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“Fishermens’ Church” coming back piece by piece

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By Trang Pham-Bui

Saint Michael, Biloxi, MS

Click Photo Above to see a video of the News Story

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) — The famous stained-glass windows that surround St. Michael Catholic Church at Point Cadet are coming back piece by piece. To really appreciate the beauty of the windows, you have to go inside.

The windows depict colorful images of fishermen catching fish with their nets.  The company Emil Frei & Associates of St. Louis, Missouri, is rebuilding and installing the 22 lower panels that were destroyed by Katrina.

“A lot of time,” said David Frei, the company vice-president. “Somebody said something like eating an elephant. You start and eventually you finish. We’ve been working on these windows for well over a year.”

David Frei’s father, Robert Frei, created and installed the original windows back in 1963. Mr. Frei restored some of the panels that were destroyed when Hurricane Camille hit in 1969.

“I have pictures when I was a child of the destruction and he rebuilt them,” said David Frei. “Katrina did the same thing. Top 2/3 is fine, bottom third wiped out. So we’re rebuilding again.”

“We are really fortunate that they could come back and match up and duplicate the exact colors and in the same quality of work that they did decades ago,” said Fr. Greg Barras, Pastor of St. Michael.

When the company started the restoration project, it only had pictures of the stained-glass windows on the east side of the church.  A call went out to parishioners to find old photos of the west side of the building, but those pictures were washed away in Katrina. Then about a month ago, an employee made an amazing discovery.

“One of our artists was actually going through our archives once more and lo and behold, found work from the original artist, who is now deceased, Francis Deck.  Found his original watercolor sketches,” said Frei.

The windows are exact duplicates of the originals, with one major difference. The entire bottom third of the windows can now be rolled up to protect them from future storms.

“If the next hurricane comes, one person in less than 10 minutes can roll the whole church up and have all the windows up high,” said Frei. “So therefore, we don’t have to build them again. It’s been a very enjoyable project. A lot of work, but very enjoyable.”

The windows are made from mouth-blown glass, imported from Germany. All 22 panels should be installed by the end of the year. The entire church restoration should be finished by June of 2010, at a cost of about $3 million.