Friday, February 28, 2014

The Story of the Stained Glass Windows

IN 1940, the ArchDiocese of Toronto wanted to build a new church in the west end. They chose a spot of empty land at the corner of Bloor and Montgomery, one block west of Royal York Rd. There was already an Anglican and Lutheran and Episcoplian church in the area and the Vatican was beginning to panic. To build a church you need money, lots of it and to get lots of money you need a large group of Catholics, hopefully rich ones, and to get the money donated you need a charismatic priest that everyone likes. Enter Father William O’Flanagan, or as he came to be called “Dollar Bill”. Dollar Bill was a good-looking well-educated Jesuit who could dance, golf, ski, swim and be anywhere to anyone who was willing to listen to his pitch about how great it would be to donate money to the church. How much did he want? No less than $5,000 per family. (This was 1940! They were in the middle of a war! For perspective, think of a young Dick Whitman on the farm and how much $5,000 might have been to at the time…) Of course, one could donate any amount at all, no amount was too small but for the princely sum of $5,000 there was a sweetener: You could then be eligible to purchase (donate) a stained glass window with – wait for it – your family name and a few words, to be visible fo'eva. And these weren’t just any stained glass windows; these were the original, beautiful, ornate, multi-coloured, elaborate, glistening panels reminiscent of ancient European cathedrals.

In fact, Dollar Bill had another less popular nickname, Father Chicago, and he knew exactly what he was doing. For Catholics, donating money isn’t nearly as attractive as showing off. Dollar Bill got his money and sold all of the stained glass windows, except for the last two. One was “The Scourging at the Pillar” (too violent) and “Adoration of the Virgin” (too sensual). For some reason, no one wanted these and so Father Chicago put the hurt on; he started calling the wives of parishioners like the priest from The Sopranos. He wined them, he dined them, he encouraged them to ask around. Finally he got to Coba. You remember Eddy, don’t you? (please see After a lifetime of womanizing, Eddy finally fell in love with a stunningly beautiful Dutch girl who was all of 18 years old, and asked her to marry him despite the fact she was 20 years his junior. (But first, Coba had to move out Eddy’s live-in mistress!) Coba – short for Jacoba – was as devout a schoolgirl as they come and even today is a daily communicate at the same church. Coba had humble beginnings but Stelle always said she seemed to have no trouble spending Eddy’s money given half the chance. She took up Father Chicago’s mission and somehow managed to the largest contribution; she bought both stained glass windows. The scourging at the pillar she (hilariously) assigned to the memory of her late in-laws, and The Adoration of the Virgin? She dedicated that one to herself. It was in this way that my mother’s family is the only family to have two stained glass windows at the same church.

Sadly, Eddy died before his time leaving Coba with two small children. But 10 years later she re-married to a lovely man with the initials JC (no joke!), and Coba took her unmarried sister into her new home. Charles used to shout when he saw the three of them, “Here’s comes J___ C____ and his TWO wives!” Long after Coba re-married, long after her second husband became a millionaire and long after he died, Coba never forgot that Charles had supported her through the lean years. When it came time to stop driving, instead of giving her car to her beloved granddaughter, Coba gave the car to me. When I asked her who told her to give the car to me, she answered “God”.

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