A large Rose window depicts the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ with St. John The Evangelist and a sorrowful Virgin Mary in the foreground. There are five chosen iconographic figures in each of the lancet windows beneath which are set in contemporary abstracted backgrounds: St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. Damien of Molokai. St. Therese de Lisieux, St. Francis of Assisi and the Venerable Mother Magdalen Taylor.
Haig and Peters Studio have worked closely together to employ new glass making techniques with illuminating effect, using a new, recently developed and exciting glass process for the first time, specifically designed and constructed for this project. The windows appear to come alive as you watch the light moving across them.
These six windows chart the history, spirituality, and mission of the parish and hold religious and historical significance to the work carried out by St. Patrick’s.
For some seventeen years we have run a soup kitchen at St Patrick’s which has evolved into a breakfast club, dinner service, film club, and night shelter. Always in the midst of this, outreach has been the overriding influence of Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity. Many times, Mother said if she had been a social worker, she would have given up long ago. Her inspiration from the Heart of Jesus was the cry of “I thirst” from the Cross which was both a physical cry but most fundamentally a spiritual cry of thirst for our love. The betrayal and the passion were a denial of humanity of the unconditional love God wants to pour into our hearts. The vinegar given to the Lord is our rejection, denial, and sin but still Christ comes thirsting to give and receive love.
That thirsting for love cries out still “in the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor” and Mother and her Sisters are called to satiate that thirst as they go, as Missionaries of Charity. Mother always reminded us that it is our privilege to be with those who we serve. This was an invitation to go to, feed, and love Christ in the poor. Christ thirsted from the Cross for our love and that continues to be present in the spiritual and material poor. Our Open House project has always been deeply informed by Mother Teresa in that we are called first to satiate the spiritual thirst before we give material sustenance. Always present both in Soho Square but in the Parish Centre as well, the Blessed Sacrament is present and being adored. During the pandemic this has been our source of strength, inspiration, and privilege. How much Mother has been present at this time!
Father Damien De Veuster's mission in life was to minister, and if necessary die with, lepers. This happened on the island of Molokai close to Hawaii in the Pacific. His sacrifice and work in that place which he called 'a living graveyard' was able to change not just Molokai’s but the world's perception of leprosy. The island had been a place of social disorder, alcoholism, prostitution, and violence but Damien in the grace of the Holy Spirit had turned it into a 'city of God'.
His painful death brought life to the community of Molokai and as such he was able to change the universal fear and horror of leprosy then common in the world into the acceptance and embrace of those afflicted with this disease.
Lepers were the most benighted of all of God’s creation and the suspicion with which they were held caused them to have much self-hatred and loathing. Damien in order to teach them the value of their lives, started by giving dignity to their death.
Through his care of the cemetery, the digging of graves and the funeral obsequies he celebrated for them, he was able thus to impart meaning to their lives and their physical suffering. In so many other ways he brought such Christ-like beauty to their lives and circumstances.
The window of Saint Thérèse sits at the centre of all the windows. She is the only contemplative (in a strict sense) amongst those chosen in which the journey of mercy and apostolic outreach is not immediately obvious. Her short life came to a painful end at the age of twenty-four and there were no demonstrable achievements namely chapels built, missionary endeavours undertaken, or the suffering poor, fed and clothed. Her spiritual science was not of “big souls” as she called them namely those had eyes on how things would be seen by the outside, worrying about numbers or cutting a dash in ecclesial life. It was ultimately a journey of spiritual nothingness choosing the last place and being no more than a pen in God’s hands.
Her intense experience of God’s pure and unconditional love was that she desired only smallness and sacrifices which were to be gratefully received and given to God for his glory. The purity of her love which she desired to put at the centre of everything is the life of Christ, “the good God” as she called him, is the only virtue which can break through the hardened hearts of our time.
As she had been chosen as the Patroness of the Missions despite having travelled nowhere, so we pray that she will touch our hearts and lives in the mission of the parish. Big cities, commercial energy and media glamour mark the character of our parish neighbourhood but the journey into the heart of God will only happen when we touch, kiss, and receive the pure and unconditional love of Jesus which was and is the particular charism of Thérèse.
Saint Francis would have been curious to know why we chose him as one of the stained-glass windows. Why honour him in the heart of London’s Weste End with its teeming commerce, cutting edge technology and abundance of agnostic lifestyles. However, he would have been no stranger to the scene in the Square these last many months. There has been a beautiful Franciscan triumvirate of caring for the poor and destitute, Lectio Divina and Eucharistic Adoration.
His closeness to the poor was not so much a journey of empathy and solidarity but his desire to know Christ more intimately. Through social media, we are given a dystopian picture of the integrity of the human person and so the reality of truly knowing someone as a child of God is fleeting. As Christians we believe that it is only when we live in Christ can we truly understand the dignity and God-given beauty of another person. We go with Christ to meet Christ in the other. When that person has been broken, discarded upon the rubbish tips of our modern world and ignored them Christ brings that person alive.
Mother Magdalene was another pillar of Soho Catholicism. She started the apostolic life of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God in Soho, teaching and catechising the poor, running laundries and leading all to meet the love of Jesus in His Sacred Heart.
Soho was broken in those days by terrible, back-breaking poverty and the Church stood almost alone in bringing succour to those suffering most. The sisters and the priests were indefatigable in bringing the love of Jesus, that they encountered in the Mass and at Eucharistic Adoration, to those most benighted.
The community of “the broken” that was there before the pandemic, has become more united in these last months and now is a parish in its own right. The nights of prayer, communion, and mercy given and received would be smiled upon by Mother Magdalene.
As central London has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the UK, the gospel compels us to help these people in any way that we can.