Wednesday, March 30, 2011


In her March 29th letter to the editor of the Plain Dealer, Carol Poh, an historic consultant wrote, “The Cleveland Catholic Diocese‘s determination to remove stained glass windows from churches it has closed is morally indefensible.”

Well, it may be thought indefensible, but I will try anyway.

I think I understand Ms Poh’s concern. As a person sensitive to such matters I share her passion. There are some buildings, non-ecclesial, that have been destroyed for progress’ sake that still gets my liturgical underwear in a bunch. But as well intentioned as Ms Poh may be, there is a history to examine that does not withstand her hope for a future for those windows or buildings.

The church closing that we see now are not the first to happen even in this diocese. Selling a building, even to another worshipping community, does not guarantee anything. In the past stained-glass windows have ended up in bars, homes, restaurants, and any number of other locations. Pews serve as booth seating, lighting fixtures in taverns, and any other number of architectural items ending up in all kinds of profane (in even the best sense of the word) uses. Can you imagine being part of a family that has donated a window to a parish, having the parish close, and then finding your window lit up as a piece of kitsch interior decorating at your local Applebees?

Further, suppose the buildings stay empty for a while which everyone expects a good number of them to be. Only so many can be turned into art galleries and community spaces. If there are two churches for sale in a failing city with a dwindling number of residents and resources, there might be hope that the buildings would be sold, occupied and cared for. But twenty? (And that’s just the Catholic ones. Nobody seems to care about the other church closings.)

And what do you suppose is the first bit of damage that will occur on these buildings? Rocks right through those windows. It happened horribly in Detroit. Then they are simply lost forever. Will Ms Poh or her firm insure these windows? Will she make sure that they are never sold by future tenants to be used in a way that might be insensitive to Catholics? Will she or her firm make sure that they are repaired and protected? Will she buy them from their rightful owner? My guess is not.

In the mean time the windows are removed and are repurposed, finding homes in new church buildings and old church buildings that never had them. Is this ideal? No. Is it better than what has happened to windows in the past? Ever so much so.

No plan is completely indefensible. There are some that are more sensible however. And it is easy to tear somebody else’s plan apart without coming up with another and putting up the resources to accomplish it.


Anonymous said...

And where might Ms. Poh have been when Catholic churches everywhere "renovated" their sanctuaries in the 70s and 80s, destroying high altars of great beauty and discarding religious statuary and art into dumpsters?

Matt W said...

Her argument is based primarily on economic reasons and the utopic ideal of "adaptive reuse". You, on the other hand, Father, point to the cold, hard reality of rocks and hooligans. Whither beauty then, Ms. Poh?

Anonymous said...

I can understand that a city might think a building would be more marketable with such beautiful features intact (thus preserving the building and the surrounding neighborhood), but . . . rocks, profane and sacreligious uses abound.

A cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

lgreen515 said...

Copy this into a letter and send it to the Plain Dealer.

Karen said...

I see nothing wrong with the windows being stripped from the closed churches. Should the parishioners of the churches that close down have to lose everything they associated with that building? Our parish merged with another and a year and a half ago, and when the other church was closed, our parish took their altar, stained glass windows, crucifix and tabernacle and repurposed them. Some of the windows ended up in our new adoration chapel and others are now in the parish offices where they look quite nice. In all, it was a nice way to incorporate things from the old church into our church so the new members of our merged parish would still have some things from their old parish.

Unknown said...

In my diocese, there is a beautiful old church that was closed, deconsecrated, and sold. The new owner turned it into a restaurant specializing in homebrewed beer. They kept as much of the church furnishings up as they could, including the stained-glass windows, and now use this as a shock value selling point. I've never been inside - it would disturb me too much - but I'm told that there is a brewing machine on the High Altar, where the Tabernacle used to be .

kkollwitz said...

I would expect most traditional Catholic stained glass to be removed along with the any statues and the crucifix.