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Milford parish restores historic windows

  • The windows depicting the wedding of Mary and Joseph pictured before restoration (left) and after (right). Pilot photo/courtesy Father Peter Joyce
  • St. Mary of the Assumption’s stained-glass window of the Nativity viewed through scaffolding during its reinstallation. Pilot photo/courtesy Father Peter Joyce

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MILFORD -- Despite a delay due to COVID-19, this month, St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Milford was finally able to reinstall several of their historic stained-glass windows restored to their original colorful beauty.

Part of a set of 14 stained-glass windows lining the church, the four restored windows illustrate scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary and are situated in the middle of the south side of the building. They depict the Annunciation, the marriage of Mary and Joseph, the Visitation, and the Nativity.

In a Sept. 17 interview, Father Peter Joyce, the pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish, explained that the restoration of the windows coincides with the 150th anniversary of the parish.

St. Mary of the Assumption Church opened with a midnight Mass on Christmas in 1870. Last year, the parish celebrated its 150th consecutive Christmas midnight Mass.

"Especially today, how many churches can claim that for 150 years they have celebrated midnight Mass at the same place, same day, same time?" Father Joyce said.

In 1910, the pastor at the time, Father David McGrath, commissioned the stained-glass windows from the Mayer Munich Studio in Germany, which Pope Leo XIII had named a "Pontifical Institute of Christian Art." The patronal window of the Assumption includes the request, "Pray for the souls of Edward and Mary McGrath," Father McGrath's parents.

Father Joyce said that the restoration of the windows is part of a larger renovation plan for the church, whose infrastructure has suffered over the years. Besides the windows, other parts of the renovation would include upgrading the sound system and the sanctuary, as well as preventative maintenance.

"This is not just a cosmetic renovation. We really want to modernize and update the church to make it last for the next couple of generations," Father Joyce said.

He said the windows came first because there was concern that they would be lost. After 110 years, some panels were sagging due to the deterioration of the lead.

The parish raised $100,000 to have the windows restored by Stained Glass Resources, Inc., of Hampden, Mass. The opportunity to remove the windows came when pews on the side of the church were removed to provide access to upgrade the heating system and install air conditioning.

The windows were removed in March, the weekend before St. Mary of the Assumption and other churches closed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The windows were due to be returned in July, but the pandemic delayed their restoration.

The windows were finally returned and reinstalled the week of Sept. 14-18, in time for Masses on the weekend of Sept. 19-20.

While the scaffolding was still up, Father Joyce took the opportunity to climb a ladder and take pictures of the windows at eye level.

"When I took the camera down I was just in awe of the beauty of the window, and to realize what it must have been like to see the whole church with these windows brand new. The colors are just breathtaking, and the detail in the windows is really phenomenal," Father Joyce said.

He said that people who came to Mass over the weekend were "delighted with the condition of the windows."

"Several people remarked on how brilliant the colors were and how the light is so much brighter coming through them. One of the donors remarked that they were magnificent," Father Joyce said.

When people asked him if the other windows could be similarly restored, "My answer was, it depends on the resources parishioners give us," he said.

Father Joyce said he hopes that the restoration of the windows will inspire people to give to their churches.

"People don't understand that what they give to their church stays in their community and lasts for generations," he said.

There are some parishioners, he said, whose grandparents and great-grandparents helped pay for the windows when they were made 110 years ago.

"What a wonderful thing that we can continue what their ancestors did. There aren't a lot of places you can do that, even today, but a church is one of them," Father Joyce said.

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