Stained glass windows at Freedom church undergo restoration

FREEDOM — Despite all the rain this summer has brought, a father and son duo are working to let the sun shine bright at St. Nicholas Church. Allen Staige and his son, Chris, of Staige Stained and Leaded Glass Restoration, have been cleaning and restoring the stained glass windows at St. Nicholas for the past several months.

“We started it last December,” said Allen Staige, owner and founder of the Onalaska-based company. “A year before that, we did one of the windows as a sample. Somebody had donated enough money to take care of one window.”

Chris Staige, left, and Allen Staige, from Staige Stained and Leaded Glass Restoration, install new exterior storm glass on the stained glass windows at St. Nicholas Parish in Freedom Aug. 16. (Rachel Koepke | The Compass)

While the exact age of the stained glass windows is not known, Cortney Curran, business manager at St. Nicholas Parish, said they are nearly as old as the church, which was completed in 1919. This is the first time the windows have been restored.

The project includes 12 large church windows, four windows in front, one in the back and 19 small ones in the steeple.

From start to finish, a restoration process of this size takes nearly a year. “On this job, we took all the windows out and we re-leaded them,” Staige said. “We take the window out, completely disassemble the window, take all the old lead out, clean each piece of glass on both sides and then reassemble the window with all new lead, rebrace it and then reinstall.”

In addition to replacing the lead, some of the wood and glass needed updating. “They had some rotten wood that I had to replace, and we had a bunch of broken pieces of glass we had to re-fire, paint and re-fire,” he said. “All these pieces are hand painted. You have to bake each individual color in an oven for 24 hours. If a piece of glass has four colors in it, that’s four days’ work, or four days in the oven. We probably had 50 to 60 pieces of glass that we had to replace.”

Julie Koepke, a member of St. Nicholas Parish, said she has noticed the difference the restored windows have made. “The windows are illustrations of the stories we all know,” she said. “Now that the windows are brighter, they draw our attention back to them, helping us rekindle the stories which, in turn, strengthen our faith.”

The Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus are depicted in a newly restored stained glass window at St. Nicholas Parish in Freedom. (Rachel Koepke | The Compass)

She recalls how the windows and the stories they tell have impacted the lives of her children. “I remember when our son Jacob was little and would always ask about the window of King George,” she said. “Every Sunday after Mass we would tell him the story about King George slaying the dragon. The window showed many details but after restoration it is so much clearer. It’s like God shining his rays through the windows and onto us.”

Staige said he hopes to have the project finished by October. Working on the same project for almost a year may be draining, but he focuses on the details. “You’ve got to stay focused and get everything finished that you’ve started,” he said. “In order for it to look great, you have to take your time. Pay attention to details. Give the people just a little bit more than what they paid for.”

Although his company is based out of Onalaska, in the Diocese of La Crosse, Staige works on stained glass restoration projects in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.