Stained-glass rose window is centerpiece of shrine restoration

Things are looking nice at Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows in Starkenburg


People have been coming to Starkenburg for well over a century to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows.

Even during the cold months of the year on a calm sunny day, you can find visitors walking the grounds at this historic place.

Annual pilgrimages to these sacred acres of worship began in 1888.

In the past couple of years, there has been a concentrated effort to give some much-needed attention to the maintenance and restoration of the Shrine, but there were not enough funds to tackle the larger, more costly projects.

That is, not until two large memorials totaling $46,000 were given to the Shrine.

Thanks to those donations, a major project was completed last August that centered on restoring the 12-paned stained-glass rose window on the west side of the Shrine’s chapel, which was that was built in the early 1900s.

That stone chapel was erected by the parishioners of the former St. Martin parish at Starkenburg (now part of Church of the Risen Savior parish in Rhineland) for the purpose of accommodating the growing number of pilgrims, replacing the original log chapel in the woods built in the late 1800s.

Work on the new chapel started in 1902, and in 1906 a group of parishioners began to quarry stone for the chapel.

To the fourth generation

Monsignor Gregory L. Higley, pastor of St. George parish in Hermann and Church of the Risen Savior parish, along with the Shrine committee had hoped to address the work of repairing and cleaning the chapel’s stained glass windows, as well as the terra cotta work framing of a large rosette window.

Those discussions took place in 2017, and that’s when they met with representatives of Emil Frei & Associates of St. Louis.

Aaron Frei evaluated the condition of the rose window above the main entrance to the chapel, and quickly determined that work needed to be done soon.

Water was leaking into the chapel.

“We didn’t have the money when we first had Aaron look at the window almost two years ago, but we told him to put us on his list and we would pray that we’d get the money,” said Brenda Van Booven, a Rhineland parishioner and member of the committee who oversees ongoing restoration of the shrine.

“We knew this was going to be an expensive project,” she said. “Then, miraculously, when those two memorials came in, we were able to go ahead and do the work.”

Msgr. Higley and his committee could not have found a better group of people to restore the stained glass.

Mr. Frei’s ancestors were the original artisans who designed and installed the Shrine’s beautiful windows a century ago. Before that, they designed and installed the windows nearby in what is now the St. Martin Church Museum.

Aaron Frei’s great-great-grandfather was Emil Frei, the Bavarian stained glass artist who started the company in St. Louis in 1898.

While Emil Frei and Associates still produce original compositions, much of the firm’s business today consists of restoring their ancestors’ works.

The younger Frei exhibited great pride in talking about doing the restoration of the large rose window.

“We do quite a bit of that, preserving works that we had created 100 years ago,” he stated. “It is a touchstone to your family history. The same DNA that had created these are preserving them.”

Personal commitment

Church of the Risen Savior parish is responsible for maintaining the buildings and grounds at the Shrine, which includes roughly 40 acres.

The parish still largely relies on the generosity of donors to commission the work like had been performed last summer.

Money for the Shrine is kept in a separate account, and grows slowly from small donations left from the lighting of votive candles, and the fall and spring pilgrimages.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, luncheons were held after the second Tuesday Masses at the Shrine, with small amounts of money coming in from those meals.

Then, too, the Ladies Sodality and the men’s Holy Name Society at Church of the Risen Savior raise money from sausage and pancake breakfasts that allow small projects to be done.

“Our parish has 140 families. We couldn’t do the large projects at the Shrine by ourselves,” said Mrs. Van Booven, who is administrative assistant at Church of the Risen Savior.

She noted that when the squirrels were eating away at the statue atop the Mount Olive Grotto in the woods, a local parishioner covered it with Plexiglas to seal it from wildlife.

A few years ago, the late Melvin Engemann, a farmer and parishioner who was known for his fine carpentry work, cut the red cedar logs from nearby woods and replaced the decaying ones on the exterior of the old log chapel.

Those are the kinds of projects the church tackles on its own.

Over the years, Dennis Bader, a local parishioner and member of the local Knights of Columbus council, has been the Shrine’s “fix-it-up man.”

He generously donated his time to do a lot of the little things.

