The colorfully elaborate stained glass windows that illuminate the chapel at St. John Nepomucene Catholic Church in Pilsen are currently receiving some tender loving care.
Approaching 100 years in age, the stained glass windows are the original windows installed when the church was built.
According to Rosemary Neuwirth, a congregation member and tour guide for the church and the Father Kapaun Museum, the makeover has been “a long time coming.”
“I’m very excited that it’s getting done,” Neuwirth said. “I’ve been after them (church officials) since I first noticed cracks in the windows about 12 years ago.”
Daniel Hass, a restoration specialist with Hoefer Custom Glass of Hutchison, said the restoration is a multistep process.
On each window, workers first have to remove the protective Plexiglas. Then they have to scrape and remove aged putty from the black lead outlines between stain glass panels, so they can replace it with new putty and polish windows.
“From the outside, the finished effect will make the windows more brilliant and shiny,” Hass said. “They should look like new.”
The yellowing Plexiglas storm windows will be replaced with clear plate glass by the end of the project.
“It should brighten things up inside of the chapel, too,” Hass said.
He and fellow restoration worker Brandon Hoefer will also repaint wood window frames, and vacuum dust and debris off each window as the progress around the church.
“The glass here is pretty impressive,” Hoefer said. “It’s very intricate.”
Originally crafted by the Munich Glass Company, the windows were shipped into Marion County from Chicago. Neuwirth said the original cost of the church was $33,000, much of which went to the stained glass windows.
She told of when windows arrived over a century ago.
“They came in by rail into Florence and none of the people wanted to go pick them up because they knew the value,” Neuwirth said. “At least that’s the conclusion I came to, because they would have had to transport it by horse and wagon.”
Neuwirth has tape recording on file of a 90-year-old man who was brave enough to transport the stained glass to Pilsen when he was 17 years old.
“That year was a muddy wet season, but the gentleman said he harnessed his horses each day and put strong thick quilts on his wagon,” she said. “There were 12 big windows and several lesser ones. He took one a day. Sometimes he had to go off the roads, in the ditches, and through the meadows and fields. But he got them all there without so much as a scratch.”
Neuwirth noted that man had requested not to have his name revealed because he took on the task for the glory of God the church, not for personal recognition.
However, she said he also ended his story on tape with a comment about the relativity of youth, “It just proves that 17-year-olds will always think that they can do anything.”
Lifetime member of the church Terry Silhan ventured onto the hallowed worksite Monday to inquire of progress.
“It all takes money, but I’m happy to see they keep fixing things up,” Silhan said.
Paired with other jobs and with weather permitting, workers estimated the project could take seven to eight months to complete.
However ideally, it will be done in time for the 100-year anniversary of the church’s dedication September 28.