The McDonald Memorial Peace Windows project grew like a flower, without much discernable guidance from those who helped it develop. Through ongoing coincidences, the guiding principle has been a unanimous desire to take advantage of Frederick McDonald’s testimony to the importance of securing peace and freedom for the human family in a violent world.
Many have served this project. Fred’s story would be unknown and light would not be shining again through those ancient shards were it not for remarkable individuals who found themselves in the middle of the project and responded creatively.
The effort began and grew through a series of improbable connections. It started one evening in 1999 during a dinner conversation at The Sequoias, a senior community in the heart of San Francisco. Sallie and David Allen, Jean and Bill Wright, Sue Tom, and Fred McDonald were seated around a table. Sue’s husband, who enjoyed making stained glass, had died recently, and she wondered out loud what she should do with the glass he left behind. Then Fred told about the box of stained-glass shards he had been storing for more than half a century, and of dreams he had of seeing the shards used in a new window or set of windows. His friends were astonished.
What should be done with this glass?! Considerable conversation ensued. Sequoias residents Betty Thomas and Betty Wilkins joined the ‘team,’ and a room with a large table was secured for several days to look at the shards safely. Fred brought out the box, full of weighty envelopes, each with the name of a town or city written on it. They put the envelopes on a grid marked with yarn on the table top and examined the small broken pieces of glass.
Jean Wright, experienced in working with major glass studios, knew Allen Dragge at Reflection Studios and called him. Allen founded Reflection Studios in 1972, designing, creating, and restoring stained-glass windows around the world. His work can be seen in Grace Cathedral, Sheraton hotels, Stanford University Hospital, and San Francisco City Hall.
Armelle LeRoux, on the staff at Reflection Studios, was an established stained-glass specialist in her native France before coming to the United States. She was raised in Brittany, not far from sites where Chaplain McDonald served during World War II, and learned the art of stained-glass restoration before coming to the United States. She was the first to visit after Jean Wright’s phone call, meeting Fred at The Sequoias and seeing the shards. Armelle and Allen, when he visited, were deeply moved and committed themselves to be part of whatever artistic solution developed.
Quite by coincidence, a day after Allen Dragge met Fred, Rev. Paul Chaffee called Allen. Paul is director of the Interfaith Center at the Presidio, which cares for and operates the Presidio’s Main Post Chapel. He called Reflection Studios on the advice of the Chapel renovation architect, J. Gordon Turnbull. He was to ask Allen about the need to restore the Chapel’s stained-glass windows when the building is renovated. Allen said he’d be happy to visit and evaluate the windows, but first he wanted to share a story about visiting a retired U.S. Army chaplain with a collection of shards.
In that fateful phone call, Allen told of meeting Fred and seeing the fragments. He said Fred wanted the permanent home for the shards to be a military chapel and that the Presidio Main Post Chapel was a prime candidate. A few days later he visited and evaluated the Chapel’s existing sanctuary windows; fortunately they will not need restoration till 2035. Several weeks and many meetings later, the Interfaith Center’s board of directors voted to include the McDonald windows in the Chapel’s renovation and new construction plans. The building’s rehabilitation will include a redesigned lower level, two new offices, a gallery, and a lobby, all providing square footage for the new stained-glass windows.
A quiet dinner conversation initiating this process eventually evolved into a major project with 13 artists. None of this could have happened without the generosity of the family and friends of Fred McDonald. Their donations, in conjunction with a trust Fred established before he died, have paid for most of the project to date. Dozens of his friends and family have contributed to the project.
The McDonald Trust has been managed by Bill and Jean Wright, Judson Parsons, Fred’s nephew, and J. Gordon Turnbull, the renovation architect. In another coincidence, Jay Turnbull was a good friend of Fred’s long before being approached about the Chapel renovation, so Jay is a trustee as well as architect in this project. Subsequently Bruce McDonald, Fred’s grand-nephew in San Francisco, joined the Trust and led the effort to create the exhibit, Remembered Light – Glass Fragments from World War II. The McDonald Trust assumed the role of financial oversight, working with the artists and the Interfaith Center as the project moved forward.
If this story touches you, your participation in the project would be welcome. Your help can mean the McDonald Windows are seen by people across the nation before being installed in their permanent home in the restored Main Post Interfaith Chapel in the Presidio.
Contact The Interfaith Center at the Presidio for more information about the Windows, the Chapel, and the Interfaith Center. Checks can be written to Interfaith Center at the Presidio, attention Chapel Campaign, and sent to P. O. Box 29055, San Francisco, CA 94129.
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