"I think it's beautiful," said Wanda Heath of Kenner, a Nativity of Our Lord parishioner for 23 years.
Four of the five panels are new: the first joyful mystery, The Annunciation; the second, The Visitation; the fourth, the Presentation of Jesus by Mary and Joseph in the Temple; and the fifth, the Finding of Jesus in the Temple. These were installed just in time for the congregation to enjoy during Christmas Eve Masses, said the Rev. Dean Robins, pastor since 1998.
"The Nativity of Our Lord," had been in place since 1996.
The idea to illustrate all five joyful mysteries came to Robins when he was staring at the first panel depicting the Nativity. The Nativity, the birth of Christ, is the third of the five joyful mysteries and was centered behind the altar in the sanctuary, with two blank windows on both sides of it.
"I got to thinking we should do the joyful mysteries because we already had the Nativity of Our Lord in the center," Robins said.
Parishioners at Nativity, which serves about 1,100 families, began a capital campaign in June to raise $25,000 for the project, which included illuminating the panels at night. The money was raised in less than six months.
"This parish is wonderful," Robins said. "Whenever there is a need, the people step up."
To create the panels, members of the church turned to Ruth Goliwas, the liturgical designer and fabricator who had completed the first panel of the Nativity, the church's namesake, six years before.
"We decided to use the same artist so all five panels would match," said Donna Schloegel, project coordinator.
Goliwas reviewed her prior work, began gathering her materials and started work on the four additional panels. She said it took the latter part of 2002 to complete the project because of the scope and size. Each panel measures about 8 feet, 7 ½ inches tall by 4 feet, 9 inches.
"These were difficult," said Goliwas, who also has completed a mystery of the rosary at St. Angela Merici in Metairie. "There were a lot of faces and hands and drapery," the clothing worn during Jesus' time.
Goliwas and Robins mentioned not only the beauty of stained glass but how stained-glass panels were first used as a teaching tool in churches in the 12th century.
"Most of the people were illiterate back then, and that's how it started: To give people who couldn't read pictures to look at, to become inspired."
Goliwas hopes her work at Nativity will touch those who worship there.
"Hopefully, the colors, the beauty, the scene, face and expressions will inspire somebody. That's why we all work so hard: to make it inspirational."
Robins and many other parishioners are pleased with the final project. The four new panels replace clear windows that had been covered with vertical blinds.
"I knew they were going to be nice, but when they were finished, it made the whole (altar) area look wider, and it completes the sanctuary," Robins said.
"I think people have been overwhelmed with how beautiful they really are," Schloegel said. "It just finished off the sanctuary area."
They also agreed how it now enhances the worship experience.
"I think anything truly beautiful leads us to God, because God is beauty. It gives us a chance to see God as beauty. . . . We should try to make our worship space as beautiful as possible, because nothing is too good for God."