December 21, 2018

Photo Essay: A Sanctuary of Saints and Sisters at Sacred Heart Church

In a pumpkin field nestled in the Santa Clara Valley, a group of believers gathered for Sunday morning services on the flatbeds of two semi trucks...

...while ground was broken on the town of Saticoy's Sacred Heart Church.

It was 1967, and the planning of the new church was most influenced by His Eminence Cardinal Timothy Manning (also Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and Chairman of the Archdiocesan Building Department).

The builder of the church, school, and rectory was Ralph Viola, general contractor from Oxnard—but it was the job superintendent, Jose Flores, who was so devoted as to safeguard the job site by sleeping there.

The resulting arrow-shaped church, designed by San Gabriel Valley architect John Bartlett to Cardinal Manning's specifications, is now described as "a tunic with spread sleeves"—the curved sanctuary at the neck, the square nave serving as the body, and a pair of semitransepts representing the sleeves.

The first Mass in Sacred Heart's new home was celebrated on August 11, 1968.

A triangular skylight illuminates the interior, which seats more than 800...

Patroness of Music, St. Cecilia

...but the real attraction for me was the stained glass windows by Edith Piczek...

...and her half-sister Isabel (remarkably, an oft-quoted expert on the Shroud of Turin).

Mostly dated in the late 1980s and early 1990s, they were clearly later additions to the church, as sponsorship funds came in (as is the custom)...

...and they were relatively late-career works for the Hungarian-born and Budapest-trained sisters, who died in 2012 and 2016, respectively.

They'd each made it their life's work to visualize "God’s Word and His creation."

Patroness of Teachers, St. Catherine of Alexandria

And they'd holed up in their Echo Park Studio since 1958 to work tirelessly at their mission.

Patron Saint of Catholic schools, Mother Seton

And their style didn't change much from their first U.S. commission in Reno in 1955... their creations 40 years later.

Although there are variances between the windows...

...they are unmistakably the work of the Piczek sisters.

Such devout Roman Catholics were they that in 1998, they were inducted into Order of St. Gregory the Great as "Dames of St. Gregory"...

...a kind of knighthood bestowed on artists, philanthropists, publishers, actors, and other prominent people.

In their windows at Sacred Heart, they pay tribute to St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests...

...the patron saint of immigrants, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, herself an Italian-born naturalized citizen of the U.S....

...and the patron saint of indigenous peoples, Juan Diego.

And of course there's plenty to represent the Holy Family... it Mary, St. Joseph, or the most famous birthday boy of all, Jesus.

It's nice to sometimes surround yourself with holy images—images sacred to someone, even if not to you.

It gives you a time and place to be solemn, even just for a little while.

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