Honoring a stalwart lover of the Bible

By Christine Bordelon

Marvel M. Robertson experienced the heartbreak of losing her daughter several years ago, and said it was the faith and inspiration of Blessed Sacrament-St. Joan of Arc Deacon Irvin Stewart that pulled her through.

“I was a member of deacon’s Bible class for 15 years, and he helped me through a very difficult time with my daughter,” Robertson said. “He was a wonderful deacon.”

When Deacon Stewart passed away in April 2016 at age 81, Robertson sought to honor him in some way. She approached her pastor, Josephite Father Charles Andrus, and Deacon Stewart’s wife Glenda to discuss dedicating a pew or wood oak plant stand in his memory. That’s when the idea of a stained-glass window came up, Robertson said.

Father Andrus agreed that they could replace two existing amber glass panels with two stained-glass windows in patterns to best represent the religious man that Deacon Stewart was.

On Oct. 15, which happened to be during the parish’s men’s weekend, the panels were unveiled in a ceremony. Father Andrus thought it was an apropos time considering how Deacon Stewart was a strong example of a good man over the five years he knew him as a Bible study coordinator, a preacher and someone who was very involved in the parish.

“He was very well respected,” Father Andrus said. “He was a humble servant of the church, and he loved the diaconate and was very involved in the preaching and sacramental life of the church as a deacon.”

Members of Deacon Stewart’s family and parishioners attended the dedication.

“I think it’s just cool,” Stewart’s grandson Mark Stewart-Simms said. “A big part of his life was church and God. No matter what conversation you would have with him, it was really important to him. It was probably the most the important thing besides my grandmother and family.”

In addition to Stewart-Simms, two of Stewart’s children, Sandi Stewart of Houston and Irvin Stewart Jr. of Dallas, were there along with other grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The Stewarts have two biological children and three adopted children.

Glenda Stewart, who was married to Deacon Stewart for 56 years, was recuperating from an accident and couldn’t attend but said her family took pictures, and her fellow congregants told her how beautiful the ceremony was.

“They came over after and showed pictures they took for me,” she said. “The windows are absolutely beautiful. When parishioners called me to tell that, that made my day right there.”

Perfect design

Cynthia Courage, owner of Attenhofer Stained Glass Studio, worked with Robertson and Stewart to design the panels that measure approximately 12-by-43-inches. One panel has a hand-painted medallion of a cross in the center surrounded by lilies of the field, which represent the people of Christ. The other panel has a hand-painted Bible with a palm branch under it.

“We tossed around several ideas and came up with a Bible and a cross,” Courage said as the predominant images on each of the panels. The Bible stood for the Bible studies he conducted, and the cross represented his faith. Stewart and Robertson had approval every step of the way, Courage added.

The main medallions containing the cross and Bible images began as clear glass that Courage said she hand-painted and fired approximately seven times.

“I saw it as the voice of the church representing a servant of God,” Robertson said of the design.

Courage said she was mindful of the style and coloration of the existing stained-glass windows at St. Joan of Arc and used glass that has been in business since 1888. Each panel has a blue-green border “that keeps the eyes on the piece.”

“We used very similar colors to other colors in the church,” she said. “We created stenciled diamonds that I hand-painted,” Courage said. “Each diamond took an hour to airbrush.” She also created memorial plaques on each panel that was inscribed with the donors’ names as part of the fabric of the bottom of the stained-glass panel, again similar to the ones already in the church.

“They did a great job,” Father Andrus said of the window installation. “It blended almost perfectly.”

Glenda Stewart mentioned how losing her husband was difficult last year, but she now has the opportunity see his life’s work remembered in stained glass every time she goes in the church.

“I was just saying that Irvin loved the church,” she said, mentioning that he was a deacon at both Holy Ghost and Blessed Sacrament-St. Joan of Arc. “Everybody would say he knows how to preach. Irvin did so many funerals and weddings. My mother loved him. She was so proud of him; so many people were proud of Irvin. He was dedicated to the church, no matter what. … Irvin was strong and that’s how he wanted me to be.”

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarionherald.org.

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