St Joseph's glass panel restoration completed

A restored stained glass panel of Saint Cecilia, with a crack across the saint's face fixed. The restoration of 72 stained glass panels was completed on Nov 17. They will be unveiled in a ceremony this afternoon. Father Ignatius Yeo, rector at St Jos
A restored stained glass panel of Saint Cecilia, with a crack across the saint's face fixed. The restoration of 72 stained glass panels was completed on Nov 17. They will be unveiled in a ceremony this afternoon. Father Ignatius Yeo, rector at St Joseph's Church, with stained glass artist Koh Bee Liang. Ms Koh led a team of about 15 for the restoration. Their aim was to retain as much of the original work as possible.ST PHOTOS: LAU FOOK KONG
A restored stained glass panel of Saint Cecilia, with a crack across the saint's face fixed. The restoration of 72 stained glass panels was completed on Nov 17. They will be unveiled in a ceremony this afternoon. Father Ignatius Yeo, rector at St Jos
A restored stained glass panel of Saint Cecilia, with a crack across the saint's face fixed. The restoration of 72 stained glass panels was completed on Nov 17. They will be unveiled in a ceremony this afternoon. Father Ignatius Yeo, rector at St Joseph's Church, with stained glass artist Koh Bee Liang. Ms Koh led a team of about 15 for the restoration. Their aim was to retain as much of the original work as possible.ST PHOTOS: LAU FOOK KONG

Earlier spat among Catholic leadership all resolved

After a speckled past, including a row among the Catholic leadership, the $1 million restoration of St Joseph's Church's 72 stained glass windows is finally complete.

The Victoria Street church's windows were reinstalled last week, and highlights include a new, brilliant red sacred heart to replace the jarring green one of Jesus on one of the panels.

The church's current rector, Father Ignatius Yeo, 41, said he is glad the project has been completed successfully, despite the "many challenges, both technical and administrative", along the way.

The completion of the works on the national monument marks the end of an ugly episode for the Catholic community here. It involved the removal of former church rector Michael Teo, 76, and allegations of wrongdoings, with the authorities called in.

The project hit the skids in October 2012 after a row between Father Teo and the Catholic leadership.

Father Teo was removed in August last year for disobeying an order from former archbishop Nicholas Chia to steer clear of the restoration project.

Catholic priests take a vow of obedience requiring them to abide by their superiors' decisions.

Father Teo, who questioned why the project had been stalled for more than a year, had also lodged a police report about alleged wrongdoing.

The Straits Times understands that the Commercial Affairs Department has completed investigations and will not be taking further action.

Father Teo, who could not be reached for comment, has also made peace with the leadership and the Church said that he has happily retired at the Church of St Stephen since January.

He is embracing the new windows too, said his successor, Father Yeo. "Father Teo is also happy that the windows have been restored. He has been coming by to interact with me and the other priests here. We are relieved in particular, that the complaints lodged against the Church have been found to be without basis."

The 1912 windows, which were produced by J. Dobbelaere of Bruges, Belgium, will be unveiled this afternoon in a ceremony to be attended by Culture, Community and Youth Minister Lawrence Wong.

The project itself is co-funded by the Preservation of Sites and Monuments under the National Heritage Board. It has awarded the church about $532,000.

Father Yeo said the religious art work is meant to be shared with more people. "People will no longer have to fly to Europe to enjoy stained glass work depicting the life of the saints and Jesus."

Stained glass artist Koh Bee Liang, 54, who led a team of about 15, said the restoration was not easy.

The windows were caked in thick layers of dust and grime accumulated over the past century. After two world wars, sections were broken or cracked. In one scene, for instance, Mother Mary was missing a hand and her face was smeared with paint.

Ms Koh said previous repairs had been ad hoc and never done in the spirit of conservation. "In this case, our aim was (to) retain as much of the original work as far as possible. Every decision I made was for its longevity," she said.

The restoration is already drawing interest. Bookings for weddings and baptisms have been streaming in, said church sacristan Neal Fernandez, 75.

On the restored windows, he said: "There used to be a lot of dust, glass pieces used to dangle as well... it's so nice and beautiful now. I'm amazed."

melodyz@sph.com.sg