A Sacred Heirloom
When word first started circulating about the closing of several Catholic churches in town I wrote to the dioceses of Manchester about the fate of the family windows within Sacred Heart Church and how I might go about getting it. My ancestor, Nazaire Isabelle, was one of the founding families of the French speaking Sacred Heart Church in Concord, he along with his sons in law, George Venne and Emery Lapierre were pivotal in the fund raising and the construction of the Sacred Heart Chapel and School in 1893. They later contributed money to a very large window in the apse of the church, their names preserved in paneled glass below the larger window. After several attempts to contact the Dioceses, I heard nothing back from them.
I next wrote to Jon Chorlian, the developer of the condos being built in the church, again I heard nothing back. I finally found someone at St. John’s Church to talk to, who was not initially forth coming about the fate of the windows. He said they had been sold and didn’t know to whom. In the course of our conversation, he finally told me that they all went to a company in Georgia. With only that information to go on, I started looking online and I eventually found King Richard’s Liturgical Design & Contracting was the purchaser of all the stained glass that was removed from Sacred Heart.
It took five calls to King Richard’s before I found someone who would help me, and they were very kind in listening to my story and said that they would check and see if they had the family vent window in their inventory. After a few days they contacted me and said that they did in fact have it. The price was what I would come to call a “King Richard’s ransom”, ten times as much as what I was expecting, but at least I knew finally where it was. My plan was to watch it online and hoped maybe it would go on sale after a while.
Some time after contacting King Richard’s my mother and I went on the Upstairs Downtown tour that sponsored by Intown Concord, and Sacred Heart Church was one of the stops on the tour. We were able to view the gutted church and see the blue taped lines of “progress” for the coming condos. It was a difficult thing to see the church in this state, and my mother cried – not the most pleasant part of our tour – these changes being made “all in the name of economic vitality” so we were told.
A few months later my birthday rolled around and much to my surprise, my mother gave me a card with a photograph of our family window. A few weeks later a very large box arrived. I learned my respect for preserving family history from my mother, and after hearing the story, she had gone to great expense to secure our family window. I cried when I opened it, thinking perhaps that this piece of family history was lost to us. The window was beautiful, but in need of restoration work on the rough edges and structural support, but I was so relieved to have the window to pass down, and to be able to preserve the history I thought was gone.
In searching for someone skilled enough to restore the window, I was referred to Susan Pratt-Smith, a stained glass artist from Northwood, NH. I did not realize her reputation at the time, but after meeting with her I began to “run” into her work at some of the local churches I had been in. I couldn’t have found a better person to do justice to this very special piece and I owe her much gratitude for her kindness and her work.
Susan delivered my window back to me a few weeks ago. I am preparing a special place to hang it within my home, so that everyone who enters can see it – in the same entryway that has seen six generations of Isabelles come and go.
The Diocese of NH was very careful to properly desanctify the church, in a ceremony that removed the most sacred objects from Sacred Heart to St. Johns, but they sold the windows to a company located out of state, without any effort to locate donor family members or other interested local parties. This would have given those families the opportunity to purchase the windows first before having to go through a third party, which would have greatly reduced the expense. These are the families who built the church, without whom there would be no church to sell to developers. As hard as it is for a community to lose a religious building like this, where baptisms, marriages and funerals have occurred for generations of families, the wholesale removal of family heirlooms such as these is a cold footnote to an otherwise difficult story.
I feel very fortunate that this story turned out as it did for my family, but I can’t help think of all the other families who won’t have the opportunity that I have to preserve this part of our shared history.