Serendipity in stained glass: A memorable donation


A historic home in need of repair. A sisterhood with a legacy of helping those in need. A charitable act full of improbable serendipity.

What looks to be a simple stained-glass window at Ascension St. Vincent’s newest campus in St. Johns County carries an interesting history.

Walter and Sally Suslak purchased their home on King Street, St. Augustine, in 2005 when it was at risk of demolition. Built in 1927 and designed by Marsh and Saxelbye architects, the house had served as a private residence and later a convent for sisters within the Ascension St. Vincent’s system in Jacksonville.

The home — formerly located where Ascension St. Vincent’s River House is today — had a rich history and a rare architectural style that the Suslaks felt called to preserve. They had the building moved by barge to its permanent spot at 1888 Powell Place, just blocks from Ascension St. Vincent’s Riverside hospital.

The couple set to work renovating the home, paying careful attention to detail and making every effort to preserve its original features as they updated the rooms. As they worked to transform the space, they wondered what to do with the handmade stained-glass windows that once separated the chapel and enclosed river room (now a patio). They intended to replace the partially damaged, fragile glass with French doors to access the sunny outdoor space. Walter Suslak placed the panels in cardboard boxes and held onto them.

After some time, he decided to reach out to Ascension St. Vincent’s Foundation just down the road.

“I asked if they might have any use for some stained glass, since it was once in this historic building where sisters had once lived,” he said.

He offered to pay for repairs to the glass if the foundation could find it a new home.

Meanwhile, a foundation staff member had the idea to add a little history to Ascension’s new hospital in St. Johns County by placing the glass there. But first, she had to find someone to repair it.

She called three stained-glass repair companies to no avail; they said they were unable to repair the piece. Her fourth call was to Sister Diane Couture of the Sisters of St. Joseph and St. Joseph Ministries Architectural Stained Glass.

“She told me they had a window that was being donated, but that a couple pieces were broken.” said Couture. “She asked if I thought I could do it and sent me some photos. … I’m looking at these photos to evaluate the damage — and I’m thinking: Wait a minute, that’s my window!”

Couture sent a note to the foundation.

“I told them I was sure that I could repair the piece, but that they needed to ask the window’s owners if the pane came from the King Street convent house,” she said.

Surprised and intrigued, the staff member let Couture know that the piece did indeed come from that building.

“I told her, I can absolutely fix it,” said Couture, “because I’m the one who made it!”

Couture, once a frequent visitor to the home when it was a convent, had been asked decades ago to create the stained-glass window. She obliged, and the glass stayed in the chapel/dining room area until the Suslaks replaced it.

Foundation staff then called the Suslaks to let them know the serendipitous news — that the person repairing the stained glass was actually its original creator.

The glass was expertly repaired by Couture and arrived at the hospital in good condition.

Walter and Sally Suslak recently invited Couture to their home to reminisce about the building’s history and the serendipity that brought them all together.

As they overlooked the shore of the St. Johns River, they shared the same sentiment: that the timing and manner of their connection was no accident.

“This was God’s work,” Couture said with a smile.