Westport church works to save historic windows

WESTPORT - A pair of priceless stained glass windows have illuminated Westport's Catholic church for the past century. Now efforts are under way to ensure their preservation.

Two windows at St. Philip Neri Church, both of which date from around 1910, will undergo restoration this fall at great expense to the church.

Father Peter Riani is pastor at St. Philip Neri Church as well as St. Elizabeth Church in Elizabethtown. He said parish members cleaning the church first noticed instability in the windows late last year. Coincidentally, a professional stained glass window restoration firm soon sent an offer for a free window assessment, to which Riani agreed.

The assessment concluded most windows in both churches were in good condition with little need for immediate repair. The two large windows in Westport, however, were found to be in dire need of attention.

"They are basically unsupported," said Riani. "If they don't do this major restoration, they'll fall out."

The two windows use rare opalescent glass, which was used predominately in the early 20th century in the style of John LaFarge and Louis Comfort Tiffany. They differ in style from the painted glass more commonly used in stained glass windows.

There is no artist's signature or date on the windows, and where they originated is now a mystery. Dan Connell, church trustee of St. Philip Neri, said they had hung in the original Catholic church in Westport. When a 1980s fire destroyed that church, the windows were one of the few things saved.

"The firemen did everything they could to make sure they saved them," said Connell, "then we told the architect to build this church around the windows."

Willet Hauser, the firm examining the windows, estimated it would cost $47,800 to restore the windows and make them stable enough for continued use.

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