Congregants casting their gaze upward toward the stained-glass window at the front of the room at St. James the Great Episcopal Church in Newport Beach would seek inner strength during Sunday services as the light streaked through the prisms, illuminating the house of worship.
Thousands of eyes have stopped to admire the rose window with the dove in the center, representing the holy spirit, encircled by nine petals representing the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
“It’s become an icon of the church,” said Rev. Canon Cindy Evans Voorhees, the church pastor. “It’s just stunning when it’s illuminated.”
When Newport Heights resident Val Lyon stops to admire the window, he sees the strength of his kid brother Patrick, who died in 1971 after a fight with lymphosarcoma, a type of cancer. Lyon, who was 15 at the time of his brother’s death, said he cherished the kindness and playful enthusiasm that the 8-year-old exuded even during his illness. The window was placed in the church in Patrick’s memory.
Now, to the chagrin of Lyon and his family, the window is shielded from full view inside the locked church building as Bishop J. Jon Bruno of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles continues in his attempt to sell the St. James property to a residential developer.
In May, Bruno announced to the congregation that St. James was being sold to Legacy Partners, which planned to develop luxury townhomes on the site. Less than a month later, parishioners held their last service in the church, and days after that, Bruno had the locks changed and wouldn’t allow the congregation back inside, churchgoers said.
The sale of the church has not closed as the property remains tangled in a legal battle between Bruno and Griffith Co., which owned the property before it was transferred to the Episcopal Diocese in 1945.
Lyon said he has contacted the diocese about the window but hasn’t been able to talk to someone about it. He has looked into other possible locations for the window, such as Hoag Hospital or Children’s Hospital of Orange County, where Patrick spent a lot of time after he became ill.
“After looking at some documents that were part of the original letters exchanged by my dad and the church leaders, it’s clear the intention was that the window was to be a permanent fixture at the church in remembrance of my brother,” Lyon said.
Lyon, now 59, pauses as he recalls his only brother. The memories of them playing basketball in the alley behind their childhood home on L Street and bodysurfing at the beach have not dimmed.
“He was puffy from the experimental drugs, but he duked it out,” Lyon said. “He was the sweetest kid, the best brother. He was headed to great things.”
After Patrick’s death, Lyon’s parents wanted a way to memorialize him. The family of eight had been devoted members of St. James the Great since they arrived in Newport Beach in 1962 to escape the smog in Pasadena.
The pastor at St. James at the time suggested that a rose window, typically placed at the front or back of a church building, might be appropriate to honor Patrick, said Lyon’s father, Richard. About $1,200 later, the window replaced curtains at the front end of the sanctuary and became a focal point of the room, he said.
In the late Medieval period, church clergy would use stained-glass windows to teach congregants, many of whom were illiterate, about the Bible. Colored glass made the stories come to life without requiring much more than natural light, Voorhees said.
In modern churches, the windows are used as a focal point during prayer.
Richard Lyon, 92, who now lives in Oceanside, said the nine petals of St. James’ rose window perfectly represent Patrick’s spirit.
“It was absolutely the right thing for Patrick,” he said. “You had to know Pat. All of those qualities in one way or another were part of Patrick’s total person.”
Val Lyon said he would return to St. James immediately if it reopened, if only to see the window.
“I tell people that the church could be a mosque but I would still go there if the window was in place,” he said. “It’s helped me, and I know it’s helped others.”