The new windows unveiled at St. Basil's Church in Toronto depict Jesus’ grandparents, St. Anne and St. Joachim, along with Mary Magdalene and John the Baptist to represent the importance of family within the Catholic Church. Photo by Meggie Hoegler

Hidden windows given new life with stained glass art at Toronto church

  • November 28, 2017
After about 75 years of being hidden in a wall, two windows are shining new light into St. Basil’s Parish.

On Nov. 19, the Toronto parish unveiled two new stained glass windows at the front of the church, filling in the space that was created when the windows were uncovered earlier this year.

The new windows depict Jesus’ grandparents, St. Anne and St. Joachim, along with Mary Magdalene and John the Baptist to represent the importance of family within the Catholic Church.

“We uncovered two windows (this year) dating back to the extension of the church in the 1870s,” said Fr. Chris Valka, former pastor of St. Basil’s. “They had been plastered over around 1941 when they made changes to the sanctuary.”

McCausland Ltd., the stained glass company which crafted the original windows when the church was first built in 1856, created the new stained glass windows.

“We were able to commission new windows using the same original templates from the 1800s,” said Valka. “Since these windows would be going in the sanctuary, it was important that they look similar to the others. We did not want to disturb the look of the building.”

The windows, about nine feet tall, are adjacent to each other at the front of the church and are situated above the St. Joseph and Marian altars.

“It was very bright but there are condos across the street and we could see right into them during Mass,” said St. Basil’s pastor Fr. Morgan Rice. “It was a bit distracting for the congregation so they were eager to have the stained glass put in. But I am sure it was a lovely view for the people living in the condos to be able to see into the church.”

“She (St. Anne) is a symbol of resilience,” said Valka, who was involved in the design process of the new windows. “There used to be a statue of her in the sanctuary, but she disappeared when they were cleaning things out a few years ago. In a sense, we are recovering St. Anne within the sanctuary. St. Joachim is beside her to represent the importance of family.”

St. Basil’s is also home to the Contemplative Women of St. Anne, a contemplative prayer community for women.

Valka says he wanted to add a more feminine dimension to the church, which before the new windows only had two female saints. This was part of the reason he chose Mary Magdalene, “the apostle of the apostles,” according to Pope Francis.

“John the Baptist was the other ‘bumper’ of Jesus’ life,” Valka said. “He is very important to French Canadians so we chose to put him there as a representation of the French roots within our nation.”

St. Basil’s, located on the University of St. Michael’s campus, was founded by the Basilian fathers and serves a diverse congregation.

“We have a lot of students, young professionals, families and some empty nesters,” said Rice, who was an associate pastor in Rochester, N.Y., before coming to St. Basil’s five months ago. “There is a lot of diversity in terms of ethnic backgrounds as well.”

Valka has relocated to Houston, Texas, but returned to bless the new windows at Mass.

“These were significant people in Christ’s life,” said Valka. “They are here to continue to guide us today.”

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