Colorful stained-glass windows, sidewalk chalk bring hope and unite communities

Melissa Wierszewski, a mother of three who sends her children to St. Thecla Catholic School in Clinton Township, is one of the many who let her children paint a colorful design on their window in order to inspire hope during the coronavirus pandemic. The homemade stained-glass windows are all part of a bigger movement that seeks to encourage families, first responders and health care workers during the crisis. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Wierzewski)

Detroit-area Catholic families join movement to spread cheer, support first responders by creating bright, innovative art projects

CLINTON TOWNSHIP  If you’ve driven or walked around Metro Detroit lately, you might have spotted bright, cheery rainbows on residential windows and sidewalks.

Upon closer inspection, you might notice these rainbows taking the shape of hearts, crosses and geometric “stained-glass” shapes, with hopeful messages such as “God Bless You” or “This Too Shall Pass.”

Rainbows Over Michigan is a Facebook group dedicated to sharing colorful images of the different art projects people are creating while confined in their homes during Michigan’s ongoing shelter-in-place order — part of the state’s plan to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The colorfully decorated windows and sidewalks are meant to support first responders and bring hope to all who see them. Many of the displays are painted on windows, creating a homemade stained glass that looks beautiful and bright on the outside and casts colorful shadows on the inside when the light shines through. 

For 6-year-old Lucy Schimmel, a kindergartner at St. Thecla Catholic School in Clinton Township, the project reminded her of school, and she went so far as to ask her mother to share a picture of the window with her principal. (Photo courtesy of Maria Schimmel)

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The project is “kid-friendly,” making it a blessing for parents navigating homeschooling and working overtime to keep their kids calm and entertained as the pandemic separates them from their schools, friends and routines. 

Lucy Schimmel, a 6-year-old kindergartner at St. Thecla Catholic School in Clinton Township, was excited to share a picture of her stained-glass creation with her school, her mother said, as well as with Detroit Catholic for this article.

“She wanted to wear her school uniform while painting,” Lucy’s mother, Maria Schimmel, said. “She wanted the window to look like her school and she said it made her feel happy and like she was at school.”

A rainbow ribbon is tied to a tree in a Grosse Pointe neighborhood. Although many of the colorful displays are made from paint or chalk, people all across Michigan are showing their solidarity any way that they can. (Photo by Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

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The phenomenon isn’t exclusive to Catholic school families — or even to Michigan, for that matter, as the country enters its second month of coronavirus-related disruptions to daily life.

Maria Schimmel said that when she, Lucy, and her 3-year-old, Lincoln, take walks together, Lucy counts the number of windows and places on the sidewalk where people have made their mark.

“It has been a really cool domino effect seeing what people are doing to make others happy during this difficult time,” Schimmel said. 

Marlee, 10, Mila, 8, and Monet Wierszewski, 3, work hard on their window. Melissa Wierszewski, their mother, said the window brings the girls healing and joy. (Courtesy of Melissa Wierszewski)

Nora and Henry Murawski put on good music and spent an hour painting their window, which is located in the main room in the house, so they spend time looking at it every day. (Courtesy of Bridget Murawski)

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“When we go for walks, we see hope in the crosses, the hearts and the rainbows for the health care workers,” Schimmel said. “It makes you feel good even though there is a lot to fear right now. It’s moving. It gives the kids something to look forward to; the simplest things can make them happy.”

For some, the art projects have also proven to be a source of family unity: first, while making the project and then as a colorful hearth in people’s homes. 

Much to her children’s surprise, Bridget Murawski let them paint their family’s big picture window. Henry, 7, and Nora, 5, students at St. Thecla, put on good music and spent an hour painting. 

“The kitchen and dining room area is the center of our home where we spend the most time, and the dining room table is where we are doing our virtual learning and school,” Murawski said. “It just helps us to focus on faith and remember that we can get through all things with God.”

Melissa Wierszewski, whose daughters also attend St. Thecla, watched as her girls, Marlee, 10, Mila, 8, and Monet, 3, spent three hours painting a giant cross on their glass door — which they ended up re-doing because they didn’t think it was big enough — surrounding it with messages such as “God Bless You” in an effort to encourage health care workers and essential employees such as postal workers and delivery drivers.

While each window design is unique and creative, all three mothers who spoke with Detroit Catholic expressed the unifying nature these brightly decorated windows and sidewalks bring to those who see them. (Courtesy of Maria Schimmel)

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“It’s just bright colors and a big cross, but it’s healing,” Wierszewski said. “When people aren’t working, they are going for walks and looking at windows and seeing this positive brightness that there is a rainbow at the end of this nightmare.”

Wierszewski said her children know that there is a virus, but it’s confusing and hard for them to completely grasp. 

“I was listening to the news at first, and then one day, when I went to take the garbage out, my 8-year-old said ‘wear gloves,’ and I realized they are paying attention,” Wierszewski said. “They are scared there is change. I had to stop watching the news, and try to keep things as normal as possible because it’s scary for all of us.”

While it’s confusing and the girls are starting to go a bit stir-crazy, Wierszewski said their schooling and the extra family time have been a source of comfort for the girls. 

“I really feel that it is healing for them,” Wierszewski said. “We never really had family dinners. We were so busy that it would be once or twice a week, and now it is every day. And every day we are praying, and you should hear their prayers.”

Overall, Wierszewski said, her family has become more appreciative and grateful that they have a roof over their heads and food in the fridge. And the family is doing its best to pay it forward while still practicing social distancing, giving masks to their neighbors who work in health care and donating Girl Scout cookies to the local hospital. 

The colorfully decorated windows and sidewalks are meant to support first responders and bring hope to all who see them. (Photo courtesy of Bridget Murawski)

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While each window design is unique and creative, all three mothers expressed to Detroit Catholic the unifying nature of the art: communities are brought together in their mutual fear and their mutual hope, and are reminded to trust God.

“When it first started happening, the uncertainty and the worry caused me to lose sleep. And then I just decided I have to give it to God — that’s who is going to calm me down,” Schimmel said. “I just need to let go of all the fear because there is something much greater than that, and I just need to be present with my kids and not be so stressed with them. It’s been very eye-opening.”

Hearts and messages of hope decorate a window of a Grosse Pointe neighborhood home April 14. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)
A sign on a door in a Grosse Pointe neighborhood expresses the family’s hope during the crisis, a hope shared by Metro Detroiters through the colorful creation of windows, signs and chalk art. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

Create your own stained-glass window

Families can make their own stained-glass windows with one of the following: 

  • acrylic paint
  • tempera paint
  • chalk markers
  • washable paint
  • acrylic paint + dish soap and water
  • homemade chalk + paint