Anya Sostek of Pittsburgh Post Gazette writes…

Email by Anya Sostek on February 15, 2016
Categories Filed Under: NEWS

Nick Parrendo has been a stained glass artist for 50 years.

Anya Sostek / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

As a child beset by stomach pain, Nicholas Parrendo spent months in Children's Hospital. A nurse one day handed him some paper to draw on, remarking when she returned that what the 12-year-old had done was pretty good.

"‘I never thought I could do anything good,'" he'd later tell his daughter, Celeste. "That gave him encouragement," she said. "He started to take a different outlook on life."

That outlook led him toward a passion for both art and faith. Those intersected in his long and prolific career as a stained glass artist, designing literally thousands of windows on display at churches in the Pittsburgh area and beyond.

Nick Parrendo died Thursday of cancer. He was 87 and until a few months ago, still worked six days a week.

"He didn't have a job — he just had a love for what he did," said Kirk Weaver, president of Pittsburgh Stained Glass and a friend and business competitor. "If he could do it 24/​7 he would have, and not for the money. It was all about the spiritual aspect of the designs."

As a sixth-grader, Mr. Parrendo had prayed in the hospital that he wouldn't need surgery and once he was released without going under the knife — diagnosed with bleeding ulcers that eventually healed — he became close with the Rev. Edward Farina, priest at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in what is now known as Brighton Heights.

He graduated from North Catholic High School and served a year and a half in the U.S. Army as a clerk typist, enrolling through the G.I. Bill at the Ad-Art Studio School in Downtown. As a part-time job, he cleaned classrooms at the church, drawing on the blackboards after he cleaned them to amuse students the next day.

He met his wife, Luella, through the Our Lady of Perpetual Help bowling league and they married in October of 1950, just months after Mr. Parrendo began his first and only job at Henry Hunt Studios, a stained glass shop that had opened in Pittsburgh in 1906.

Mr. Parrendo rose quickly through the ranks there, beginning as an apprentice earning 75 cents an hour and becoming the shop's sole designer in the 1960s. In 1987, when the studio went up for sale, he mortgaged his house to buy it.

When he started there in 1950, the studio had completed about 1,800 jobs. Now, said his daughter, that number is in the 8,000s, with Mr. Parrendo the only designer since the 1960s.

At what is now Hunt Stained Glass Studio on the South Side, Mr. Parrendo loved to give tours, including his religious library on the second floor. "He always said that he was still apprenticing even though he started there in 1950," said his daughter, noting that he never failed to credit his mentors from decades ago, Helen Carew Hickman and Charlie Morris.

Though many of the windows were for churches — including enormous projects like the 74-foot windows at St. Thomas More in Bethel Park — Mr. Parrendo also worked for synagogues, businesses and residences.

"He was fearless in what he did and always welcomed new challenges," said his daughter, a painter herself, recalling a time when a priest asked her father to do a large wooden sculpture of the holy family. "He had never done a wooden sculpture but he went out and bought a set of wood carving tools and just started."

Though, Mr. Parrendo's clients were primarily in the Pittsburgh area, in recent years requests started coming in from other areas of the country as well — including churches in New York City, Arlington, Va., Mystic, Conn. and Narragansett, R.I.

Mr. Parrendo was traditional in some ways — he refused to touch a computer and enlarged designs using a projector and a transparency — but not in his heavily symbolic artistic vision. "He had a very distinct style," said Mr. Weaver. "He started designing in 1950 and was a contemporary designer back then. With a few other guys, he was really changing the way stained glass appeared in this country. He's one of the best iconographers that I've ever known."

Luella Parrendo died of leukemia in 1981. Mr. Parrendo is survived by four children: Celeste, of Brighton Heights, Edward, of Brighton Heights, David, of Verona, and John, of Murrysville. He is also survived by three grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.

The family will receive visitors from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Sunday and Monday at the Thomas P. Kunsak Funeral Home in Brighton Heights. A funeral mass will be held Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. at St. Cyril of Alexandria Church.

Anya Sostek: or 412-263-1308.

article re-posted from original at Pittsburgh Post Gazette.