Panes of Church Closings: Closing Jeopardizes Stained-Glass Images and Other Artifacts

By Mark Fontecchio
The Patriot Ledger [Weymouth MA]
Downloaded June 1, 2004

WEYMOUTH - When the Hajjar family attends Mass at St. Albert the Great, they try to sit on the east side of the church, near the back. From there they can see a stained-glass window with a picture of St. Bartholomew, one of the Twelve Apostles . At the bottom is this inscription:

'In memory of Antoon and Tom Hajjar. Gift of Tillie, Phil and Zako Hajjar and family."

The Hajjar family bought the window for $2,825 in 2001, and donated it to the church. Every time they sit by it, family members think of Antoon Hajjar and his son, Tom. Six years ago, the two died within three months of each other.

Now the church is scheduled to close and the Hajjar family, along with dozens of others who bought stained-glass windows, are worrying about what will happen to the windows and the memories they represent.

'What are we going to do about it?" said Tillie Hajjar, Antoon's feisty 83-year-old widow. 'We're not going to let them take it. I want to get it."

Officials from the Boston Archdiocese, which announced this week that 65 churches will be closed in the next six months, said artifacts such as windows, statues and other art will be sold when the parishes are shuttered.

Officials say they will set up a special web site where the items can be purchased; churches near the ones being closed will have the first chance to buy the artifacts.

'We obviously would like the windows to be used in another Catholic church," said the Rev. Christopher Coyne, spokesman for the Boston Archdiocese. 'The first thing we'd like them to be used in is Catholic buildings and Catholic churches."

Tillie Hajjar and the rest of her family have an especially close relationship with their church. When parishioners waited for the church to be built in the 1950s, services were held in a bowling alley owned by the family.

'We helped build the church," Hajjar said.

In 2001, when St. Albert the Great underwent a modest renovation, parishioners and officials doled out $155,375 to install 55 stained-glass windows made in Munich, Germany.

Parishioners who paid $2,825 for a window could add an inscription of their choosing.

John Reilly, a parishioner at St. Albert for 42 years, wanted to remember his own family and that of his wife. Hence: 'In memory of the Boyle and Reilly families."

Ditto for Joan and Edward O'Toole. Joan's maiden name is Bennett, so their window has the inscription, 'In memory of the O'Toole and Bennett family."

'I pass it every Sunday that I'm at Mass," Joan O'Toole said. 'We thought it would be a good idea to remember our own parents when the windows were put in."

Parishioners say the windows are important, but not as special as the parish itself.

'The church is more important than a window," said Zako Hajjar, Tillie's daughter-in-law. 'We want our church to stay open."

Some parishioners have vowed to fight the archdiocese's decision to close St. Albert the Great, saying it didn't meet any of the criteria for closing.

They say the church is being punished because the pastor, the Rev. Ronald Coyne, signed a letter calling for former Cardinal Bernard F. Law's resignation. The Rev. Coyne also opened the church's doors to the Voice of the Faithful, a lay group that sprung up in the wake of the priest sex abuse scandal.

'He tells it like it is," Reilly said of the pastor. 'It used to be that you were talked to. With Father Coyne, now you're being talked with."

It angers Reilly to think about the window he paid for being sold by the archdiocese for profit.

'I don't want a gift that I gave to the church to be sold to help pay for lawsuits for pedophile priests," he said.

Others like Joan O'Toole are more sad than angry. Not only will their church be gone, but they won't have a special spot to sit in every week at Mass, to let the light shine in through the windows and flood their minds with memories of lost loved ones.

'I'm just very upset about it and last night I found myself crying," O'Toole said on Wednesday. 'It was the only thing we could do for our parents and now that's being taken away from us."


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