KGUN 9NewsAbsolutely Arizona


St. Patrick's stained glass windows shine bright in Bisbee after major restoration

The windows in the 105-year-old church were restored by the great-grandson of the artist who installed them.
Posted: 1:23 PM, Oct 03, 2022
Updated: 2022-10-03 18:34:19-04
St. Patrick Church in Bisbee

BISBEE, Ariz. (KGUN) — For more than a century the stained glass windows of St. Patrick Church in Bisbee have been telling a story — the biblical story of Jesus.

Thanks to a much needed restoration project, the stained glass windows are shining like brand new.

"It's magnificent," said Decan Tony Underwood, Pastoral Administrator of St. Patrick Catholic Church. "You can't help but to be moved by the beautiful windows and the story that they tell."

The beautiful stained glass windows of St. Patrick Church in Bisbee tell the story of Jesus Christ.

St Patrick stained glass windows

"Each window has certainly a lesson to tell," said Fr. Joe Saba.

He knows those lessons well. Saba grew up in Bisbee, was a parishioner and attended school next door.

"If we were not as good as we should be in the classroom, the nuns would send us over to the church," recalled Fr. Saba. "We would have to stay in here and hopefully, they thought, we were praying. I don't know how much I was praying, but I was amazed at the windows."

Those amazing stained glass windows were completed in 1917, along with St. Patrick Church. Emil Frei was the artist, a second generation stained glass craftsman with his studio in St. Louis.

Fast forward 100 years -- Stephen Frei stopped in Bisbee to see his great-grandfather's work. He found the windows in poor shape, and covered by lexan on the outside.

St Patrick restoration

"Lexan is a polycarbonate and it clouds over in about 15-20 years, to the point where you can't see that there's stained glass any longer" explained Stephen Frei. "So, one question led to another and they found out that we haven't changed a bit."

That's right, a 4th generation of Emil Frei & Associates wanted to restore the stained glass windows.

St. Patrick Church organized a committee, which raised more than a half million dollars for the restoration project. That included a sizeable grant from the Diocese of Tucson.

"Because of the generosity of so many people stepping forward, to not only support the project, but wanting to be a part of this important work for St. Patrick's and the legacy that it would leave behind," Underwood said. "They really embraced it."

Stephen Frei and his crew of artisans worked in two phases, during the winter months of 2021 and 2022.

St Patrick working on windows

"Once the lexan came off everybody went 'ooh and aah'," remembered Frei. "Father Joe said that's the way I used to remember it."

The hard work and dedication to detail by Frei and his crew paid off. The finished product is breathtaking.

St Patrick stained glass window

"It was beyond our expectations," Underwood said. "We're good from another hundred years."

There was a window restoration dedication mass in September, which included Bishop Weisenberger, Bishop Emeritus Kicanas, Decan Underwood and Fr. Saba.

"It's my hope now, that since these windows have been restored again, that people will come into the church from all different faiths and be inspired," said Fr. Saba.

It's especially inspiring at night. The stained glass windows glow from light within St. Patrick Church.

St. Patrick Church at night

Fr. Joe Saba is now retired in Bisbee. You'll often find him at St. Patrick's praying and reflecting.

"I think of my days at St. Patrick's," Fr. Saba said. "And the windows, and the windows."

Frei said his favorite part of the restoration wasn't the windows. It was working with the people of St. Patrick Church.

Frei said the 5tn generation of Frei's are already working in the family business, and the 6th generation is learning the craft right now.

Pat Parris is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9. He is a graduate of Sabino High School where he was the 1982 high school state track champion in the 800 meters. While in high school and college, he worked part-time in the KGUN 9 newsroom. Share your story ideas and important issues with Pat by emailing or by connecting on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.