COLORADO SPRINGS. John Tosto was a World War II veteran, father of eight children, a business owner, and an accomplished artist. He had also designed and crafted numerous works of art for his parish, Our Lady of the Pines, and other local churches. But when he realized that he would not live to see his final project through to completion, it was devastating.
Tosto, who along with his wife Maryann had retired to the Black Forest section of Colorado Springs in 1987, had been laboring for years in his home workshop producing pieces to beautify Our Lady of the Pines. He was known for using the faces of parish clergy, both past and present, in his artwork. For the parish’s 50th anniversary celebration in 2011, Tosto and fellow parishioners Stafford Bruchu and Steven Waskewitz had produced the stained-glass rendering of The Last Supper that hangs above the altar. The late Father Mike Butler’s likeness was used for the face of St. Peter.
“He was a very special parishioner here; it was a blessing to have him for so long,” said Father Andrzej Szczesnowicz, pastor of Our Lady of the Pines. “It’s an example of how to share talent in the parish; you can use his example to teach about stewardship.”
In fall of 2015, Father Andrzej once again approached Tosto about producing a stained glass window for the church. He envisioned a window that would hang above the baptistry so that it would be visible from the altar. Father Szczesnowicz said the idea came to him while he was celebrating Mass.
“When I presented it to (Tosto), he just said, ‘Okay, I think I can do it, but I’m getting older and I’m worried that I won’t be able to finish it,’” Father Szczesnowicz said.
The window would have the Blessed Mother as the centerpiece, with four saints on each side. Parishioners voted on which saints they wanted depicted. When the votes were tallied, the saints who were chosen were St. Cecilia, St. Paul the Apostle, St. Catherine of Siena, Padre Pio, St. John Paul II, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Anthony of Padua and St. Augustine.
Tosto immediately began working on the project and continued even as his health declined throughout 2016. Then he was hospitalized, and doctors gave him the difficult news that he didn’t have much longer to live, recalled his daughter Donna Fisher, the eldest of Tosto’s eight children.
“We were in the hospital and, when the doctors told him he might not make it home, he said, ‘I’ve got to finish that window.’ That was the first thing out of his mouth — he was that committed,” Fisher said.
Tosto died Dec. 1, 2016, at age 90. His funeral Mass was held at Our Lady of the Pines the following May.
After Tosto’s death, Father Szczesnowicz and Our Lady of the Pines Director of Stewardship Jay Barnwell explored the possibility of having others in the parish finish the window.
“We wanted to continue this with parishioners,” Barnwell said. “Maybe they could pick up where he left off using the drawings, and the kiln was still available.”
But once an inventory was done of the pieces in Tosto’s workshop, that plan no longer seemed feasible.
“Of the 30 pieces that would make up Mary, we only had four or five,” Barnwell said. “When I interviewed everyone that was involved in the project, I quickly learned that no one of that group had the overall ability (to see it to completion). Nobody had John’s vision.”
It became apparent that the parish would need to hire a professional stained glass company, and after speaking to several firms, Barnwell eventually chose Minnesota-based Willet Hauser.
But the parish still had to raise funds for the project. Father Szczesnowicz made a direct appeal to parishioners, and they responded wholeheartedly.
“People were very generous; the enthusiasm behind the project was tremendous,” Father Szczesnowicz said. “When we talk about church, it’s not just our generation, it’s about the generations that come after us, so that they can enjoy this art that brings us closer to God.”
“I’m amazed at the generosity of people,” Barnwell said. “They give when the pastor says there is a need.”
The window was installed in the church late last summer, and Father Szczesnowicz officially blessed it on Aug. 18, 2019.
“Parishioners described it as stunning,” Barnwell said.
(Editor’s Note: An image of the Blessed Mother’s face from Our Lady of the Pines’ stained glass window was used on the cover of the Herald’s new diocesan directory.)