The Look of Luminosity

Four years separated my two visits to Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Casper, Wyo.

The two stopovers were contrasts in dark and light, joy and suffering. Indeed, nothing could have prepared me for the differences I found on my return trip.

My first visit was to a dimly lit church, albeit for a joyful occasion — my niece's wedding. The ceremony was small and charming, but the sanctuary was nondescript. Its ambience was closer to that of an outdated cottage than to a house of God.

My second visit, last October, came during a less cheerful time. I was in town to visit my ailing older brother, Rich. Yet, this time, I noticed right away that Our Lady of Fatima had been dramatically transformed. Most notably, bright light filtered through beautiful, new stained-glass windows that had been completed just weeks earlier.

These are not any run-of-the-mill adornments: The new windows showcase the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary. Surely, this is one of the first parish churches in the country to bring to its people, in such dramatic fashion, the newest Rosary mysteries.

I traveled from Minneapolis to Casper to visit my brother, who suffers from a number of infirmities. Prior to my visit, he began to have extreme difficulty breathing, which comes with the territory for those with multiple sclerosis. The visit was a chance to see his new home, as well as an opportunity for a work of mercy.

My primary responsibility during the four-day visit was just to be with him, talk and pray with him, and pass the time with one of our favorite activities: watching movies.

Oddly enough, I grew up not knowing this brother. By the working of the Holy Spirit, he came into my life only after I'd reached adulthood. He, like me, is a Lutheran convert to the Catholic faith. His sudden presence in my life at the age of 25 — with a conversion story in his recent background — played a major role in my own conversion to the Catholic faith.

Today we share a bond that is as strong as if we had grown up together.

Connected to an oxygen tank 24 hours a day and unable to move around a great deal without being exhausted, my brother was unable to attend Sunday Mass. I went to Our Lady of Fatima with my sister-in-law. As soon as I walked in, I noticed that everything was different.

“I had to get the floor off the wall,” said Father Bob Cook, who made the decision to remodel shortly after being assigned there as pastor.

For much of the Mass, I sat praying for my brother. When I wasn'd praying, or listening to Father Cook's powerful pro-life homily, I was transfixed by the large rose window behind the altar, and the way that it played with the light of the rising sun.

The window is one of the most distinct stained-glass windows I have ever seen. It features the rays of the sun penetrating the clouds. In the center of the window, Christ's burial cloth is unraveled in such a way that it circles to form a white rose. The shroud's tail takes the form of a dove looking up into the sun's golden beams.

The central placement of a crucifix directly in front of the window enhances the setting. Both the crucifix and the window serve as wonderful aids for contemplation before and after Mass; they capture both the sorrow of Christ's sacrifice and the hope of his Resurrection.

The window's designer, Michael Shields, from Creative Stained Glass Studio in Evergreen, Colo., says he came up with the idea for the window while waiting in the hospital for his wife, who was having surgery for breast cancer.

Father Cook says the window reminds him of a section in Dante's Divine Comedy, one describing the beatific vision. In it, the assembled people gazing at heaven take the form of a rose.

Vibrant and Realistic

As you enter the church, you're greeted by the Luminous Mysteries. In the first window on your right, John baptizes Jesus in the Jordan. In the next, it's the Lord's first public miracle, the changing of water into wine at the wedding in Cana. This is followed by Christ's proclamation of the Kingdom of God.

Across the nave, two windows along the east side complete the Luminous Mysteries: Jesus’ transfiguration in one, his institution of the Eucharist in the other. A sixth window tops off the series by depicting Mary and the disciples at Pentecost, the birth of the Church.

In each, the colors are vibrant and the depictions realistic. I particularly enjoyed studying the Proclamation of the Kingdom of God window, which depicts Christ on the seashore calling his people to repentance. The disciples nearest Jesus face him and have halos. Those in the distance face away and do not. Their body language is one of rejection.

In the foreground, someone is coming toward Jesus with his hands held open, representing repentance. A figure in the background looks interested, but isn'd certain. Another has his back turned, demonstrating a refusal to repent.

The window is a wonderful reminder that we are always presented with the choice of getting closer to Christ or turning away from him. It is easy to project oneself into the scene. I came away from the window asking myself, “What am I going to do?”

God's Sun(light)

Father Cook and a committee of four decided the content of the church's new windows. The parish held a contest to choose a stained-glass artist. In the end, Creative Stained Glass Studio was chosen, based on their design for the window featuring the baptism of Jesus. It's easy to see why.

It only took two weeks to raise the necessary funds — $13,000 per window —from parishioners to cover the windows’ costs.

It's also evident that the windows were designed by a committed Catholic. Each window features a border of rosary beads. God's hand holds the crucifix. The medallion of the rosary features the Church's patron, Our Lady of Fatima, and the angels in the corners of the window are patterned after the angels found in the church's Stations of the Cross.

Transmitted light, says Shields, is different from any other medium because the artist is dealing with wavelengths.

“It's God's light coming through the windows,” explains Shields. “I tried to be conscious of that. We painted the windows so that the light emanates from Jesus.”

After spending two days with my ailing brother, my union with Christ in the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at the newly renovated Our Lady of Fatima gave me strength and fortitude to return to my brother's side during his time of need for the remainder of my visit.

Christ offered light and hope for me through a physical means — a reverent church and its glorious stained-glass windows — when I needed it most.

Tim Drake writes from St. Joseph, Minnesota.

PLANNING YOUR VISIT

The Mass schedule is as follows: Saturday at 5:30 p.m. (Mass of Anticipation); Sunday at 8:30, 10 and 11:30 a.m.; and Monday through Friday at 9 a.m. Confessions are heard Saturdays from 4 to 5 p.m.

GETTING THERE

Our Lady of Fatima Church is located at 1401 Cy Avenue in Casper, Wyo. For more information, call (307) 265-5586 or e-mail [email protected]

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito says of discerning one’s college choice, ‘There has to be something that tugs at you and makes you want to investigate it further. And then the personal encounter comes in the form of a visit or a chat with a student or alumnus who communicates with the same enthusiasm or energy about the place. And then that love of a place can be a seed which germinates in your own heart through prayer.’

Choose a College With a Discerning Mind and Heart

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito, assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas (UD) and subprior (and former vocations director) of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas, drew from his experience as both a student and now monastic religious to help those discerning understand the parallels between religious and college discernment.