Perhaps the first thing that visitors to St. Mary of the Woods Church see is the walls of windows, meant to make the congregation feel as though they are really in the woods, with images of Mary peeking out at them from among the branches and leaves.
Now St. Mary of the Woods Parish, 6955 N. Hiawatha Ave., is turning to video to further explain those images. A series of short films about each depiction of Mary in the windows is available on YouTube.
The series also includes a video about Max Ingrand, the famed French stained glass artist who created the windows.
Father Rich Jakubik, who became pastor of St. Mary of the Woods in July 2020, said he conceived of the series as a way to evangelize, teach about Mary and to invite people to return to the church to worship in community as restrictions due to COVID-19 eased.
“We thought, especially coming out of COVID, that we would like to do something that would celebrate our parish, and all of the wonderful aspects of it,” Jakubik sad. “The windows seemed to be one of the powerful, striking features that everyone loved and we could kind of rally around and be proud of. … We’re really proud of them, and they’re such an important part of our community.”
Michael Jolls, one of the producers of the series, had joined the parish’s audio-visual ministry, which started by livestreaming Masses. He agreed to work on the project, which involved planning a video for each window, including finding people to speak about each image and the devotion it reflects.
Father Wayne Watts, for example, teaches about Our Lady of Lourdes; Watts, pastor of Sts. Joseph and Francis Xavier in Wilmette, has long led pilgrimages of high school students from the Archdiocese of Chicago to Lourdes. Auxiliary Bishop Mark Bartosic is featured in the video about Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and Father Charles Fanelli, who was chaplain of the Blue Army of Chicago and a member of the board of the World Apostolate of Fatima, is featured in the video about Our Lady of Fatima.
Other featured speakers are laypeople and members of the parish community. Longtime parishioner Jim Sweaney, who frequently travels to Ireland and has visited the Knock Shrine many times, tells the story of the apparition of Our Lady of Knock.
Jolls said the video series on the windows is planned to be part of a larger project on the history of St. Mary of the Woods Parish and Catholicism in the Edgebrook and Sauganash communities.
While the windows were not part of the church at its original dedication in 1954, they were added when the church was expanded in the following decade, and have become one of the main attractions of the church building.
“The trademark of the parish is these windows,” Jolls said, noting that the parish had acknowledged that in the past by, for example, producing a pamphlet about them.
He believed video would be a more suitable medium to share the beauty of the windows while also teaching about the theology behind them.
“They are literally St. Mary in the woods,” Jolls said. “There’s something really special here. There’s so much Marian theology out there that is a little foreign to people, and this was a way to talk about that.”
The project took more than two years to complete, with different segments in different stages of production throughout the timeline, which could be a challenge.
After the segments were completed, students at St. Mary of the Woods School viewed them and were asked what they knew before seeing the video and what they had learned.
Jakubik said he was surprised at how much was new to them.
“Years ago, these images of Mary would have been so easily understood,” he said. “So many of our schoolchildren weren’t aware of the stories, so looking at the stained glass windows wasn’t enough anymore. Now there’s more gaps in our understanding of the history and Mary’s role within the church. We can’t assume that people know what these images are. Through these video presentations, we’ve brought them out.”
Jakubik said the parish plans to use more modern technology, whether video screens in the church or increased use of social media platforms, to make participation in liturgy and parish life easier and more appealing for everyone, including young people.
The video series about the windows is a first step.
“We’re in this church where Pope Francis is calling us to the new evangelization, and Mary was an evangelizer,” he said. “That fits the theme of not just our parish but our diocese and where we are going as a church. We kind of see Mary as welcoming everyone into the church, a place where people of all generations are welcome.”
Using technology to connect with people seems like a natural extension of that, Jakubik said.
“It’s quite a powerful tool that we’re still working on,” he said.
To view the videos, visit bit.ly/3Hai2eK.
How does a hot, home-cooked meal at no charge on Wednesday evenings sound? For Morgan Park residents, that’s available in the diner in the OSP Community Room at Our Lady of Kibeho Parish.
On Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22, archdiocesan parishes will roll out the Disciple Makers Index Survey to all parishioners with the goal of learning where parishioners are in their faith journeys and how the local church can help them grow in that faith.
If you attend a major event for African American Catholics in the Archdiocese of Chicago, chances are that you will see Tyrone Pittman leading the choir and playing the piano.