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 | By Mark Landers | Columnist

Windows Into the Heart of a Parish Community

Centuries ago, it could take decades for a church to be built. The years Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris lists for its construction are 1163 to 1345. In many cases, workers could spend their entire lives working on the same church and have many following generations working to complete the project. New construction methods and materials have reduced that time to one to two years. Of course, there is far less handwork and ornament now compared to back then, but there can still be gaps before original designs can be completed, often for lack of funds. It may take generations to complete the original vision. Such is the case with St. Ignatius Martyr Parish in Austin.

Built in 1968 as a Congregation of the Holy Cross community (as is St. Edward's University), the church had 10 large panels, which were glazed in clear glass, waiting until there were sufficient funds for stained-glass windows. This year, after 54 years, the new windows were installed, thanks to enthusiastic fundraising efforts.

Before the windows were ordered, the community needed to discern what they wanted the windows to “say.” The Holy Cross charism is education, so it was decided that five panels would focus on the Tree of Life (the cross becomes the tree), the Works of Mercy (one figurative and six symbolic), the Sacraments (one figurative and six symbolic), the Vine and Branches and Logos (the Word). The other five panels focus on the life of Christ — the Annunciation, the Holy Family (the hidden life of Jesus), Christ’s baptism, the proclamation of the kingdom (the public life of Jesus) and the crucifixion.

There are also five lunette windows that depict the holy face of Jesus, the Sacred Heart, Ave Crux Spes Unica (Hail the Cross, Our only Hope), Blessed Basil Moreau and St. Andre Bessette.

Four rectangular panes are of sacred hymns — the Song of Moses, the Canticle of Zechariah, the Magnificat and the Christ hymn. As in the lunettes, the sacred hymns use imagery and texts.

According to the parish website, “Every window is either figurative or symbolic. When figurative, the windows are based in Scripture. When symbolic, the windows employ well-established symbols rooted in traditions of Catholic Church. Each window has a central scene that is clear and readily identifiable. These immediate and accessible components are deepened by a robust theological program. The designs aim to be simple and profound (to be simple is to be accessible; to be profound is to be rich and sustaining).”

A very prayerful and thoughtful process by the Art Committee, aided by a helpful collaboration with William Frank of Emil Frei & Associates glass studio, produced the windows. Frank is an on-staff liturgical consultant. He used multiple sources to ensure the theology was solid, including the Letter to Artists by Pope Paul II, Built of Living Stones, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Sacrosanctum Concilium and Basil Moreau: Essential Writings. The design process assured that the windows would convey to future generations the mission and ethos of the St. Ignatius Martyr community today.

Mark Landers is a parishioner of St. Austin Parish in Austin and a member of the Diocesan Fine Arts Council. He and his wife, Christina, own and operate Landers’ Studio, a woodworking shop and design studio. They design and construct custom furniture and high-quality architectural piecework.