Windows for Mother Cabrini

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Catholic Church
El Paso, Texas

Architect: Dennis Hyndman, AIA: Hyndman & Hyndman Architecture, Encinitas, CA

Altar: Creation and Resurrection
23.0' w by 16.5' h

Blessed Sacrament Chapel
2 @ 12.5' w by 14.2' h flanked by 2 @ 8.0' w by 12.5' h

Shrine of the Sacred Heart
8.0' w by 9.2' h flanked by 2 @ 4.7' w by 9.2' h

Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine
8.0' w by 9.2' h flanked by 2 @ 4.7' w by 9.2' h

Cupola: Crown of Light
24 @ 3.0' w by 2.8' h

Entrance Rose: Nativity Star & Cross Rose
5.0' diameter

Narthex to Nave Doors & Descending Dove Rose
23.0' w by 9.5' h; Dove: 5.0' diameter

Reconciliation Chapels
Interior: 2 @ 6.8' w by 8.6' h; Exterior: 2 @ 4.3' w by by 9.2' h

Choir Window
37.3' w by 8.4' h

I first heard about plans for a new worship space at St. Frances X. Cabrini Catholic Church from Fr. Frank Lopez and parishioners at a liturgical conference in California in 2004. At long last that vision was realized when their inspired new church on the hill was dedicated in El Paso during a glorious Chihuahuan Desert sunset.

I also happened to meet Dennis Hyndman, AIA (Hyndman & Hyndman Architecture, Encinitas, CA) at the very same conference. Little did I realize that years later Mother Cabrini’s Building Committee would select Hyndman & Hyndman as Project Architect and ask my studio to provide the stained glass. The following is an overview of the stained glass we created together.

A master plan approach to the design of stained glass allowed the Windows for Mother Cabrini to work together as a symphonic whole – an integral part of both liturgy and architecture. To date over 60 percent of the Stained Glass Master Plan has been completed and installed. The future stained glass will fulfill a major objective of mitigating unrelenting west Texas sun to create a cool, calm oasis for worship, prayer and contemplation. The Spanish Mission Revival-inspired architecture weaves a subtle, uplifting play of light and shadow throughout the Nave, while the stained glass adds sacred mystery as it tames the intense desert sun.

With massive oak entry doors silently closing behind, worshippers exchange the outside world’s hustle-and-bustle for the welcoming, quiet place of worship within. Directly above the main entrance, the round “Star Cross Window” encapsulates Christ’s life on Earth with symbols of his birth and death. Six future Narthex Clerestory Windows: “Creation”, will contain the most deeply saturated color of all the stained glass. They will further dim the Narthex to help worshipers transition into a more receptive, prayerful frame of mind. Lighter, more transparent stained glass in the Narthex-to-Baptistry Doors/Sidelights draws visitors across the Narthex and also allows the Narthex to double as Cry Room.

A flowing water motif appears along the lower sections of all floor-level stained glass around the Nave. It finds its source appropriately at the Baptistry. Besides its essential role in the Sacrament of Baptism, water takes on added significance in the arid West. As the stylized glass river flows from window to window, it recalls the Rio Grande/Río Bravo del Norte and emphasizes the parish’s outreach to neighbors on both sides of the river.

Passing through the Narthex-to-Baptistry Doors and beneath the “Descending Dove Window”, worshipers encounter Jordan Wanner’s massive cast bronze Baptismal Font quietly bubbling into Julie Richie & Lynne Chinn’s mosaic-lined pool whose design anticipates the stained glass. Looking past the Baptistry, the constricted space of the Narthex dramatically explodes out into an expansive, soaring Nave. The stained glass in each of the the Nave’s eight walls resonates with its side’s unique purpose. High above the Altar Table at the Nave’s center, a ring of twenty-four Cupola Windows add a subtle, warm glow as the “Crown of Christ”. At night the Cupola becomes a shining beacon visible for miles around.

Directly across the Nave from Narthex and Baptistry, the Altar Crucifix Window: “Creation & Resurrection” enframes John Collier’s larger-than-life Crucifix with radiating imagery spiraling up and out into adjacent stained glass. To the right of the Altar Window and through Rick Findora’sAngel Gate”, the Reservation Chapel Windows envelop the Tabernacle with the radiance of the Holy Spirit. As seen from the Nave, the main center window’s stained glass appears to stream both down from above as well as from the Altar Crucifix Window and up into the (future) Nave Clerestory Windows.

To the left of the Altar Window, stained glass billows across the lower third of the Choir Window enframing unobstructed views to the Franklin Mountains and sky. The upward and outward movement that begins in the Altar Crucifix Window sweeps across the Choir Window and will flow up into future Nave Clerestory Windows as they unfurl beneath the Nave’s trellised octagonal ceiling.

Four floor-level Nave Windows will one day add intimacy along the rear aisles of the Nave by transforming harsh sun into a muted, colorful and meditative glow. As with the other floor-level windows (Narthex Doors, Altar Window, Shrines and Chapels) that encircle the Nave, the Nave Windows will appear to sweep up into the four Nave Clerestory Windows wafting above. The sacred flowing water motif from the Narthex/Baptistry stained glass continues its journey along the bottom of these windows as they flow toward the Altar Crucifix Window.

Stained glass in the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Shrine of the Sacred Heart and future Mother Cabrini and Pope John Paul II Chapels is first glimpsed through portals in the Nave. Bright, colorful focal points within these windows symbolically beckon worshippers with flower/heart imagery reminiscent of Our Lady’s miraculous winter roses on the Hill of Tepeyac. Deep, saturated color also creates quiet separation from from walkways, parking and the streetscape beyond.

The doors and sidelights leading into the two Reconciliation Chapels depict the “Keys to the Kingdom”. Their pale, transparent tints meet safe environment guidelines, while subtle mouthblown texture creates a veil of privacy and separation. Each of these chapels’ exterior windows flank the main entrance so that their stained glass greets approaching worshipers with an iconic Cross and Shepherd’s Crozier (pastoral crook).

The new church has been blessed and dedicated. With 62 percent of its stained glass now installed, we’ve arrived at a natural pause in stained glass fabrication. This will allow Mother Cabrini Parish to take a well-deserved and collective deep breath while everybody gets to know their wonderful new place of worship. The future stained glass (which includes the floor-level Nave Windows, its Clerestory Windows, and two Side Chapels) is primarily east- and west-facing. This provides a perfect opportunity to tweak glass palettes with deeper color to further tame the powerful El Paso sun. Onward. . .

Stay tuned!

Materials: Mouthblown European glass, Austrian lead-crystal prisms, lead, solder.