“We do not fix our gaze on what is seen but on what is unseen.” - 2 Corinthians 4:18
Before the invention of the printing press, the books of Sacred Scripture were laboriously copied by hand, and very few people could read them. However, by the 12th and 13th centuries the people of God could “read” the stories of mankind and of man’s salvation in the picture books of Europe’s magnificent cathedrals’ stained-glass windows. There the stories of the Old and New Testaments, Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, apostles and saints were told in rich, deep colors of blue, red, and green that sparkled in the rays of the sun. Five windows representing the prophets are the oldest existing stained-glass window which can be seen in their original setting. They are in the Cathedral of Augsburg, Germany, and pre-date our patroness by more than two centuries. In our own parish church, whose architecture was influenced by the design of the 14th century Italian cathedral, we are fortunate to have beautiful and inspiring stained-glass windows.
The entire stained-glass window above the altar refers to worship of God and to the priesthood. In the first book of the Old Testament we read that after Abraham defeated Chedorlaomer, he went to Sodom. Then the king of Salem, Melchizedek, came to meet him and brought bread and wine (Genesis 14:18). In the diagram on the following page, panel #1 depicts this latter scene, which is also referred to in Hebrews 5: 1-11.
Below this (panel #2) we see Abraham about to kill his son, Isaac, and offer him in sacrifice to the Lord. The angel of the Lord stops him before he completes the act (Genesis 22:9-14). Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are Patriarchs of the Old Testament who were representatives or priests responsible for offering sacrifice on behalf of their people.
To the left (panel #3) is Ezekiel, a prophet and priest of the Old Testament, who saw a vision of the temple deserted by the glory of Yahweh (Ezekiel 10) and the future temples in which the Lord returns (Ezekiel 41). He also defined the function of the temple ministers and gave details of public worship and the sacred calendar (Ezekiel 46).
On the right (panel #4) is Daniel, another prophet and priest. Daniel 9:24-25 tells of the re-establishment of the priesthood and the restoration of the altar and the temple. In Daniel 7 he tells us that the expected Kingdom of the Son of Man will include all nations, not just Jews, and that this kingdom will have no end. The book of Daniel is the last expression of Messianic prophecy in the Old Testament.
The two top side panels represent symbols of the Eucharist. In Psalm 80:17 the Lord says that he fed his people with the best of wheat (panel #5) and honey from the rock (panel #6).
The middle portion (panel #7) depicts the Last Supper at which Jesus offers the sacrifice of Himself in the New Covenant. Jesus is our new High Priest; through the sacrifice of His death on the cross for us, we can now offer the perfect worship to the Father (Mathew 26: 26-29; Mark 14: 22-25; Luke 22:14-20; John 13 and 17; and 1 Corinthians 11: 23-29).
The center panel (panel #8) below this shows the Lord Jesus giving Holy Communion to one of His disciples. Jesus tells us in John 6: 56-59 that whoever eats His body and drinks His blood will have life in Him. The symbols of service, the basin and water pitcher, are in the foreground. In John 13: 12-15 Jesus tells us that what He has done for us we should do for one another.
To the left (panel #9) is St. John, the beloved disciple and one who was ordained by Jesus at the Last Supper. He holds the burial sheet, a reminder of the Lord’s supreme sacrifice, His death on the cross (John 20: 1-8). He also holds a green wreath, symbol of victory- Christ’s victory over death and sin.
To the right (pane #10) is St. Peter, the first pope and successor of Jesus (Mathew 16:18). In his hands is a scroll with Acts 10: 37-43 written on it. In this passage Peter declares that he and the other disciples are witnesses to the fact that Jesus is risen from the dead and that they have received the command to preach the Good News to the people and to carry on the work that He began.
The bottom panel (panel #11) bears in Latin the words from 1 Corinthians 5: 7-8, which are a fitting summary of the entire window: Pascha nostrum immolatus est Christus, Alleluia! Itaque epulemur in azymis sinceritatis et veritatis, Alleluia! Our Passover, Christ, has been sacrificed, Alleluia! Let us celebrate the feast with the bread of sincerity and truth, Alleluia!
The stained glass window above the choir loft in the rear of the church depicts outstanding events in the life of our patron saint. In the diagram on page 9, the top portion (panel #1) portrays her spiritual marriage to Jesus Christ. On Shrove Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday), 1366, she had a vision of Jesus, Mary, and many other heavenly beings. Jesus placed a ring on her finger, calling her to Him in a special way.
Below that (panel #2) depicts a vision which took place in St. Christina’s Church in Pisa, Italy, when the crucifix seemed to emit rays of fire. At this time Catherine received the stigmata, the marks of the five wounds of Jesus-hands, feet, and side-which remained invisible to all except Catherine until the time of her death. In panel #4 we see Catherine in the habit of the Third Order of St. Dominic, founder of a group of men who devoted their lives to preaching the word of God to the poor. They also taught the people how to pray the rosary (panel#3).
The pope’s ceremonial hat, which is a triple crown called a tiara, is in the upper right corner (panel #5). Catherine was advisor to several popes and did much to bring about needed reform in the Church. In 1376, she was responsible for ending the 75-year residence of popes in Avignon by persuading Pope Gregory XI to return to the center of Catholicism to Rome.
