In our time, the stained glass windows of a church offer us more than just lessons in religious education. They tell the story of those who came before us-those who commissioned their creation. As such, the stained glass windows of our churches are portals into our communal past, shedding light on both the collective and individual histories of the patriarchs and matriarchs of our parish communities.
The care of these treasures in the archdiocese is the mission of ecclesiastical patrimony-preservation of the artwork, architecture and documents that constitute our faith heritage.
In the early 1850s, German immigrants first came to the area now known as Union City. Like their fellow immigrants of Swiss, Austrian and Dutch origin, they too had been attracted to the area by its large expanses of land that could be purchased for inexpensive sums.
Immigrants from each of these groups would introduce the European style of embroidery to the area, a trade for which Union City would eventually become internationally known. Financial growth would bring domestic prosperity and social establishment. Soon, social, athletic and musical clubs, schools and religious houses of worship would be organized. These institutions would be the center of life for the community.
One such institution for the German community was Holy Family Parish. Located on 35th St., the Victorian gothic structure was completed in 1886 and, like other German Catholic parishes of its vintage, the rather stark exterior gives no hint to the quality and intricacies of craftsmanship that are to be found within.
Holy Family's stained glass windows are among its most valuable items. Installed shortly after the church's completion, the suite of windows is attributed to the Innsbruck Art Glass Studio of Austria. Each window depicts an event from the lives of Joseph, his wife Mary and their young son Jesus.
Following the end of World War II, many veterans relocated their families to Essex and Bergen counties where newer, more spacious suburban housing was being developed. By the 1960s, the old neighborhood around Holy Family Parish would become home to Cuban refugees fleeing Castro's revolution. Today, the pews of Holy Family are representative of Catholics from not only Cuba, but also countries throughout South and Central America.
Father Paco Legarra, O.A.R., Holy Family pastor, is adamant in his testimony that the current faith community holds in high esteem the parish's history. This group of Latin Americans is very proud of their parish family and its German American heritage; so much so that when it came time to plan for the parish's 150th anniversary this past year, the community raised funds to finance a complete restoration of the church's entire suite of stained glass windows by Hiemer and Co. Glass Studio, Clifton.
Each frame of glass at Holy Family tells a story. These windows speak of the self-sacrifice made by German immigrants to finance the creation of such works of art and the self-sacrifice of Latin American immigrants of this century to finance their restoration.
Art is multilingual. It speaks without words, communicating directly with the heart, the mind and the soul.
(Editor's note: Troy Joseph Simmons, B.A., M.A, C.C., is the architectural historian and patrimony project manager for the Archdiocese of Newark.)