An eighty-year-old stained glass window of Christ the King has found a new home in St. Bendedict’s Parish chapel. Photo by Ruane Remy

Church treasures saved from sale

  • March 8, 2014

TORONTO When churches have a stained glass emergency — imagine a rock thrown through hundred-year- old glass — they call Mansu Han, artist, craftsman and stained glass superhero.

So when the Sisters of St. Joseph in Peterborough, Ont. sold their Mount St. Joseph convent, they charged Han with rescuing more than 60 stained glass windows (44 fully painted) and prevent them from falling into the hands of developers.

The sisters, dwindling in numbers, could no longer care for their aging convent, Han said. They severed some land from the original property and built a smaller motherhouse more suitable to their needs. They sold excess property, but couldn’t afford to have the stained glass windows — sacred art as Han calls them — removed from the church, he said. And the windows would not fit into their new buildings.

Han estimates that the entire collection of 80-year-old stained glass is worth half to three-quarters of a million dollars. The sale of the sisters’ property would not have sufficiently taken into account that value. Without rescue, the collection would have stayed embedded in the church to be dealt with as the developers had seen fit.

They just don’t make stained glass like that anymore, says Han, not because artists can’t but because customers dislike the cost, though they like the look. He added that modern church building plans don’t always favour traditional stained glass.

Han found out about the sisters’ stained glass when they hired his company, Han Stained Glass Ltd., to restore one window of St. Joseph to hang in their new convent. He ended up in negotiations with the sisters and the developer. As a result, he paid the sisters. Then over 10 weeks, he removed the remaining windows with the promise to find them a proper home and, as part of the deal, installed new windows in the property now owned by the developers. Han wants to find all the stained glass new homes by the time he retires in about three years.

He recently installed four of the windows at St. Benedict’s Parish in Toronto’s west end. The church, now almost 60 years old, was already adorned with stained glass, but a chapel built in the 1980s had clear glass windows, letting in the light as well as external distractions. Now the chapel has windows of St. Michael, St. Raphael, Christ the King and the Good Shepherd to stand guard against the outside world and enhance the serene space of prayer and adoration.

Fr. Michael Pace of St. Benedict’s says the St. Michael window was chosen because he is the patron saint of the archdiocese, St. Raphael because he is the patron of healing, Christ the King because the chapel was inaugurated on the feast of Christ the King and the Good Shepherd because it was the image of Christ most dear to St. John Bosco, the founder of the Salesians, who run the parish.

Han donates the windows but charges for installation and re- fabrication. Sometimes, Han says, churches will make a request to replace the background of the windows, thereby increasing the cost. For instance, St. Benedict’s requested the background of the four windows be changed from dark royal blue to a lighter hue to let in more light.

Han’s company worked on the windows for six months. The pastor’s mother rallied her friends to fundraise and the new windows were installed.

Han has found homes for the sisters’ windows in five churches in the archdiocese of Toronto. He still has 32 windows. They are liturgical art pieces from the past, in the hands of a man who sees stained glass not just as an art form, but as his destiny.

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