The story of St. Alphonsus parish and the Catholic Church are told visually throughout the parish grounds with stained glass windows, sculptures, statues and other artwork.
Stained Glass Windows in the Early Years
In 1889, St. Alphonsus Church was dedicated with beautiful stained glass windows gracing its northern and southern sides.
Two windows are dedicated to the story of Jesus—one shows him as the good shepherd while the other illustrates Christ crucified. The two windows dedicated to Mary show her as the Mother of Sorrows and Mother of the Rosary. The other six windows honor St. Joseph, St. Peter, St. John the Evangelist, St. John the Baptist, St. Paul and St. Catherine of Alexandria. Other stained-glass windows near the church entrance do not include images of Jesus, Mary or the saints.
In the early days of churches, stained glass windows were used to tell Bible stories because many people were illiterate. Nowadays the purpose of artwork is to inspire as well as illustrate as we reflect on the stories of Jesus, Mary, the saints and the Holy Spirit.
When the church was expanded in 1912, four new stained glass windows symbolizing the evangelists—a man, ox, lion and eagle—were added to the northern and southern walls above the altar.
The window showing a man symbolizes St. Matthew, representing the human character of Jesus. Matthew gives the fullest account of the birth of Jesus.
St. Mark is symbolized by a lion, the king of desert beasts, because his first chapter introduces John the Baptist in the desert wilderness.
St. John was a fisherman before being called by Jesus to be an apostle. His symbol is the eagle, representing the Divine Word and thoughts soaring above earth since his gospel begins in heaven with the eternal Word. His name means God is gracious and gift of God.
St. Luke’s symbol is an ox, the animal of sacrifice, because his gospel begins with Zechariah’s sacrifice in the temple. He wrote the third Gospel and Acts of the Apostles.
Taken together, the four symbols represent the mystery of Christ’s life. The human, ox, lion and eagle recall Jesus’ birth (human), sacrifice (ox), resurrection (lion, according to legend sleeps with its eyes open and hence a symbol of resurrection), and ascension (eagle). The symbols derive from Ezekiel 1:10 and appear again in Revelation 4:7.
Under the direction of Father Ferdinand H. Angel, six outdoor shrines were built in the late 1930s as the parish renovated the church’s land facing Church Road.
In October 1937, Father Angel officiated at the formal dedication of three shrines built in the Old World style of native stone. They shelter terra cotta statues imported from Italy honoring Our Lady of Olives, St. Kateri Tekakwitha and Saint Expedite.
The three remaining shrines—St. Christopher, St. Clare of Assisi and St. Matilda—were dedicated in 1940. The St. Christopher statue was later moved to the Knights of Columbus property on Swinderman Drive in Wexford.
A statue of St. Alphonsus now fills the center shrine facing the driveway.
Stained Glass on the “New Side”
The size of the historic St. Alphonsus church building increased dramatically in 1968 when a “new side” made with natural wooden beams and brick was added onto the west end of the church to double the church’s seating capacity.
The beauty and history of the “old side’s” windows were mirrored on the “new side” with seven stained glass windows designed by artist Eugene N. Rutkowski with liturgical symbolism to honor St. Alphonsus, St. Peter, St. Patrick, St. Joseph, St. Theresa of Lisieux, Christ the King and Our Lady of Olives.
These windows show images that reflect the 20th century of the church—Christ the King, instituted as a feast day in 1925; Our Lady of Olives, whose outdoor shrine at our church was established in 1937; and St. Therese, the Little Flower, who was canonized in 1924.
Brass Crown, Sculptures
At the center of the expanded church is the altar with a brass crown suspended above it, artistically pulling the new and old sides together with the spiritual imagery of doves and tongues of fire. Artist Nicholas Parrendo of Hunt Stained Glass Studios in Pittsburgh designed the crown.
That was in 1976 when an extensive project was undertaken to redecorate and repair the original church building. Parrendo also designed stone reliefs of the Baptism of Christ and the Holy Family that were placed over the baptistry and side altar. A relief of The Resurrection is in the rear alcove of the new side.
The deteriorated Stations of the Cross were replaced with simple hand-carved wooden designs.
Mausoleum of the Apostles and Cemetery
The figures of the four evangelists—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—are illustrated on the rose granite Mausoleum of the Apostles that was dedicated in 1981.
The mausoleum is located next to the church’s cemetery, which reached capacity by the early 1980s. The tombstones— dating back more than a century—are an art form of their own. The earliest ones are made of white sandstone, which has weathered to the point that the writing on some is indecipherable. Later stones are made of more hardy materials.
Our Lady of Sorrows Devotional Area
The Our Lady of Sorrows devotional area in the back of the new side of the church was dedicated in September 2012. It came about through the work of parishioner Barbara Wilson, who was inspired to create the devotional area years ago after she visited her daughter’s church in Oak Park, Illinois.
“I was walking through an alcove area and observed icons I had never really studied before—one each of the Seven Sorrows,” Barbara writes in a parish newsletter. “I thought to myself how beautiful—I had never seen individual depictments of those sorrowful times Mary experienced as mother and co-redemptrix—deeply painful for a mother, yet quietly endured. That, to me, has always been the most powerful lesson and example from the Sorrows.”
With permission from Father Peter Murphy, she embarked on a journey to create the devotional area.
“Never did I realize how difficult it would be to secure the individual depictments!” she wrote in the newsletter. “Every pursuit—contacting almost every Our Lady of Sorrows Church continent-wide through the internet; and pursuing even European art resources—led me only to blind alley, after blind alley.
“They just were nowhere to be had—unless they were already hanging on their own church walls!”
Finally, Barbara placed the effort “in Our Lady’s care, realizing that it was beyond me…”
Eventually she connected with Father Gerald Laba, rector of St. Paul’s Monastery and Retreat House in South Side, knowing of the Passionist priests’ devotion to the Sorrowful Mother. He presented her with old prints salvaged from one of their monastery locations and suggested contacting artist Nicholas Parrendo, owner of Hunt Stained Glass Studios.
Parrendo, who designed several pieces of art for St. Alphonsus in the past, searched his personal archives and produced a charcoal sketch of the Sorrowful Mother, which he had produced years ago in designing a stained glass window for a convent. That sketch is now the centerpiece of the devotional area.