Panel #6 depicts St. Rose of Lima (1586-1617), who was born in Lima, Peru, and took St. Catherine as her model and in many ways imitated her way of life. She also was a member of the Third Order of St. Dominic. On the next level, panel #7 in the center portion shows the vision in which Catherine, at the age of six, saw Jesus seated in glory with Saints Peter (panel #8) and Paul (panel #9) and John (omitted here). Above St. Peter is an angel holding a hammer, representing the great social strife and unrest at this time in history. Above the head of Jesus to the left is an angel holding a pillar from a church, symbolic to Catherine’s influence on church reform. The other two angels are holding a cross and the placard with I.N.R.I., marks of the suffering and death of Jesus. Shown on Catherine’s left is Tecca, a leper, (in lavender) one of many whom Catherine helped as a social worker in the hospital. On the other side, an angel with a spear reminds us of the hardships that Catherine endured. Jesus is holding two crowns-one of thorns, showing the suffering necessary to receive the other crown, the crown of glory. Catherine chose the crown of thorns in order to be more like Jesus.
The final scene (panel #10) depicts Catherine and Pope Gregory XI as he prepared to leave Avignon for Rome on September 13, 1376. To the left is a bishop, one of the many who profited from Catherine’s sound advice. To the right are two crusaders-men who fought holy wars in order to regain the Holy Land from infidels. In front of them is Fr. Raymond of Capua, a Dominican and Catherine’s long-time spiritual director and biographer.
Left Side Facing the Altar
The Corporal Works of Mercy
The Spiritual Works of Mercy
Right Side Starting at the Blessed Mother's Altar
The Seven Sacraments
Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit
“Let my prayer come like incense before you; the lifting up of my hands, like the evening sacrifice.” - Psalm 141:2
“You don’t look at an icon,” says Brother Gebhard Frohlich, Jesuit Brother who was commissioned in 1978 to paint the stunning icon of St. Catherine of Siena as part of the renovation and beautification program of the church. “The icon looks at you. The icon is not so much a painting on a piece of wood as it is a spiritual statement. Many people look at an icon and they say, ‘The nose isn’t right,’ or ‘The eyes are wrong.’ It is the perfect spiritual experience: timeless, valuable, while at the same time priceless.”
In the icon of St. Catherine in our church, Brother Gebhard painted the background like the Siennese paintings of the time of St. Catherine. When he started to paint the face for St. Catherine, he gave her a realistic face. “This produced too powerful an image,” said the artist; “it needed more formality.” So he made the facial features more stylized. The result was a more spiritualized, almost symbolic face.
We see St. Catherine enthroned on the doctoral chair of learning, with a book representing her wisdom and a lily for her for her purity. She wears the habit of the Third Order of Dominicans, an order for lay persons only. The scenes below are typical of the way the lives of the saints were portrayed by artists of St. Catherine’s time; they depict important events in her life: the cutting of her hair to become ineligible for marriage; her ecstasy during which she received the stigmata, asking that the wounds of Christ be visible only to herself; her choice of a crown of thorns over a crown; and her holding the Pope’s three-tiered crown (tiara) because of her significant role in securing the Pope’s return from exile in Avignon, France, to his See in Rome. The large lettering in Latin and in English, is typical of the 15th century iconography.
In the Pieta, the artist employed a mixture of styles, blending the Northern Italian with the Siennese. His icon of the Pieta is more realistic than the icon of St. Catherine of Siena and not too spiritual. The subject matter of the Pieta was suggested to Brother Gebhard by Msgr. Barrett, who wanted to have that particular scene in the church. Brother Gebhard also tried to match the illusion of the style of the period of St. Catherine’s time, which showed the influence of the Byzantine paintings in the icon tradition. Our Lady holds the body of Jesus upright, as portrayed by the Italian painters, not in the horizontal position used by the Germans. The artist was careful not to overdo the wounds of Christ. The third figure in the icon was suppose to be Mary Magdalene; but as Brother Gebhard painted, he also visualized St. John at the foot of the cross. The final face which evolved could represent either a man or a woman, and every person who contemplates the icon can place himself or herself in this sorrowful scene.
In both icons, the artist used oil gesso, and gold leaf on an inlaid wood panel – traditional painting material of St. Catherine’s time.
Jesuit Brother Gebhard Frolhlich was the former chairman of the Visual Art Department of Loyola University in New Orleans. He was one time an officer in Adolph Hitler’s dreaded Wehrmacht, and he discovered the “perfect prayer” late in life.
Born in 1921 and drafted into Hitler’s army at the age of 20, he was set to the “frozen Russian front” with the job of repairing and reconstructing railroad installations and bridges behind the advancing forces to keep supplies rolling. They were trained for combat but not actually involved in it until the time came for their retreat before the Russian counter-offensive. His unit was the last one out after destroying installations.
It was perhaps there in the bloodied hamlets between Poland and the Ukraine that Brother Gebhard realized the deep feeling within himself that God had a plan for his life and was going to see that he fulfilled His plan. He returned home to his mother only to find his hometown of Berlin devastated. He came to the United States in 1949 where his artistic training prior to being drafted served to get him a job setting window displays for a department store. He still felt the call of God in his life, looked at various religious orders, and decided that the Jesuit structure and mission were for him. Being a Jesuit brother offered him the intellectually stimulating life he was seeking and also a flexibility in his service to God.
Brother Gebhard took his first vows at age 45, went to Europe to study sculpture, and joined the staff of Loyola University in 1972. Introduced to the icon by a professor at Gregorian University in 1978, he realized that in the gold leaf, egg tempera, and linseed oil of the icon maker he had found the “perfect prayer” he sought. His artwork, which includes sculpture, painting, and photography, has been shown in several exhibitions.
Brother Gebhard R.M. Frohlich died Jan. 17, 2015, in Grand Coteau, La., after 50 years as a Jesuit. He was 93.