I once saw a birthday card which had a picture of a stained-glass window on the front with the words inside saying: “You do to me what sunshine does to stained glass." For many years now the stained-glass windows outside the chapel in Blackley old convent were not seen. We passed them every day, several times a day, but because they got no sunlight and because they were covered by an external protection grill, they became invisible.
When we began to build the new convent, Litchford Court, we decided to have the windows taken out, cleaned, and put in the new chapel. What a revelation! The young man who came to take them out to be cleaned and repaired later told the Architect that they were the “Mona Lisa" of stained-glass windows. The windows were repaired where needed, cleaned and then “laminated" between two plain glass covers. They are now in our new chapel, one either side of the altar. They catch the sunlight and for the first time in many years they show their true beauty.
They were made at Earley's studios in Dublin in 1948 for the original chapel in Blackley.
Earley and Company (1861–1975) were ecclesiastical furnishings and stained-glass manufacturers and retailers, based in Camden Street, Dublin, Ireland. The firm was one of the largest and most prestigious ecclesiastical decorators both in Ireland and the U.K. They provided a high standard of ecclesiastical art during the Gothic revival of the 1800s and the building of Catholic Churches which flourished in the first half of the 20th century. Some of the Good Shepherds will possibly remember them, the windows that is. The Annals of the time do not mention them, only saying that the restoration work in the Chapel began in March 1949. There was a lot of sickness in the house at the time as well as a new Superior – all of which took up more annal space than anything else!
The window on the left as you go into the Chapel is the “John Eudes" window. It is a representation of the statue of Our Lady and the Child Jesus with John Eudes kneeling before them that can be found today in the Church of La Gloriette in Caen. It originally stood on John Eudes tomb. There is a sentence at the top of the window which says: “If we live let us live for Jesus and the souls he died to save." I do not know if John Eudes ever said this, but it certainly is the philosophy he lived by. Our Lady is looking tenderly at the Child Jesus who is looking at John Eudes, pointing with his right hand at his mother's heart and with his left hand at John Eudes. It speaks to us of the great heart of God that John Eudes tells us has been given to us so that we might love God with what now belongs to us, i.e. our great heart.
The statue also shows John Eudes intuition regarding the Heart of Mary and the Heart of Jesus. This is contained in a quote from him saying: “Jesus lives so totally in Mary, that he is truly the soul of her soul, the spirit of her spirit and the heart of her heart, so much so, that strictly speaking, Jesus is the heart of Mary."
This insight was one of the reasons that John Eudes, in his canonization brief was called by the Pope the “Doctor and Apostle of the cult of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. We can also find a reference in the Ave Cor which has an invocation – Hail most loving Heart of Jesus and Mary. Notice Heart in the singular. This is the heart, excuse the play on words, of our spirituality. It is the root of our charism of mercy and our gift from God for the Church.
Our sisters in 1948 wanted to proclaim this publicly and so commissioned this window. Seventy-three years later it can remind us of who we are as a Congregation and our Eudist heritage today.
The window on the right as you go into the Chapel is the “Good Shepherd" window. It shows five sisters kneeling at the foot of the Good Shepherd. The sister in front is undoubtedly Mary Euphrasia as she has a halo. Who are the others? They could be the sisters who founded our Province, or they could be the sisters who went from Tours to Angers with Mary Euphrasia in 1829. We do not know. The writing at the top of the window is a quote from one of Mary Euphrasia's conferences: “Gather together the strayed sheep and bring them all to the Good Shepherd that they may hear his voice." At the bottom of the window are the words: One fold, one Shepherd and “Feed my lambs, feed my sheep"
The intention of the two windows is clearly to show that the Sisters of the Good Shepherd grew out of the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity. Since these windows were made, a lot more research has been done into the beginnings of the Good Shepherd. We now know that Mary Euphrasia had no intention of founding another religious order. She was happy in her vocation as a Sister of Our Lady of Charity. However, when the Church said that to have a change in the mode of government of the Order she would have to separate, she accepted what Rome decreed. The monastery of Our Lady of Charity in Angers had been known before the French Revolution by the name Good Shepherd and so the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd was born.
One hundred and seventy-nine years later, following a request from the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, the Church decreed that they and the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd should become one again. Like the initial separation, the merger has not been without suffering on both sides. But in this new millennium the desire for unity among us remains strong. Strong for the mission, strong in our shared charism and strong in our shared roots.
These windows show this unity through light, colour and beauty.
(Sr Anne Josephine CARR, RGS)