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Father William Sanderson, pastor of St. Stanislaus Parish in Omaha, explains attributes of the crèche he purchased for the parish on a trip to the Holy Land in October. With him are parishioners Paul and Joan Wawryzinkiewicz and members of their extended family.

Father Sanderson shows Anna Vasquez, holding her sister, Senovia, a camel that is part of the parish’s new crèche. They gathered at the parish center after Mass Dec. 3 with their mother, Patricia, parish secretary, who is in the background. A sibling, Lily, peaks between the figures, while another sister, Donna, and cousin, Liviana, stand behind the figurines.

New crèche to enhance beauty of Christmas

The size and beauty of the olivewood, hand-carved crèche caught Father William Sanderson’s eye as he toured shops during an October trip to Bethlehem.

He knew he wanted to bring it home – to St. Stanislaus Church in Omaha, where he is pastor – in time for Christmas.

"We have an incredibly beautiful church building, which deserves an incredibly beautiful crèche," Father Sanderson said. "The figures in the (old) set were very small and out of proportion to the size of the church."

The crèche Father Sanderson had his eye on certainly has size, with a 6-foot-wide olivewood base and a 5-foot-tall stable. Its 2-foot-tall figures include Mary and Joseph, the three Wise Men and shepherds, as well as a cow, camels and sheep.

Deciding to purchase the crèche, Father Sanderson made a down payment with his credit card, and with fundraising in mind, set up a schedule for future installments. Another bonus: in addition to providing a suitable crèche, the purchase will help support 41 Christian families in Bethlehem, Father Sanderson said.

"I think it’s beautiful for the church," said Amy Setran, a lifelong parishioner who has donated to pay for the crèche.

Setran, with her husband, Joe, their two children, Ava and Emma, and her grandparents, parishioners Paul and Joan Wawrzynkiewicz, took a close look at the crèche Dec. 3 at the parish center, where it is on display until it is moved to the church sanctuary the week before Christmas.

They were accompanied by Setran’s sister and brother-in-law, Katie and Michael Merwald of St. Columbkille Parish in Papillion, and their three children, Easton, Jaxston and Weston.

"I was overwhelmed with it," said Joan Wawrzynkiewicz. It’s the kind of religious art that "can inspire us again and again."

It’s a fitting addition to the large church, which seats more than 700 people, and more important, it depicts "the true meaning of Christmas," said Kim Lemonds, a parishioner who with her sister, Renee Leners of St. Stephen the Martyr Parish in Omaha, donated $500 to the crèche in honor of their late parents and longtime parishioners, Stanley and Clara Bojan.

Many parishioners have marveled at the crèche’s beauty and the intricacy of its carvings, Father Sanderson said. As a priest purchasing it for his parish, he obtained it at half price, and $9,576 of the $15,000 purchase already has been raised.

Through announcements in the parish bulletin and by sharing the news with one another, parishioners know that names of people donating $500 or more, or names of people they wish to honor, will be placed on a plaque that will be put in a suitable place in the church, Father Sanderson said. Olivewood rosaries from the Holy Land are being given to parishioners who donate $25 or more.

Father Sanderson traveled to the Holy Land Oct. 1-10, his first trip to the region. In addition to Bethlehem, the group went to Nazareth, Jerusalem and other holy sites. The journey is hard to describe, he said.

"Oh my gosh, there aren’t enough adjectives," he said. "It takes a long time to digest. You cover a lot of ground quickly."

But decorating for Christmas is not new to Father Sanderson. Every year he decorates and gives tours at whatever rectory he calls home, and this year he set out nine Nativity sets, 18 Christmas trees of varying sizes, eight wreaths, 11 Christmas plates, seven floral arrangements, three swags and three handmade cross-stitch wall hangings.

The focus on Christmas dates back to his youth, flocking the family Christmas tree in the garage with his father.

"I believe in what we call ‘holy waste,’ which I learned in the seminary, the idea that we give the best we have to God," Father Sanderson said.

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