‘These were the church’s storybooks’
In 2011, Immaculate Conception (Jesuits’) Church on Baronne Street embarked on a three-year, $2.5 million Legacy Campaign to meticulously restore more than 100 stained-glass windows, some of which dated to the 1870s. Now, the project is completed, and the results are stunning, said Jesuit Father Frank Reale, pastor.
“They are way more vibrant, there’s no doubt about it,” said Father Reale, who added that his volunteer tour guides love to greet locals and tourists to explain the history of the church.
“We get quite a few visitors, but we never feel as though we are overwhelmed,” Father Reale said. “Our people are able to offer hospitality. Visitors come in and say lovely things about the church. It’s like saying nice things about your kids, so they like that.”
The windows, some of which had bulged and sagged severely due to the ravages of heat and moisture, were restored by Conrad Schmitt Studios in Wisconsin.
Father Reale said windows depicting Jesuit saints are on the first floor, and other saints are located along the second-floor gallery, which normally is not accessible to the public.
“I tell people we relegated the non-Jesuit saints to upstairs where nobody could see them,” Father Reale said with a laugh. “The Jesuits are all downstairs, probably because nobody believes we have any saints.”
Even higher, the uppermost windows, some soaring more than 150 feet above the altar, did not need repair. So much beauty was put into windows whose details can’t be seen without binoculars.
“It’s a very medieval cathedral approach that you build into those high areas that no one would ever see,” Father Reale said. “You did it for the glory of God. These were the church’s storybooks.”
– Photos by Frank J. Methe;
Text by Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald • New Orleans • August 23, 2014
Jesuit Father Frank Reale, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in New Orleans, is silhouetted against a window dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The window is in a stairwell leading to the choir loft and is not normally seen.
In an opposite stairwell, St. Joseph is depicted teaching carpentry skills to the child Jesus.
The ground-level windows depict various Jesuit saints, including St. Ignatius of Loyola and the Jesuit martyrs of North America. Above the saints’ windows are 18 circular windows representing the Stations of the Cross. Why 18 and not 14? “This is not some Vatican II fad,” Father Reale said. “It goes back to the original church of the 1850s.”
Among Father Reale’s favorite windows are those depicting the Death of St. Joseph, above, located on the ground level near a side altar on the right.
And at right, St. Louis King of France, patron saint of New Orleans, located in the gallery. The St. Joseph window was built by Mayer of Munich in 1901. The St. Louis King of France window was crafted by Hucher & Fils in the 19th century. The current Immaculate Conception Church is a near replica of the original church that had stood on Baronne Street since 1857. Nearby construction of the Pere Marquette Building in the 1920s severely damaged the church’s structure. Rather than demolish the church, it was painstakingly dismantled and rebuilt, reopening in 1930. Those wishing to view the magnificently restored windows have ample opportunities. The church opens daily around 6:30 a.m. and stays open until about 3:45 p.m. On Saturdays, the church is open briefly in the morning and reopens for confessions at 3:15 p.m. and the vigil Mass at 4 p.m. Immaculate Conception also offers one of the latest weekend Masses in the archdiocese, 7:30 p.m. on Sunday. Another of the unique windows depicts St. Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians. The window is dedicated to organist Mary Louise Shelton Partham. “The story is she met her husband who walked in off the street having heard the music,” Father Reale said.