Glenda Dwyer was amazed when she stepped just feet into the parish hall at St. Peter in Richfield.
“My eyes went ‘WOW!’”
What Dwyer saw on tables lining the walls of the huge room were Nativity scenes.
Dozens of them.
Table after table.
Simple Nativity scenes, grand Nativity scenes, whole towns a Nativity scene.Nativity scenes from countries around the globe.
At least 250 of them.
“I’ll bet people get excited when they see one from their family’s country,” said Dwyer, a St. Richard, Richfield, parishioner.
There are Nativity scenes made from every material you can think of: wood, stone, sisal grass, banana peels, potato paste — all flavored with touches of the cultures of all those different countries.
The one from Norway includes a Viking who has come to worship the babe of Bethlehem.
The crèche from Hawaii is made from a coconut shell.
Palestinians have fashioned Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus out of mother-of-pearl.
From Polynesia there’s one made from the bark of a mulberry tree and tapa leaves.
A Haitian version is painted on figures cut from discarded Coca-Cola cans.
In another set, donkey and sheep are made of yarn. In still others all the animals, shepherds, Magi and the Holy Family have been crafted from cloth, sewn of beads, made of pottery, carved out of soapstone.
That’s the Eskimo Nativity from Alaska, the one with the polar bear and the seals.
There’s the ebony Joseph and Mary from the tall, tall, tall Massai tribe towering rightly over most of the others.
It’s all the fetish — no, that’s not the right word — of Father Jerry Dvorak, St. Peter’s pastor.
“Obsession? Addiction?” Father Dvorak himself suggested with a smile.
But neither of those descriptors captures what’s behind what’s become a useful hobby, one he started as a boy and has shared with people at every parish he’s been assigned to.
If you goWhat: Display of Nativity sets collected by Father Jerry Dvorak.
Where: St. Peter, 6730 Nicollet Ave., S., Richfield.
When: Now through Jan. 28; accessible after Masses and Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Creative way to teach
When pushed, this priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis admits he loves collecting Nativity scenes and the power that they have to move people spiritually.
“When people see the Nativity scenes, it opens them to a unique view of the power of God who loves us so much he sent his son, and he became one of us.
“The collection shows how Christians throughout the world respond to that love in their own artistic form.”
Amid the rush of the Advent and Christmas seasons Father Dvorak hopes people will stop at the church at 67th and Nicollet in Richfield and be reminded about the reason for the season.
Father Dvorak has seen the blessings.
“One woman last week told me, ‘This made my Christmas.’ Father Dvorak said. “Seeing this can be a healing experience.”
Glenda Dwyer stopped by what she thought was the most unique version, a Nativity scene from France that was actual working marionettes. “What a creative way to teach children the story,” she said Husband Tim Dwyer waxed philosophical: “It strikes me that in all these the statuary is so different in different cultures, but the story is the same,” he said.
“We’re of the mind that Jesus is a part of our culture, but he’s for everybody.”