By GLENN RUTHERFORD
SHELBYVILLE, Ky. — While walking through a portion of New England woods one summer, Ralph Waldo Emerson happened upon a rhodora, a flower of such dramatic beauty that it stirred the poet to create a verse that, even today, serves as a metaphor for many works of art or moments of beauty.
Emerson wrote to the flower that “if the sages ask thee why this charm is wasted on earth and sky, tell them, dear, that if eyes were made for seeing, then beauty is its own excuse for being.”
And when beauty is found in works of religious art — such as the striking new stained glass windows at the Church of the Annunciation here — those works can be compelling.
Father Michael Tobin, pastor at Annunciation parish, believes the new windows, made possible by a gift from anonymous donors, can be instructional in their depiction of God the Father, Gabriel the Archangel, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Holy Spirit.
The windows will be featured in a re-dedication of the worship space at the church at 9 a.m. Sept. 2. Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz will preside at the liturgy, and concelebrating the Mass will be not only Father Tobin, but other living former pastors of the parish. They are Fathers John Lesousky, Joe Batcheldor, William Bowling and Joseph Lyons.
The windows beneath which they’ll celebrate Mass, Father Tobin said last week, “are traditional, but have to them a sense of movement.”
Light flows in glowing arcs toward the Blessed Virgin, making her the eye-catching center, though her figure is actually just to the right of the crucifix at the rear of the apse.
“We wanted to depict the story of the Annunciation,” Father Tobin explained, “and we wanted Mary to be depicted as confidently saying ‘yes,’ to God the Father. I believe the windows capture her humanity, her confident strength, the strength God gave her to say ‘yes, let it be.’ ”
Father Tobin also believes the artist who designed the windows and oversaw their construction and installation, Kenneth von Roenn Jr., of Architectural Glass Art, Inc., captured dramatically the “trinitarian nature of the story we wanted the windows to tell.”
“God the Father is seen in the moment just after he has sent Gabriel,” he noted. “These windows can’t help but open our eyes to the grace of God and to the fact that this is a temple of the Lord.”
The anonymous donors were inspired to initiate the stained-glass windows project after they attended the dedication of new windows at a local Protestant church, Father Tobin said.
The current Annunciation church building was completed in 2000, and the windows behind the apse — and the celestory windows lining the sanctuary — were left without stained glass. It was a simple matter of finances, Father Tobin explained.
“Then we had anonymous donors who were inspired to underwrite the project and donated $40,000,” he said. Father William Bowling was pastor when that donation was made, and Father Tobin said his predecessor “did a great job” of keeping the issue of the new windows alive, eventually getting the approval for the project from the parish council.
“The donors and I started visiting stained glass artists and churches — I think we visited about eight churches,” Father Tobin said. “Since they had made such a donation, I thought the donors should be a part of the process that led to choosing an artist and seeing the project through in a way that satisfied their vision and spirit.”
They were especially inspired, Father Tobin noted, by the windows at Ascension Church in Louisville. “That was a critical visit and their windows had an impact on all of us,” he said. “We were struck by the movement present in those scenes.”
They decided upon a more traditional tone for the four major window panels, but were delighted that von Roenn’s design captured its own sense of movement and vitality, too.
“The way he designed the lighting leads your eyes to focus on Mary,” said Father Tobin, who also described how the donors visited with Architectural Glass artisans during the design and construction phase of the projects. During one visit to Architectural Glass, Father Tobin blessed both the studio and the workers.
In addition to the four major stained glass panels, there are also two additional panels on each side that depict “the litany of Mary,” Father Tobin explained.
One holds an image of an olive branch, another depicts the moon and a star. The third features the sun and a rose, and the final panel, when viewed from left to right, contains the image of a peace lily.