The windows of St. Isabella

Meditations for Palm Sunday to Ascension


As Catholics journey through Lent each year, we are reminded of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus through Holy Week liturgies, readings, meditations and especially through the ancient tradition of Stations of the Cross.

The windows of St. Isabella Catholic Church in Terra Linda in Marin County form a series of meditations from Palm Sunday to the Ascension.

The 14 panels of windows, consisting of 12 panes each, adorn the top section of the church with brightly colored scenes depicting Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the institution of the Eucharist, the agony in the garden, Christ before Pilate, Jesus carrying his cross, Christ’s descent from the cross and burial, the resurrection, the road to Emmaus and the ascension. Below these windows are smaller windows depicting biblical scenes from the life of Christ.

Fourteen unique and remarkable panels

Each of the 14 panels is remarkable not only because of the intricate colors, but also because of the drama and interwoven storyline in each scene — Judas turning on Christ between the Last Supper and the agony in the garden, the soldiers heading toward the Mount of Olives from Jerusalem while Jesus prays, the mourners at the foot of the empty cross on Calvary, an angel kicking down the door of the tomb in the background on Easter Sunday, and a striking absence of Christ at the ascension with the apostles left staring up. The inspiration for this, according to Chris Powers, was his young son mixing up the designs one day, helping him visualize the integrated storyline.

Resurrection captured in stained glass window at St. Isabella Church. (Photo by Francisco Valdez/Archdiocese of San Francisco)

Created by Powers Stained Glass in Scottsdale, Arizona, the windows were designed especially for St. Isabella’s. Brothers John, Chris and Tony, three of 11 children, worked together to create windows for religious and secular projects. The St. Isabella windows were one of their first major projects, begun in 2002 and completed a little more than three years later.

The brothers used the Tiffany glass method rather than painting, using a technique of soldering and wrapping the glass with copper. According to Chris Powers, all of the large, shaded areas and shadows in the windows are large solder areas, copper covered with solder. Joining the parish at the dedication Mass, John Powers commented, “We were sitting in the pews and we all three of us were all stunned at the whole project. Because when you’re working on everything you see it and you don’t see it. … It was a fantastic feeling to go back and be part of it.”

Originally built as a gym with the hope of constructing another church building, St. Isabella’s ended up making the temporary solution a permanent one. Speaking with reporter Patrick Joyce around the time the windows were installed, now deceased pastor Father Michael Keane commented, “You can pray anywhere, but there is a certain atmosphere that makes you more apt to pray.”

Reaction to windows ‘joyful’

Marilyn Hunter, a parishioner of St. Isabella who chaired the renovation committee, found the Powers brothers through fellow parishioners Maureen and Nolan Boyer. She led the committee as it raised over $450,000 and worked with the brothers to create and install the magnificent windows. “The reactions to these windows are more positive and joyful than we ever imagined,” Hunter said. “They have transcended time; people still come up and share their admiration. The windows are genuine works of art, with some containing over 3,000 cut pieces of glass.”

The windows have beautified the parish liturgies while also fostering greater catechesis. Father Keane once noted, “The windows in the great cathedrals of Europe were used to teach the faith at a time when many people could not read or write. The windows here are having a similar effect on the children. They see them and they prompt questions about the life of Christ.”

The Powers brothers were also touched by the children’s awe at the windows. “The school brought in all the kids and went from panel to panel telling the story. And I thought that it is awesome,” said Chris Powers. “Telling the story through our windows.”

As the Church prepares for Holy Week and the Easter season, time would be well spent at St. Isabella’s, walking in active meditation with the apostles as they enter into the paschal mysteries and journey toward Pentecost, becoming joy-filled disciples spreading the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

Mary Powers is the assistant director of communications and media relations for the Archdiocese of San Francisco.