Last Wednesday about midday, St Teresa’s Church on Donore Avenue in the Liberties is quiet and airy and nearly empty.
But between the altar and the first row of pews, Deirdre Kinahan, wearing a pale yellow hoodie, is standing and talking about its new pair of stained-glass windows.
As she talks, they are in her sight-line, across the tops of the pews, on the western wall of the church, covered by curtains. The official blessing and unveiling isn’t until Sunday.
These are the first new stained-glass windows added for as long as she can remember, says Kinahan, a volunteer with the parish and a member of the parish pastoral council.
“These are all the original ones,” says Kinahan, waving her right hand towards un-curtained windows high over the altar. “They’re William Earley stained-glass windows.”
The new windows will carry the story of who the parish lost, and the support – through struggle, fear and grief – the community gave each other during the pandemic, forward through the years.
They are different to the others in the church, in style and theme.
One of the many difficult parts of the pandemic was how, to help limit the spread of the disease, the government limited how many people could gather for funerals, Kinahan says.
At some points only 10 people could go to a funeral, she says.
“It was very hard on families and obviously hard on those who kind of wanted to support the family as well,” she says.
So people would have stood out in the streets, she said. “Lined the streets, you know, kind of in support of the families, which was lovely.”
It’s something Kinahan went through herself, after losing someone close to her during the pandemic, she says.
When the main storm of covid and the restrictions that came with it passed, the church started talking about how to remember what had happened.
They printed a large-format 82-page book called Journey through the Pandemic: the experience of life in the parish of St Teresa of the Child Jesus, Donore Avenue, Dublin during the Covid-19 pandemic 2020 to 2021.
Fr Alois Greiler suggested commissioning new stained-glass windows to commemorate the period, a process that began about a year ago, Kinahan says.
And they also wanted to have an event to gather everyone together again, in a way they couldn’t during all those funerals during the pandemic, she says.
On Sunday, the church finally had that event, unveiling the windows, and holding a special Mass.
The church was full for the mass and the blessing of the windows.
Bishop Emeritus Éamonn Walsh, in red, spoke to those who gathered, sitting in the pews in front of him, the windows to their left.
“We love to gather together and show our solidarity when somebody dies, but that wasn’t as possible as we’d like it to be,” Walsh said.
“So we remember those who have gone to the Lord and we remember family members and friends who continue to grieve and wish that things had been different at the time,” he said.
“And in remembering them we remember those who kept us safe and those who lightened our burden, because everybody was in need in different ways,” he said.
Kinahan spoke on Sunday too, of what was lost, and of how the members of the community supported each other through those hard times.
“We remember the lockdowns and the separation, the cocooning and the isolation,” she said. “We remember the confusion the two kilometre travel restrictions, the walks around the neighbourhood, the despair and the grief. We remember that sense of vulnerability and shock.”
“We remember the solidarity, the community spirit, the rallying of people to get through this together,” Kinahan said.
“We remember the homeschooling, having meetings in our pajama bottoms, the baking of banana bread, the Zoom quizzes, the exercise classes on the street, conversations over garden walls – two metres apart of course – the stocking up of toilet paper,” she said. “We remember.”
Designing the Windows
When Fr Alois had the idea for the new stained-glass windows, a small committee got together and had a think about what they wanted them to be like.
They worked up a brief and gave it, along with a copy of Journey through the Pandemic, to the team at Abbey Stained Glass Studios in Kilmainham.
The commission was rare enough, says Ken Ryan, of Abbey Stained Glass, where three generations of his family have worked.
“In my dad’s time, he did about 80 percent new windows, and the rest was restoration,” Ryan says. “These days, we are doing more like 20 percent new windows, and 80 percent restoration.”
The subject matter was unusual too, Ryan says. “Normally you’d be putting in traditional biblical designs.”
In fact, the first design that Abbey Stained Glass artist Brendan Mullins worked up and shared with the St Teresa’s committee did have biblical elements, Kinahan says.
“Like I’m used to doing windows with Christ on it and different things, that type of thing,” says Mullins, who had been working with Abbey for 23 years, he says.
But the committee didn’t think the biblical approach was quite right, Kinahan says.
“I suppose, you know, in one way, yes, you want to tie in with the existing windows that are there and the colouring that’s used and you don’t want to take away from that,” Kinahan says
“But equally what we were trying to do in terms of commemorating Covid experience is, you know, so different, so different,” she says.
Together, the parish committee and Mullins and Ryan at Abbey Stained Glass settled on a more modern approach.
“I can absolutely put my hand on my heart and say everyone is happy with how the windows turned out,” Kinahan says.
The new windows were installed in place of a plainer, older pair, she says.
She walks across the church and pulls back the curtain on the left, revealing a window dominated by a leafless tree, with the message “In memory of those who died during the Covid pandemic”.
At the top of the window, there’s a white dove symbolising the Holy Spirit. At the bottom is a bunch of yellow roses and an array of candles – symbolising the prayers of the community.
She lets that curtain fall back into place, and pulls back the one on the right, and the light pours through a window dominated by a thriving green tree.
Below the tree stands a group of four people, arms wrapped around each other.
“Immediately it is evident that the windows engage in a conversation that is highlighted by death & life; darkness & light; winter & summer; loss and new life,” says a booklet the church made for the occasion.
A rainbow arches across both windows. This, the booklet explains, was “an ever-present symbol in the parish during the pandemic”.“Visually it lifts spirits,” the booklet says.
Kinahan lets the right-hand curtain drop back into place, re-covering the window, shutting out the bright sunshine.
She walks away from the windows, between the pews, towards the door.
“I don’t know if anyone else is doing anything like this,” she says. “Or maybe they just want to forget about it.”