BISBEE — The final phase of restoring the stained glass windows of St. Patrick Roman Catholic Parish has begun, and by this spring the panes that depict the life of Christ will once again be lit nightly and serve as a colorful beacon along Tombstone Canyon.

The windows, installed 106 years ago by Emil Frei of St. Louis, had never been cleaned or restored. That painstaking work started in January 2021, the project headed by none other than Emil Frei’s great-grandson, Stephen Frei.

Last year, Frei’s company — which has been in the family since 1898 when Emil Frei established it in St. Louis — completed the cleaning and restoration of the church’s south- and west-facing windows. This year, the project entails the cleaning and restoration of 14 windows that face north and east. The church has 30 windows.

The endeavor — dubbed the Window Restoration Project — should be completed by the last week in March or the first week of April “at the latest,” said pastoral administrator and church Deacon Tony Underwood.

The style of the windows at St. Patrick is known as Munich Pictorial Style. The latter was developed in the Royal Bavarian Stained Glass Establishment in 1827 under Ludwig I of Bavaria. Frei said it is a 15th century craft.

The entire project will cost half a million dollars.

Church officials said last year the majority of that, $350,000, is for the cleaning and restoration of any cracks or shatters and the remaining $150,000 is for structural work and painting of the windows.

A fundraising campaign was launched in 2019 for the work and as of last year more than $400,000 had been raised, said Joe Saba, a retired priest who grew up in Bisbee and attended the Catholic school once attached to the church.

A church newsletter last year that explained the work states, “ ... each section of glass will be thoroughly cleaned. Any broken or damaged sections will be sent back to the (Emil Frei & Associates) studio in St. Louis to be re-created. The stripping that holds the sections of glass together will be repaired. Old wood framing will be repaired or replaced as necessary.”

In a telephone interview with the Herald/Review in 2019, Stephen Frei’s son, Aaron Frei, told the Herald/Review the work would include replacing oil-based putty sealants on the windows with silicone. The sealants help keep water out, he said. Next, the windows would be examined to determine if there are any cracks. Then the diffusion glass — known as Lexan — that is covering the windows will be removed and replaced with quarter-inch tempered glass.

Once the cleaning and restoration work is finished, then church officials, with Frei’s help, will work on installing a timed lighting system that will be turned on nightly to create the window glow.

“We’re thinking how we can light the church at night with timers so that the glass can be enjoyed by the citizens of Bisbee, as well as visitors to Bisbee, each and every night of the week,” Underwood said. “It’s very exciting.”

Saba said the lights might be solar.

“These windows are too beautiful not to enjoy and we want everyone to enjoy them,” Saba said.

Underwood said once the work is done, the church will likely celebrate with a potluck dinner at which Frei can “present” the windows to the parishioners.

For Frei, however, the looming finale of the St. Patrick Church window project will be a bittersweet occasion.

The 68-year-old said he has formed strong friendships in Bisbee while working on the windows and and it will be tough to say goodbye. He stays at the church while the work is being done.

“I have mixed emotions, as you can imagine,” Frei said Thursday morning inside the church. “I’m sorry that there’s not another phase (to work on.)

“The church is spectacular, the town has been extremely warm and welcoming, but the parishioners have been even better. We’ve had parishioners bring us home-cooked meals. We’re going to be leaving a lot of friends here.”

Saba said he and others at the church felt an immediate connection to Frei, especially because of Frei’s great-grandfather’s link to St. Patrick in 1915 and 1916 when the windows were designed and installed by him.

“I’ve had the privilege of working with extraordinary people in monasteries and convents all over the country, but I’ve never been to one that’s been better than this one. Leaving Bisbee will be bittersweet,” Frei said.