By Bill Miller
RIDGEWOOD — In early August 2020, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal church still sparkled from a $150,000 renovation completed in 2018.
But then Hurricane Isaias came ashore on Aug. 4 with high winds clocked at 78 mph. It was mid-afternoon, and Father Jaroslaw Szeraszewicz, the parochial vicar, was alone in the sanctuary celebrating Mass.
Father Anthony Sansone, the pastor, said his associate was consecrating the Eucharist when he heard a thunderous explosion, and watched a stained-glass window, with the footprint of a small car, burst from its frame and crashed onto the pews below.
Several pews were damaged and broken glass was everywhere, with many shards spiked into the wood.
Parishioners who live across the street called Father Sansone in the rectory from the outside of the church to report a window was missing at the center of the building. Father Sansone rushed outside, saw the gap, and then found Father Szeraszewicz.
“I said to him, ‘Did you finish what you were doing?’ ” Father Sansone recalled. “He said, ‘Yes, despite everything that has happened — the wind was blowing into the church and moving all the chandeliers — but I completed the Mass because I had started. Then I came running to you.’ ”
Then Father Sansone saw the damage and was horrified. Fortunately, he said, none of the fallen glass reached Father Szeraszewicz at the altar.
“The crashing of the window,” the pastor continued, “and the compromising of some of the paint on the walls and the benches in the church — that was one thing.
“But my real concern was, God forbid, had there been people there, they would have been killed.”
Father Sansone’s horror was replaced by joy 18 months later on Feb. 13. During that snowy Sunday morning, the parish dedicated a new window, with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Robert Brennan, making his first visit to the church.
Bishop Brennan blessed the window and also the children of the parish — preschoolers to high school students — who filled the sanctuary behind the communion rail.
But a lot of work and prayer were needed to reach that point.
Damage estimates reached $80,000. But Father Sansone wasn’t worried. He had faith in God and the parishioners.
“It took 18 months to restore the window and bring it back,” Father Sansone said before the 10:30 a.m. dedication Mass. “We were able to collect enough money, plus the insurance, to cover the window.”
The parish stepped up, as he had hoped, but donations also came from outside the diocese.
“Coast-to-coast,” Father Sansone described the reach of people wanting to help the parish. “Donations came from clear across to California. There were people who belonged here and moved out, but they heard about it and also donated.”
He noted that many of the donations were made anonymously. He thanked everyone, and also the owner of the company that created the new window — Henry Gargiulo of Artisan Restoration Co., in Mount Vernon, N.Y.
Gargiulo described the process of creating a stained-glass window. First, his artists needed a theme. Father Sansone said the stained-glass windows were never cataloged, and he could not remember the images that had been on the lost window.
But Father Sansone came up with a new theme. He decided families ought to be the theme of the new window. It has two vertical panels, one with the Immaculate Heart of Mary, plus a man, woman, and child to represent a traditional family.
The left panel shows the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Nearby is a woman and her children, representing the single-parent families of the parish.
“That’s the reality that composes our families in our parishes,” Father Sansone said. “We have the traditional families, but we also have the single-parent families, and we respect them equally.”
With a theme in hand, the team develops the images of the window, and a full-sized pattern to apply the specially cut glass needed to complete the design, Gargiulo said. The team takes special care to ensure the colors are consistent with the other windows in the church.
Father Sansone knew he could count on Gargiulo’s team, because it was contracted to complete the earlier renovation, restoring murals, filling cracks, and a paint job with special accents of blue to honor Mary.
Father Sansone praised Gargiulo for overseeing the window replacement and also fortifying the surviving windows to ensure a future storm can’t punch them as well.
During his homily, Bishop Brennan marveled at how the parish rallied to replace the window. The new window, specially dedicated to families, radiates the light of Jesus, “filling us with a certain warmth to inspire us,” he said.
Replacing the window was a historic accomplishment for the parish, according to two of its members.
“Because of the damage that was done, it allowed us to come together as a community, parishioners, and one big family,” said Diana Mohamed.
The window, added Janet Ramos, “is no longer something to look at and be sad about. Now we can rejoice and be happy.”
“And the icing on the cake,” Mohamed said, “was that the bishop came and blessed it for us. And blessed us at the same time.”
Said Ramos, “He cared enough to say, ‘I need to come and bless that window, and this community, and to let them know that I am here.’ ”