St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in Boca Raton began extensive remodeling in May. St. Gregory’s leadership expects the work to finish by the end of November, just in time for the church’s 70th anniversary. Photo provided
Area churches restore stained glass, sanctuaries
By Janis Fontaine
When morning sunlight passes through the stained-glass windows at Church of the Palms, it ignites the sanctuary with color: yellow and amber, crimson and magenta, cobalt and cyan. A glowing vermillion cross on the floor creeps slowly toward the altar as the day progresses.
“Before it was just a diffused orange glow,” Pastor Todd Petty said. “Now when I walk in, I feel something divine. It’s peaceful. Worshipful.”
The Delray Beach church is among several in South County making much-needed updates and repairs in 2023. St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church of Boca Raton and St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church in Delray Beach spent the summer renovating. These aren’t small projects. Church of the Palms spent nearly $300,000 repairing its east-facing frontage. The other churches spent more. All of the projects were complicated.
At Church of the Palms, it took months of delicate work to remove thousands of pieces of rare, mouth-blown sheet glass — the most expensive kind of stained glass manufactured in the world — label them, clean them and plan for their reinstallation.
The stained-glass work fell to the fine craftsmen at McMow Art Glass in Lake Worth Beach with an assist from DeMattia & Son Construction on installing the hurricane-protective windows, the doors and the framing of the narthex.
McMow Art Glass, an artistic presence in Lake Worth Beach for nearly 50 years, had nine artisans working on the restoration, including Hans Maurer, a highly skilled master from Germany. The east-facing window had been spared storm damage, but a healthy fear of hurricanes (and the building code) demanded that the stained glass be protected by hurricane glass.
The church has unusual architectural characteristics that made the process both a joy and a challenge, said Shanon Materio, president and creative director of McMow. With its soft curves and glowing wood, Materio says, it resembles a mandolin.
The glass used in the intricate depiction of the symbol of the United Church of Christ is rare mouth-blown sheet glass manufactured by Lamberts Glass in Germany. Tiny bubbles in the glass make it even more luminous. Church records say it was crafted and installed by Nobis Studios from Canton, Ohio, in 1965.
Things have changed since then. In order to meet building codes, the whole tableau had to be rescaled — a geometric problem requiring precise calculations to maintain the integrity of the design. “The ratio had to be correct, which required a lot of time and effort,” Materio said.
Another arduous chore: Cleaning the windows of almost 60 years of dirt, dust and debris — soot from candles and incense, nature’s detritus and millions of exhaled breaths laden with impurities — revealed the truly spectacular quality of the glass, Materio said. “The fluidity of the glass, and the jewel tones. You cannot replicate it. There’s nothing better.”
When the glass was made in the early ’60s, there were lots of sources for stained glass, mostly in New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio. Today, there are few.
McMow downsized 18 months ago to devote itself to the craft of restoration and preservation of this fine art. “I like that we’re not throwing something away,” Materio said.
And there’s plenty of work to be done.
The cost of the project, the faithful provided. In January, the church bulletin read: “We are pleased to report that because of your faithful support — and a generous $75,000 gift from the Boynton Beach Church — our capital campaign exceeded its goal! We hoped to raise $275,000 to restore the stained-glass windows in the Sanctuary building and to install new front doors. Instead, we raised $340,850!”
That $75,000 gift did more than just help pay for the restoration.
Boynton Beach Congregational Church had sold its building in downtown Boynton and lost its pastor. It was looking for a new home. The church was welcomed by Church of the Palms. In May 2022, they began practicing a “cooperative ministry.”
With them, the congregants brought an artifact from the original church: a cross in the Dalle de Verre style, which is stained-glass pieces set in a matrix of concrete and epoxy resin. It was designed and fabricated by Conrad Pickel in his Boynton Beach studio in 1980.
