House of worship transformed by donation of stained glass after fire

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BRUSSELS, IL (KTVI) - Stained glass windows created by a master are now being repurposed by his great-grandchildren, to rebuild a church destroyed by fire.

Since the Civil War, the tall steeple of St. Mary’s Catholic Church has marked the center of Brussels, Illinois, population: 141.

In 2011, parishioners were in the pews on Christmas Eve, when the church caught fire.  “In the choir loft, one of the lights popped, and there was smoke, and flames shot down through the light,” explains Father Don Roberts, Pastor of St. Mary’s.

Everyone was safely evacuated, but the building was a total loss.  Only the walls remained.  Roberts adds, “It’s a very hard thing to see that go. It’s just like having your home go up in fire, and that’s the way it was for the people in the parish.”

After a lengthy cleanup, the rebuilding process began in fall 2012.  But it technically started long before then, with David Frei’s great-grandfather, Emil Frei.  “About a hundred years ago,” says David Frei, “he was commissioned by St. Boniface church in south St. Louis to make these windows originally.”

St. Boniface shut its doors in 2005.  The beautiful stained glass went into storage, until now.  Frei explains, “Here’s an old German parish with German windows, and here’s another German parish in Brussels.  These would be a great fit.”

It was a great fit that required some tricky alterations.  The windows were too tall and thin to fit St. Mary’s walls.

The roughly 20 St. Boniface windows were cleaned up and altered at the Frei studio in Kirkwood.  New windows were also created for the church, using techniques dating back to medieval times.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church burned nearly three years ago, but there’s still work to be done. Frei continues to install the stained glass, while an organ is installed in the choir loft. It’s all in preparation for December 8th, when the Bishop will lead a ceremony of rededication.

Fifth generation church member Dale Hagen is deeply involved in the rebuilding effort.  He says, “People have worshipped here for four, five and six generations, so we hope it’ll be that way for a long time to come in the future.”

The Frei name may sound familiar.  Last week, FOX 2 News reported that a stained glass window, created by Emil Frei, was vandalized in a Soulard church.  It’s another instance where the younger generation of Freis will repair work created by their great-grandfather.

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