Catholic church is a museum for thousands of holy family displays.
SPRINGFIELD TWP. The Nativity of the Lord Jesus Catholic Church is one parish that lives up its name.
In addition to its weekly Masses, the church at 2425 Myersville Road houses a year-round museum featuring hundreds of Nativity displays of all shapes, sizes and materials, donated by people from around the world.
During the holiday, self and guided tours — at no cost — of the museum will be available at 2 p.m. Thursday through Monday.
Visitors also are welcome year-round.
The centerpiece of the museum is the Bethlehem Chapel and the Altar of the Nativity, half-scale replicas of the originals located in Bethlehem that mark the place where some Christians believe Jesus was born.
The original cave, which is visited by millions of pilgrims every year, is part of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
Parishioner and tour coordinator Kathleen Conrad said the church never solicits for Nativity sets, but they arrive, nonetheless.
Recently, a collector in Iowa donated 600 sets.
The current display is just part of the parish’s inventory, which numbers in the thousands, she said.
’We come from families’
The museum was started by the Rev. David Halaiko, the parish’s founding priest and a Nativity collector who served there for 39 years until his retirement in 2017.
The Rev. Zachary Kawalec is the current priest. He said the Nativity represents God’s desire for a familial relationship with humankind.
“I think that Nativity scenes are so appealing to people because we all come from families, that is how God made us; and that is how he chose to most intimately reveal himself to us,“ he said.
”Plus, who isn’t enthralled with the awe, wonder, and mystery of a little innocent baby? Babies are never boring; family life is never boring; getting to know a person is never boring. God blasts our senses with the beauty of creation; he tantalizes our minds with truth; he floods our consciences with goodness; and he gently tugs at our heart-strings with the Christ-child in a manger.“
The parish not only collects and displays Nativity scenes, it also donates them, Conrad said.
“When Hurricane Katrina hit, we donated some Nativity scenes to churches in Mississippi who lost theirs,” she said. “We also sold some in order to buy more display cases.”
Born in a stable
The birth of Jesus is portrayed in every style, size, and material imaginable; from salt, to Kentucky coal, to mother-of-pearl, to African mahogany, and olivewood from the Middle East.
Some, which are small enough to fit inside of a matchbox, come from virtually every country and continent on the planet. There’s also a replica of a Nativity that was on display at the former Polsky’s department store in downtown Akron.
Conrad noted some Nativities even reflect historical events. When communists banned a famous display in Slovenia, government officials there placed an image of the Virgin Mary’s face on their currency.
Nativity of the Lord Jesus Church, which features a stone-and-wood altar area, was designed by a parishioner, the late architect Paul Marcinkoski.
“He wanted to remind people that Jesus was born in the stable,” she said.
One detail of Marcinkoski’s design pays homage to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem with special crosses affixed on the sanctuary doors set at 53 inches high - the same height as the front entrance of the church in Bethlehem.
His dog Lucky
The stained-glass windows, which illustrate the story of the Nativity, were designed by Halaiko, who incorporated his dog, “Lucky” in some of the panels.
Conrad noted that Lucky, a former stray, not only attended every Mass, he knew when they ended.
The sanctuary’s Star of Bethlehem Window was designed in 1978 by White & Associates of Canton.
During the Christmas season, the church also sets up a replica of a first-century market where visitors can make jewelry, have their photos taken in costume, and learn about foods and herbs used during Jesus’ time. Admission to the market is $2.
Conrad said she thinks the appeal of Nativity scenes is that they make God approachable.
“It makes God very relatable,” he said. “He’s a baby; it’s a family. To think about God humbling himself by becoming such a vulnerable being, living in poverty, it’s appealing to our human nature.”
To learn more about the tours, visit the church’s website at nativityofthelord.org or contact Conrad at 330-699-5086.
Reach Charita at 330-580-8313 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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