McMow Art Glass gave it a new aluminum frame and mount and placed it in the Church of the Palms courtyard between the sanctuary and Friendship Center. The cross represents the joining of the two churches. It looks like it was made for the courtyard, Petty said.
Church of the Palms is at 1960 N. Swinton Ave. In-person worship takes place at 10 a.m. Sunday, followed by coffee in the Friendship Center. The virtual service streams at 4:30 p.m. Call 561-276-6347 or visit www.churchofthepalms.net.
New this month ...
Nearby, St. Vincent Ferrer is undergoing its own upgrades.
In June, the church closed for the summer to give the sanctuary a face-lift. When parishioners return in September, they’ll be welcomed by shiny new pews, fresh paint, new lighting fixtures and neutral tile replacing the carpet. The church has held weekday Masses in the intimate and austere adoration chapel; weekend Masses were held in the school’s gym.
First, the space with room for 808 worshipers, was gutted. The old carpet and pews were removed, and the room was repainted a nice bright neutral cream color. New modern lighting fixtures were installed. Then the room was tiled with slip-resistant ceramic tile to match the altar.
Finally, on Aug. 7, a huge truck pulled up in front of the church and started the all-day job of unloading the new pews and materials.
“The pews are a richer color, a little darker than before,” office manager Ericka Ruiz said. They were chosen to coordinate with the wood ceiling.
Each three-piece pew had to be individually assembled, then the kneelers had to be attached, and the pews moved into position and bolted to the floor. The church raised about $800,000 for the upgrades in donations from parishioners.
At 5 p.m. on Sept. 7, Bishop Gerald Barbarito will celebrate a special Mass blessing the renovated church.
St. Vincent Ferrer is at 840 George Bush Blvd. Call 561-276-6892 or visit www.stvincentferrer.com.
... and coming in the fall
St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church began extensive remodeling in May, and the church leaders expect the work to finish by the end of November, just in time for St. Gregory’s 70th anniversary.
In 1953, a few Episcopalians living in Boca Raton wondered if they really had to drive to Delray Beach to worship. They didn’t. The church first congregated in a single room furnished with an altar at one end and a kitchen at the other in a tiny building a block north of Palmetto Park Road.
In 1956, the Episcopalians broke ground for a building of their own on land donated by A.S. Weisman, a Jewish man who gave them two adjoining lots on the condition they build the church in two years. They did.
But within 10 years, they had to expand again. A much larger sanctuary and gorgeous stained-glass windows were added in 1966. During renovations in July, the team discovered several pieces of plywood signed by workers from Snow Construction, the company that built the sanctuary, led by George Snow of Snow Scholarship renown.
Now workers have stripped the church down to its bare bones and ripped up the tile and carpet from the floors. The Austin pipe organ (purchased in 1994 for $500,000) was removed and stored, and the remaining pipes were covered and protected. McMow Art Glass came on board to protect the stained glass during the construction.
Scaffolding was erected to restore the tongue-and-groove wood ceiling. The roof was repaired, and a new drainage system was installed to better protect St. Gregory’s stunning architecture from Florida’s unfriendly weather. Inside, a fire control room and fire sprinklers were installed.
It took until mid-July to finish work on the ceiling. While the scaffolding was up, the stained-glass windows were cleaned of years of dust and soot. Also in July, a steel beam was installed, and the columns removed from the old library hall, which will open up the sanctuary to natural light. A new entryway will welcome parishioners when the church reopens in the fall. In the meantime services will continue to take place in Harris Hall.
“It’s been a miracle,” parish administrator Kristen Chaney said, adding that so far, renovations have been covered by generous donations from parishioners.
In the Aug. 10 bulletin, the church leaders reported the best news yet: “Construction is progressing on time and within budget.”
If that continues, work should be completed by Thanksgiving. The estimated cost of the planned construction in the sanctuary is about $3.6 million.
St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church is at 100 NE Mizner Blvd. Call 561-395-8285 or visit www.stgregorysepiscopal.org.