by Katie Peterson
Special to The Leaven
LEAVENWORTH — Losing a loved one is never easy, whether it’s sudden or is the result of a long illness.
Death — like few other things — tests our faith. We can choose to turn away from God or we can choose to hold onto our faith and embrace his love.
When Matthew DeMaria lost his wife Judy to Stage IV breast cancer on April 10, 2016, he did the latter, funding a project in her memory at their home parish of 16 years, Immaculate Conception-St. Joseph Church in Leavenworth.
As a result, the Mary Chapel at IC now has nine brand-new stained-glass windows, most depicting images of the Blessed Mother.
“We were married almost 48 years — high school sweethearts. I miss her terribly,” said DeMaria. “She was a very special lady. She was always smiling, always happy. She never asked, ‘Why me?’ and she fought cancer three times, for 15 years, and never complained.”
Judy’s friend Theresa Meyer, who is also fighting Stage IV breast cancer, agreed.
“She was an inspiration for all of her friends and family in not only how she courageously fought this disease, but in how she truly lived on her terms and never allowed the cancer to dominate her love of life,” Meyer said. “She was an amazingly strong woman.”
DeMaria knew right from the start, he said, what he wanted to do in her memory. It was the location that evolved.
“[Originally], I wanted to give Father [David McEvoy, OCarm., IC-SJ pastor] the money to do a window at St. Joseph and he suggested this chapel,” DeMaria said. “Since we’re here for adoration all the time, and Judy used to come with me, I thought it was a great idea.”
Father David said he thought it was the better project for DeMaria’s intentions.
“They went to IC Church most often, [and] this project would be more in line with the donation he wanted to make,” he said. “I had thought for a long time that it would make a great addition to the church [at IC].”
The windows depict Our Lady of Sorrows, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the Jerusalem cross, the Carmelite shield, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of Knock. Each of the windows was chosen for a special reason, but DeMaria said he, in particular, wanted Our Lady of Perpetual Help, saying he prays to her every day.
“O Mother of Perpetual Help, grant that I may ever invoke thy most powerful name, which is the safeguard of the living and the salvation of the dying,” DeMaria quoted from the prayer.
“We all need help as we live and as we are returning to God,” he said. “I have said this prayer daily for years, but especially when Judy was so ill.”
The windows were designed and installed under the direction of Don Bearden of Creative Stained Glass in Lenexa. All of the stained glass used was imported from Germany and the images were done by professional stained-glass painter Bryan Lewis. Installation began in March 2017 and was completed in October.
DeMaria and Father David were both pleased with the results.
“Both the artist that was the painter and the artist that was the stained-glass artist did an amazing job,” DeMaria said. “Beautiful detail.”
“I am extremely happy with the completion of the project,” said Father David. “The amber-colored glass from Germany works well with the color of the wood throughout the church. Each image of the Blessed Mother is quite beautiful.”
“Having the various images of the Blessed Mother in the Mary Chapel,” he continued, “makes that area more devotional in atmosphere. It befits a chapel dedicated to our Blessed Mother.”
The windows were dedicated in Judy’s name at a special Mass last Dec. 28. It would have been Matthew and Judy’s 49th wedding anniversary.
“The whole family came out [for the dedication],” DeMaria said.
DeMaria said he’s received a positive response from parishioners about the windows.
“Most of our parishioners really love the windows and feel it has made the Blessed Virgin’s chapel a more special place to come and pray,” he said. “I have received many compliments and thank yous from many of our parishioners for donating these in Judy’s memory.”
IC-SJ parishioner Susan Aaron, who regularly attends Wednesday night eucharistic adoration in the Mary Chapel, said the windows have only enhanced her experience.
“Being in the Mary Chapel for adoration is an hour I always look forward to,” she said. “This very personal experience has become even more enhanced with the beautiful addition of the stained-glass images of our Blessed Mother.
“The windows cause you to take pause, allowing for prayerful reflection and study on what each image portrays. What a wonderful gift to our parish.”