A Dream Becomes a Reality

Explore the journey of the completed chapel windows at Holy Name of Mary College School in Mississauga, Ontario.

Written by Sr. Mary Colette Michniewicz.

When I first began teaching at Holy Name in September of 1966, I became aware of an increase in the manufacturing of plastic containers and started collecting glass bottles of various shapes, sizes, and colors. I knew I would do something with them someday, but I wasn’t exactly sure what that was. Sr. Mary Camille Bet and Sr. Mary Celestine Giertych, as principals responsible for order and seeking storage space, considered throwing out the horde. However, they listened to my pleading and opted to relocate them instead. I thank God for their patience and understanding; without it, the creation would not have materialized.

I kept dreaming of doing something with the glass, and as time went on, I realized it would be used for the windows. I had no idea how to go about it, so I enrolled in a night course at the Ontario College of Art in kiln-fired glass. I encountered a setback when cautioned about stress, strain, expansion, contraction, and the importance of not mixing different kinds of glass when laminating. Still, the thought and desire persisted.

Sr. Mary Roselle Mistal reminded us of the upcoming 125th Anniversary of the founding of our Congregation. And I thought, wouldn’t it be great to plan and complete the project for November 21, 1980? I still had no idea how I’d engineer the project, but I got down to planning. I retrieved the blueprints and enlarged the architect’s drawing of the steel frame structure. This was during Holy Week of 1980.

The design was slowly evolving in my subconscious as I sorted bottles, worked on report cards, carded fleece for my summer course, and witnessed the school year drawing to an end.

On June 27, 1980, I finalized the design with the theme, “Let not your heart be troubled… There are many rooms in my Father’s house… I am going to prepare a place for you… the Advocate, the Holy Spirit will teach you everything… Peace I bequeath to you.”

Hours were devoted to washing, breaking, and sorting various colored glass bottles.

On June 28th, the first of the forty-six firings took place. The process involved removing labels, washing bottles, and crazing them for easier breakage. Initially, I struggled to cut rings from the bottles, but with the help of others, I achieved results.

On July 7th, four students from the Light and Sound Crew, along with the help of the novices, put up the 40-foot scaffold. It was at this point that I realized the rectangular sections didn’t align with the original plan. Thus, I had to remeasure everything. I redesigned the Holy Spirit to fit the new dimensions.

Sr. Mary Alexandrette courageously helped me wash two of the 20-foot windows on July 9th. That evening, I cut the dove from opaque white glass and the background from green cathedral glass. The next day, a small group of us washed the remaining windows. Our fingers were raw, but we completed the task; all five windows were washed. The novices also joined us each morning to help wash and sort bottles. The Good Lord was most generous in sending the help I needed whenever I began to lose hope. My fellow sisters supported me through light-hearted banter, encouraging smiles, and prayers.

On July 15th, Mrs. Jean Bedkowska and I began adhering the fired pieces to the windows. We started with the clear glass lines for the swirls and arches, and installed the Holy Spirit design. Each piece was supported with masking tape until the epoxy set. We often thanked God for the air conditioning in the chapel, as the days were very hot and humid. Mrs. Bedkowska worked with me from the beginning to the end, and I’m deeply grateful to her. I’m also thankful to the Good Lord for sending such an encouraging helper.

Once the simple areas were installed, I began using paper to outline the proper lines and shapes needed to fill around the existing pieces. The tedious and exacting work began on August 10th. It took much longer to arrange the pieces in the kiln, anywhere from four to six hours. It was during this process that I realized I could shade areas by mixing different tints of green and off-white glass. However, we encountered an issue with residue because we left the tape on for too long, which had to be cleaned off with acetone. The novices helped when they had time.

The beauty lies in the details: the rich greens, earthy browns, and the opaqueness of the glass bottles used for the chapel windows.

On August 15, I decided to incorporate lilies into the foreground to balance the opaque shape of the Holy Spirit. From there, the idea of using a lily to represent each of the major homes in our Congregation blossomed. They naturally organized themselves into three distinct groups—the seven American homes, four in Poland, and the Generalate along with the two Vice-Provinces of Canada and Brazil.

On August 28th, I tidied up the classroom for the school opening. I continued firing and setting aside pieces until the weekend when Mrs. Bedkowska and I worked until the sun went down. I was becoming discouraged, tired, and achy. My fingertips were cut, burned, and raw, with my fingernails non-existent. On September 14th, as I began painting on the etching cream for the water area, I had the thought, “Near peaceful waters He’ll bid me rest.”

I enjoyed arranging the stylized flowers in the grassy area at the end of September. Two hills were designed, with the left one providing greater depth, symbolizing our journey, “Through the valley of darkness.” As I realized I had only a month and a half left to complete the windows, I pushed through the fatigue. With God’s help, I began working round the clock—getting up at night to adjust the temperature in the kiln. The novices returned to help wash desperately needed brown bottles, and friends and family continued sending bottles from all over. My back spasms were increasing, and I started feeling anxious. Thank God nothing serious developed.

Using the 40-foot scaffolding, the 80-foot-wide chapel window is meticulously crafted and pieced together.

The second swirl around the Holy Spirit took shape on October 27th. By November, the first three windows were almost completed. My hope soared—I just might finish, as long as my health held out and the kiln cooperated. The forty-sixth and final firing was set up on November 19th. Mrs. Bedkowska and I finished putting up the last pieces just before vespers on November 21st. Deo Gratias!

We started removing the last pieces of masking tape and cleaning the windows on November 24th. Each rectangular area was carefully checked and cleaned, which was a very tedious job. On November 29th, Mrs. Bedkowska and I finished cleaning. We also caulked areas that seemed to be causing a leak on the fourth window and taped the small transom windows on the outside to prevent wind from blowing in.

Another coincidence occurred—the gold letters on one of the brown bottles didn’t burn out. Specifically, the fourth window in the fourth pane of the top left section bears the marking “1874.” This is the year when our Felician Sisters set out to establish a new home in North America.

I used anywhere from 900 to 1,000 bottles. I didn’t always record the number used. The totals I do have are 370 green bottles, 165 clear glass bottles, and 414 brown bottles.

The students of the Light and Sound Crew dismantled the scaffolding on December 1, 1980. Thank God for everything. I worked so feverishly that it almost seems like a dream. As I stand back to see the windows, I don’t even remember working on certain sections. My hands have healed, my fingernails are growing back, and I have a backlog of work, more than five months to catch up on.

With His Divine help, I knew I would succeed. Please join me in thanking the Lord for being there every step of the way.

Sister Mary Colette Michniewicz a Felician Sister for 76 years, entered eternal rest on Wednesday, April 24, 2024, at Holy Name of Mary Convent in Mississauga, Ontario.

Read her obituary

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Serving where needed since 1874

Founded in Poland in 1855, the Felician Sisters are a congregation of women religious inspired by the spiritual ideals of their foundress, Blessed Mary Angela Truszkowska, and Saints Francis of Assisi, Clare of Assisi and Felix of Cantalice. Arriving in North America in 1874 following Blessed Mary Angela’s directive “to serve where needed,” they helped to weave the social service system. Today, the Felician Sisters founded, sponsor or support through the presence of our sisters, more than 40 ministries – all continuing to evolve to meet the needs of the people they serve.

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