They were once small shards of shattered glass, fragile remnants of a raging hail storm.
Today, they are beautiful pieces of art gently handcrafted by a Benedictine Sister of Perpetual Adoration.
When a hail storm converged on Northwest Missouri in August 2011, it left behind a wake of destruction, including the shattering of dozens of gorgeous stained glass windows almost a century old that had lined the monastery’s historic Relic Chapel and the Sorrowful Mother Chapel windows at the Benedictine Sisters’ monastery in Clyde.
“After the storm, we witnessed a multitude of blessings and clear evidence of God’s work as many employees, neighbors and friends came to help board up windows and clean up debris,” Benedictine Sister Sean Douglas, OSB, said at the time.
Sisters and volunteers valiantly searched through landscaped and grassy areas to collect as many pieces of glass as they could find so the shards wouldn’t be a hazard to people and wildlife.
What was akin to finding a needle in a haystack instead resulted in bucketfuls of delicate glass collected from the monastery grounds.
Glass is given new life
Then Sister Sean had an idea.
“I wanted to use the pieces of glass in some creative way rather than just dump it all in the trash,” she said.
It really wasn’t such a crazy idea for people who strive to serve as good stewards of Earth. Over the years, the Sisters and their lay employees have recycled wood into furniture, turned renovation scrap materials into home decor items, converted scrapped pipe into gardening beds and creatively discovered a host of other ways in which to reduce their impact on the environment.
So she decided to give the stained glass fragments new life as artisan pieces to sell in the monastery’s gift shop. So far she has crafted suncatchers and candleholders.
Developing a unique skill
As a veteran woodworker, she was familiar with the creative process but working with stained glass was something new.
“It wasn’t something I had done before. I am learning mostly from online tutorials, through experimentation, trial and lots of error,” she laughed.
In a way, it’s like putting together a puzzle. Most of her pieces begin as an example she sees online, then she uses the stained glass she has on hand to fit the concept. Sometimes modifications must be made, depending on the sizes and colors of glass needed.
“I do my very best to find the right piece of glass the first time around, so I don’t waste any of it,” she said.
Each creation is made by her and is completely unique.
An effort of time and talent
Working with stained glass is time intensive. Sister Sean must carve out precious time not reserved for prayer and her daily monastery duties in order to find moments to work on the stained glass.
Plus, it’s not as if she had all the equipment she needed just lying around the monastery. While she did purchase a couple of small hand tools from a craft store, she went scavenging for the other items she needed.
She uses an old ceiling tile for her workspace because its porous surface allows her to pin the designs to it to mark patterns for the glass. Once the pieces were cut, she needed a way to grind down the edges to make them smooth.
“So I took the motor out of a table fan, found a used switch, a couple of metal bookends from the library and a used piece of Plexiglass and built a basic grinder,” she said casually, as if it’s something everybody thinks to do. “I found a drill bit for about $20 and I was in business.”
However, the biggest challenge thus far is the old soldering iron she found in a monastery workshop. The original bit was too large for the delicate work she needed to do. She found a smaller bit, but there was a problem.
“The shaft was too small to fit the iron,” she grumbled good-naturedly.
She didn’t let that stop her. She found a piece of copper stripping, wrapped it around the bit shaft to make it larger, and she was in business.
“But the soldering iron doesn’t have a temperature control,” she said. “So that part is still a bit tricky.”
“Sister Sean is one of our hidden gems,” Clyde Prioress Sister Rita Clair Dohn, OSB, said. “She has so many talents and gifts that she shares with us on a daily basis. She sees the beauty in everything, no matter its age or condition, breathes new life into objects most anyone else would have thrown out long ago. She is indeed a treasure to our community.”
A gift of service
Sister Sean has crafted several delicate works for the Benedictine Sisters’ gift shop. The process also gives her time to reflect on her vocation as a Benedictine monk and to pray for each person who will receive one of her pieces of artwork.
“My main goal was to save good pieces of vintage glass – most of which are about a 100 years old – instead of throwing them away,” she said. “It was also important to create something that had a historical tie to our monastery, that has meaning to our Sisters and to anyone who has visited us or has a connection to our congregation. These pieces have allowed me to do just that.”
For more information about Sister Sean’s stained glass art or to learn about pieces available for sale, contact the Benedictine Sisters at 660.944.2221 or visit the monastery’s gift shop during visitor hours: 9:30 to 11:45 am and 1:30 to 4 pm, Monday through Saturday, and 9:30 to 11:30 am and 1:30 to 4:30 pm, Sunday.