Stained Glass Artist Ruocco Gets Even

By Tim Coco
President & General Manager

Francesco “Frank” Ruocco lost his famed stained glass studio to the construction of Ginty Boulevard during the 1960s Pentucket Urban Renewal Project. While the Haverhill Heritage Series often focuses on businesses and homes lost to the city’s ill-fated urban renewal projects of the 1960s and 1970s, Ruocco’s battles with his former mentor, and later competitor, is far more interesting.

Francesco Ruocco Studio operated for 30 years at 123 Kent Street, about where a newer Green Street extension rubs up against Ginty Boulevard today, and 23 Water St., now the site of an apartment complex.

In the studio, Ruocco designed ornate stained glass windows, which still adorn churches across the nation. Works were glazed by his son Richard Ruocco and largely painted by his son-in-law William Bryant.

Ruocco, born Aug. 31, 1901, studied at the School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the University of Rome. He was reported to have been a student and protégé of Charles J. Connick, “considered the world’s greatest contemporary craftsman in stained glass.”

Connick also Worked in Haverhill

Connick began operating a stained glass studio at 9 Harcourt Street, Boston during April, 1913, and continued there until he died in 1945. During this period he worked on at least three stained glass window projects—two for the First Universalist Church (now the Universalist-Unitarian Church) and one for First Baptist Church.

According to Connick’s original records, the first window for the Universalist Church was completed September 27, 1923. It was commissioned by Sarah Dodge Stover, 120 Broadway, and her sister Carrie Lincoln Stover Lewis, 180 Grove St., to honor their parents. The 135-square-feet of glass show Christ, the figure of the Good Samaritan and an angel holding a scroll with the words, “He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is Love.” Important for reasons noted below, another inscription read, “Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord.”

About one and one-half years after his death, Connick’s studio reported completion of two windows, 17 feet each, on June 1, 1947. Sarah D. Stover again ordered the windows, but this time to commemorate her own death, which took place in 1947, and her sister’s prior death in 1940. An initial pencil sketch of the windows by Connick himself before he died served as a guide, according to studio records.

Despite Connick’s death, his studio continued to operate—and compete with Ruocco’s local studio. On Easter, 1955, Connick’s firm completed windows for each side of the altar in the new education building at First Baptist Church, 217 Main St. Local architect Clinton F. Goodwin designed the new building and construction was supervised by a building committee led by Malcolm Heath. The windows were constructed in memory of Annie Parker Chick, 1863-1950.

Ruocco Takes Opportunity to Get Revenge

Around 1960, Ruocco was commissioned to assemble The Eucharist windows to the left and right of the 1947 Stover windows. Ruocco’s design featured amber chalices with either grapes or yellow stalks of wheat on translucent glass.

While working on the new windows, Ruocco was asked to repair a crack across the head of one of the figures in Connick’s 1923 windows. The local craftsman made the repair, but apparently worked in a wisecrack. Ruocco also altered the inscription.

“Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your head, all ye that hope in the Lord.”

It is not clear when the word change was first recognized, but it was never changed back. “Head” replaces “heart” even today at the Universalist-Unitarian Church on Kenoza Avenue.

Maybe Ruocco agreed, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”

Ruocco died in Merrimac during December, 1970, at the age of 69, exactly 25 years after Connick’s death.

One thought on “Stained Glass Artist Ruocco Gets Even

  1. This is my Uncle Frank Ruocco, my mother’s brother. He was extraordinarily talented and had the fiery and passionate personality to match. I never heard the story of the “altered inscription,” so this is a wonderful anecddote and sounds quite like my uncle!