Window to the soul

Brite Divinity School anniversary stained glass window

TCU acquired this stained glass window depicting early TCU Bible College president J.B. Sweeney as a gift to Brite Divinity School to commemorate its 100th anniversary. (Photo by Glen E. Ellman)

Window to the soul

Brite Divinity School anniversary stained glass window

In 1895, the Board of Trustees granted a charter for tiny AddRan Christian University to develop a Department of Bible. Until then, only founder Addison Clark and his father, J.A. Clark, taught Bible classes. Trying to keep the frontier school afloat, the two men were occupied with other duties and the school needed a new man to teach the good book.

That man was James Benjamin Sweeney, an 1885 graduate and the second preacher produced by AddRan. Some catalogs listed Sweeney as dean, others as principal or “president of the Bible college.” Regardless of title, Sweeney’s purpose was to grow the department and teach new preachers. He also had to keep donations rolling in from churches in the region.

Sweeney died in 1901 while filling in as pastor of Dixon Street Christian Church in nearby Gainesville, but his leadership gave the department the momentum to become a freestanding Bible college in 1914 and eventually Brite Divinity School.

At Sweeney’s death, the Dixon Street church honored him by commissioning a stained glass window, which was lost during a construction project and later turned up in Dallas.

In February, TCU purchased the window and presented it to Brite for its 100th anniversary. It hangs in third floor of the Harrison Building.

TCU did have a bit of an adventure in acquiring the window. When TCU chancellor Victor J. Boschini, Jr. learned of the antique stained glass, he knew the university had to have it. Escorted by TCU Police Chief Steve McGee, Boschini acquired the work but soon discovered it was too large to fit in the campus patrol car.

McGee called SMU’s police department and asked to borrow its large patrol van. Boschini rode back to TCU holding the window upright in the back.

While the window was certainly a relic, the school was unsure how and where to display it, said Brite President Newell Williams.

TCU called the Physical Plant to help.

Ver Barritt, a craftsman who works as a building maintenance supervisor, decided the work needed a casing to protect the glass, and he had just the materials to build it.

Just a few years earlier during renovation to Clark Hall, TCU was forced to cut down a live oak tree. Barritt used the wood from the tree to construct the case.

Brite officials thought the display was complete until they noticed the window was falling apart. Restoring the antique was costly, but just as Dixon Street Christian Church aided the college a century before, First Christian Church of Fort Worth stepped in to cover the repairs, Williams said.

“To celebrate 100 years of anything is remarkable. To celebrate 100 years of the Divinity school is an incredible milestone,” said Paul Ray Jr., president of Brite’s Board of Trustees. “Particularly if you look at all the history that milestone represents between TCU and Brite.”

In February, as a circle formed around the stained glass window now hanging in the Harrison Building, Williams thanked Sweeney’s vision and the trustees’ contribution for “100 years of thriving and growth.”

Quoting from a faculty member of Sweeney’s time, Williams said, “No one has been a more genuine friend to the young men or women who wished to dedicate their life to Christian service than Pastor J.B. Sweeney.”