Church’s stained glass windows are works of art

French connection gives colorful history to Green Bay church windows

GREEN BAY — This year, the Diocese of Green Bay marks its 150th jubilee. As part of that celebration, The Compass wants to explore unique pieces of art found in our local churches.

One such example of artwork that can be seen nowhere else is the set of 20 stained glass windows at St. John the Evangelist Church in Green Bay. The present church — the fourth church building of the parish community — dates to 1912. The parish was founded in 1831 in Shantytown, an area that today is part of Allouez, directly south of Green Bay. St. John is the oldest, continuous Catholic parish in Wisconsin.

A stained glass window inside St. John the Evangelist Church in Green Bay depicts St. Michael the Archangel. (Steve Lepak | Special To The Compass)

Much of the following information is based on research by Thomas Schampers, parish historian for St. John the Evangelist.

The 20 stained glass windows in St. John’s were created in early 20th-century France at the Lorin de Chartres Studio under the direction of artist Charles Lorin. Lorin also created windows for many other churches, including St. Patrick Cathedral (45 windows) in New York City and Notre Dame Cathedral in Chartres.

The pastor of St. John’s at the time was Fr. Leo Ricklin (pastor from 1894-1915), who was born in Alsace, France. He made contact with the Lorin studio as the new St. John the Evangelist Church was being built, perhaps not long after the previous church had been destroyed in a March 3, 1911, fire.

St. John’s windows are in the neo-classical style, known for its vibrant colors and heroic depictions of figures. (Think of statues of Greek heroes.) Each is made from hand-blown glass, with paint, sandblasting and etching techniques used to bring out the various colors in the glass.

St. John’s has long been known as “the French Church” of Green Bay, because many of its early members came from French and/or Canadian ancestry. This background, along with Fr. Ricklin’s own French background, are especially represented in at least four of the windows at the church: St. Michael the Archangel, St. Genevieve at the Gates of Paris, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque with the Sacred Heart and St. Joan of Arc.

The St. Michael window includes a small representation of the Statue of Liberty. The statue’s creator, Frederic Bartholdi, was a native of Alsace, just like Fr. Ricklin. The statue itself was a gift from France to the people of the United States and was dedicated on Oct. 28, 1886 — just 29 years before the St. Michael window was installed at St. John’s.

Another feature unique to St. John’s windows can be seen in the sanctuary window called the “Sacrifice of Melchizedek.” Lorin used Fr. Ricklin to serve as the model for the face of the Old Testament priest-king, Melchisedek.

All 20 windows were completed over the course of three years. The first to be placed in the church was that of St. Elizabeth of Hungary (1912) and the last was of St. Cecelia, installed in April 1915. Fr. Ricklin, who had been ill for some time, died shortly thereafter, on April 16, 1915.

A review of Fr. Ricklin’s records shows that the windows originally cost $6,240, with donors financing the sanctuary and the St. John (entrance) windows at $160 each; the windows in the nave for $275 each; and the two large transept windows and the rose window costing $750 each.

According to Schampers, an appraisal in 2010 of these two large, transept windows — the Nativity and the Entombment of Christ — showed a “duplication/replacement cost” estimated at $485,600.

Schampers is in the process of finishing a history of the windows in hopes of offering window tours of the stained glass. He added that another parish member, Tom Pecor of The Glass Haus, has offered to be part of the tour to explain how the technical aspect of how the windows were crafted.

Parishes can share their church’s unique artwork. Send photo and information to The Compass, PO Box 23825, Green Bay WI 54305, or email to [email protected] attn. “Church Art.”