Winfield parish rescues church’s old frames for a picture-perfect ending
Fourteen historic frames have been returned to St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Winfield and once again hold paintings of the Stations of the Cross.
The handmade frames, believed to date to the 19th century, were sold by the church during a restoration seven years ago to an antique store in Georgia. After years of urging and determination by parishioners, they were reacquired by St. John and arrived in time for Christmas season.
Some are calling it fate.
“It’s almost, in my mind, a miracle that they were able to find them,” said Ken Smith, an Addison resident who restored the pieces for the church. “In the antique business and architectural business particularly, once things are gone, they either end up at a dump or you never find them again.”
It is not the first time the frames have been rescued. They were carried out of the church during a fire in 1906 when lightning struck the wooden steeple. The frames, along with the altars and communion rails, were all that remained after the church burned.
Singe marks can still be seen on the frames, something that Smith kept when he restored them so they would be reminded of its history.
It was no easy task to bring the frames back to the church. After they were sold seven years ago, parish members began to miss them, said the Rev. Tom Cargo, pastor at St. John. Calls to track them down at the store were unsuccessful. When Cargo took over, he began focusing his efforts on the frames.
Theresa Markl, a parish secretary for 25 years, died a year ago and left the church $5,000, asking that the money be used to bring the frames back. Fueled by her request and donations from other parishioners, another call to the store in 2013 finally yielded results.
The frames were found in an old warehouse. They had never been sold. The church used Markl’s money to buy them back for $3,800 and restored them for $600 each using other donations.
“They were gone, found again, and, I believe, they were meant to be in this church,” said Deborah Birutis, the church’s director of finance and administration. “The parishioners wanted what their ancestors had first built with their own love and labor. It was very important for them to preserve their heritage.”
Smith, who used to own an antique store and is retired, said he took up the project because of Cargo and the parish’s determination.
“I do believe in fate sometimes,” he said. “For me, it was something that would make me feel good as well as help the church.”
The exact age of the frames is uncertain, but they were likely made by German-American craftsmen in the late 1800s. Each is different, because each was handmade and built with care, Smith said.
“It’s very unusual to find a frame that does more for the painting than the painting itself, but these frames do that.”
The final restored frame was put up Dec. 6 “” on the Feast of St. Nicholas.
“It was (parishioners’) pre-Christmas miracle,” Cargo said. “Santa is alive.”