BANGOR — The century-old stained-glass windows at St. John’s Catholic Church were not in the best shape the last time the Rev. Frans Jozef van Beeck saw them. They needed repairs and releading, which finally were accomplished a couple of years ago.
Van Beeck, the author of “Meditations in Glass,” is looking forward to seeing the Tyrolean windows again, and to sharing his enthusiasm with the community in a program, “Sights and Sounds of St. John’s,” at 2 p.m. Sunday, June 12, at the church on York Street.
Van Beeck will give a guided tour of the church and its treasured windows, and then a brief intermission in the parish hall will offer time for refreshments and a book signing.
At about 3 p.m., choirs of St. John’s will provide music for the occasion. Birch will accompany them on the church’s historic 1860 E&GG Hook organ, which came up the Penobscot River all those decades ago by steamboat, then was brought from Winterport by horse and cart.
Tickets for the afternoon will be available at the door at $5 for adults. Children will be admitted free.
The book was published in 1981 after van Beeck had made a visit to the Rev. Ray Bertrand, the Jesuit priest who was pastor at the time. Van Beeck wrote the book “based on his own personal meditations,” said Kevin Birch, organist and music director.
The windows that so moved the priest that he was inspired to prayer are the 20 windows that line the sides of the church, those that were designed by artist Franz Xaver Pernlochner of Austria in the late 1880s.
“This style was the German and Roman … predecessor of the Pre-Raphaelite School in England,” van Beeck wrote. “It emphasized a quiet, detailed realism in the rendition of the beauty of nature, and quiet, simple dramatism in the representation of persons.” The windows offer a variety of themes: the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, including the Nativity; the Holy Family; saints such as Margaret Mary Alacoque and Edward the Confessor; sacraments: baptism and Eucharist; Bible stories of the poor widow, the children surrounding Jesus, and the Prodigal Son; and of course, the Resurrection.
For each window, van Beeck offers an explanation of its contents, including symbolism; Bible passages assembled for meditation; and a closing prayer. The windows themselves are shown in full color, with photography by parishioner J. Normand Martin.
It seems appropriate that a Jesuit should have written the story of the windows. It was a Jesuit missionary, Father John Bapst, who founded the church and also served at itsOr predecessor in Bangor, St. Michael’s.
Indeed, the Jesuit presence in Maine goes back to 1611, when the French Jesuit, Pierre Biard, celebrated the first recorded Mass in New England near the entrance of the Kennebec River. St. John’s is now served by priests from the Diocese of Portland, but Jesuits still serve in several Maine locations. One member of the Society of Jesus, the Rev. Robert Sullivan, resides at St. John’s and serves in chaplaincy at Eastern Maine Medical Center.
Van Beeck himself is a theologian and scholar who joined the Jesuits in 1948 and was ordained a priest in 1963. He has been a professor at both Boston College and Loyola University in Chicago. His 10th book, “The Revelation of Glory: The Great Christian Doctrines,” will be published this fall.