During the course of fixing up the Shrine area, which also included the outdoor Way of the Cross that dates from 1900, many small projects were done by members of the Knights of St. George Council 1914 in Hermann.

The Knights did the work on the Stations of the Cross, power washed and painted them.

Station No. 8 was struck by lightning a few years ago, knocking the cross off the top. A form had to be built in the shape of a cross, and cement was brought in to rebuild it.

A storm also took out the lighting on one of the stations, and that was repaired with local labor. Ten dead trees along the path of the stations had to be removed, and stumps grinded away.

Pay as you go

Msgr. Higley called repairing the Stations and cleaning up the grounds by removing brush and dead trees Phase I of the Shrine’s restoration project.

But when it came to two big projects — tuck-pointing the Shrine’s chapel and repairing the stained glass windows — the committee members hoped and prayed for generous donors to step forward.

That’s when memorials of $21,000 and $26,000 were deposited into the Shrine account.

Work began on the two projects in 2019.

Never let it be said that the local German immigrants in the Starkenburg-Rhineland area are not frugal, and didn’t explore every avenue to get things done at a reasonable cost.

While negotiating with Aaron Frei to do the work on the stained glass windows, they worked out a deal.

Mr. Frei’s crew would stay in the Rhineland rectory, about three miles from the Shrine, while repairing the large stained glass rose window.

It was a win-win situation for contractor and client. Free board meant a discount in the cost of the repair work. Instead of driving back to St. Louis every day, the workers could stay in Rhineland.

The tuck-pointing work at the Shrine was done by T&J Waterproofing and Restoration of Jefferson City, which tuck-pointed the entire exterior of the Shrine.

The company had previously done some work on the St. Martin Church Museum.

Also part of the recent maintenance and repair work was painting of the porch ceiling above the outside altar and cleaning by hand the statue of Archangel Gabriel.

Battling the bulge

After the tuck-pointers went about their work, Mr. Frei’s crew came in with a lift that reached to the rose window above the outside altar on the west side of the chapel.

“A rose window is always a tricky window to repair,” he said. “The framing of it has many joints. Water penetrates, then freezing takes place and things start contracting as weather goes on.”

Mr. Frei used the word “bulging” when describing the deteriorated rose window.

 A lot of the old oil-based putty that was originally used had fallen out and water was starting to get in.

“Water was going down beneath the rose window,” he said. “You always want to fix the water problem first, and we did that.”

Then they installed a quarter-inch tempered glass to the exterior and sealed it with silicone so no water could ever penetrate it again.

“The material we used is much superior to what my great-great-grandfather had to work with,” he said.

It was determined that this kind of work, in the past 100 years, had never been attempted at the shrine.

The rose window is now bright and shiny after a cleaning and major overhaul.

“I’m not sure the exterior of that window was ever washed in 100 years,” said Mr. Frei. “They are never going to have to look at this window for another few generations.”

“Sacred architecture”

From the pulpit during weekend Masses at St. George and Church of the Risen Savior, Msgr. Higley always invites out-of-town guests to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows.

It has become a source of satisfaction for him to show off one of the oldest settlements in the region.

He suggests to tourists and visitors that they take a self-guided tour of a chapel and Shrine built by immigrant Catholics in southern Montgomery County.

When tourists drive up Highway P for the first time and see the white stone steeples of the Shrine and church museum protruding out of the woods, they quickly realize that the Shrine at Starkenburg is a special place.

Aaron Frei, who holds two degrees in theology and grew up in a family business, says he gets an angelic feeling each time he drives that road into Starkenburg.

“That is such a spectacular area,” he said. “You come up the road and see the structure (St. Martin’s) there right out of the blue — it touches your soul. Personally, you have a church that was clearly dear to the hearts of the immigrants.

“They had an investment in that church,” he said. “They loved their Lord so much they were able to contribute so much of their livelihood to their church.”

Having worked on stained glass windows all over the country, Mr. Frei said it thrilled him when he came across the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows and was able to do that project.

His is one of the few companies in the country that can perform this kind of work.

“This is sacred architecture,” he said. “What they have done there now with restoration is a testament to history and the people who built the church chapel over 100 years ago.”

Mr. Kruse is a member of St. George parish in Hermann.