portraits.

The backgrounds aim to show something about their lives, and the colors are keyed to the seasons in which their feast days fall.

For example, St. Therese is shown in her Carmelite habit, holding flowers in a summer garden. St. Brigid of Kildare, whose feast day is Feb. 1, is shown holding her monastery in a late winter-early spring landscape.