Faith shines through the windows of Sacred Heart Church – The Conner Weekly News

He is a tireless champion of hope with a strong sense of history.

And at 80, Father Paul Magnano (pronounced Mun-yawn-o) focuses on both as he reflects on the magnificent stained glass windows of the historic Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart as vessels to illuminate hopes and the accomplishments of early local parishioners and clergy.

Magnano, who grew up in Seattle, is particularly fond of the story of La Conner and that of Sacred Heart, at the corner of Douglas and Fourth streets, where he first served as a priest from 1986 to 1998 and has since returned to pastor here and in other small Catholic parishes in Skagit County.

His current Friday morning messages at the Sacred Heart revisit the stories of those families who, just after the turn of the 20th century, donated for the purchase of the church’s iconic stained glass windows.

Magnano’s main source for the weekly series is a booklet celebrating the centenary of the Sacred Heart, highlighting donors and their ties to the church. Its authors are Marilyn Thostenson, Connie Funk and the late Shirlee Dessert.

Their work quickly proved to be a gem in Magnano’s eyes.

“I loved it,” Magnano told the Weekly News, “when I came across the part that said the windows were $50 each.”

It was no small feat 120 years ago. That equates to over $1,750 in today’s economy.

There are 17 windows in total, including one sponsored by the city’s founders, Louisa Ann and John S. Conner, who were devout Catholics.

There are written accounts of the couple’s role in designing the picturesque Sacred Heart, which opened in 1899 and is a favorite of professional photographers and tourists taking selfies.

The windows stand out both for their artistry and as enduring symbols of the church’s history. Magnano said Louisa Ann Conner clearly recognizes their potential lasting impact.

“She wanted people to donate,” he said of the town’s namesake, who is said to have traveled by canoe to farms and camps in the La Conner area as early as the 1870s to the seeking financial support to establish a Catholic church in town.

Window donors included an early Sacred Heart priest described in the booklet as compelled by Mrs Conner’s gentle nudge to purchase one of the durable glass memorials. Another donor was a relative of his, Mount Vernon lawyer William Franklin. His daughter, Lillian Kendall, also bought a window. The same goes for Matt Decker, a local farmer and business associate of famed La Conner pioneer John Peth, Sr.

Magnano takes great joy in bringing their stories to life.

Turns out he has quite a story himself. Magnano was born into an Italian immigrant family who made their mark in Puget Sound in the food wholesale business.

The family was featured in a feature film developed by KING-TV’s Bob Royer, whose brother, Charles Royer, served as mayor of Seattle from 1978 to 1990.

In his youth, Magnano felt called to the priesthood. He was ordained at St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, in December 1967, as the anti-war movement in the United States was beginning to take hold. While there, he witnessed demonstrations at the United States Embassy protesting American involvement in Vietnam.
Magnano had considered an academic career in the Jesuit order before opting for diocesan service.

“I felt there was a greater need for priests in parishes than in schools,” he said.

This choice led to postings in Marysville-Tulalip and Bellingham, where Magnano ministered to students at Western Washington University as fighting intensified in Southeast Asia.

His work has not gone unnoticed. Longtime Seattle PI columnist Joel Connelly, who retired two years ago after nearly half a century in journalism, once called Magnano “a priest’s priest.”

Coming to Sacred Heart in the 1980s was a boon for Magnano. He had family here, including Father Pat Twohy, who served two decades at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in the village of Swinomish before moving into urban Native American ministry at Seattle University.

Like Twohy, the unwavering optimist Magnano maintains a connection between La Conner, at his home on Third Street, and Seattle. He is the founding pastor of Christ Our Hope Church near Pike Place Market, where Magnano also has a residence.

The sparkling stained glass windows of the Sacred Heart greet Magnano at the end of his weekly journey from the big city.

“I love living here and I love living in downtown Seattle,” he said. “I tell people that I live in the best places in the world. The problem is what’s in between – I-5.

Fortunately, the bumper-to-bumper freeway traffic won’t stop Magnano’s continued reflections on the revered windows of the Sacred Heart.

Martha J. Finley