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Priest displays 2,000 nativity scenes he has collected

Fr. Thomas K. Connolly collects nativity scenes.


Fr. Thomas K. Connolly is displaying his collection of nearly 2,000 nativity scenes from around the world from Saturday, Nov. 26 to Dec. 10, at St. Mary's Presentation Catholic Parish in Deer Park.

His interest in nativity scenes started when he was in the ninth grade and gave his parents a nativity scene. Then in the 1970s, he gave them a Hummel nativity scene.

Later, when he was working for 11 years as a civilian doing theater programs with the military in South Korea, his parents visited and bought a nativity scene from a wood carver.

"Those were handed down to me after they passed away," said Fr. Tom.

In his travels around the world, he collected nativity scenes from South Korea, Japan, China, Australia, New Zealand, Easter Island, Fiji, Tahiti, Nepal, India, Burma, Egypt, Turkey, Italy, Greece, Germany, France, Ukraine, Russia and more.

His interest over the years has been seeing how different cultures have "embraced this awesome occasion in history, the birth of Jesus, and how we each see it in our own eyes. Africans see it as Africans, and Europeans see it as Europeans. Each culture embraces this event and makes it something they can relate to," said Tom.

One nativity set from France has the holy family, shepherds and kings looking like they are from the Holy Land, but other figures represent people dressed from the different provinces of France.

"Some represent the concept of Jesus coming to us, not us coming to him, showing other figures going about their daily lives," he observed.

Some are more than two feet tall, and others are two inches tall.

Another is a gift from Iran, handmade by Iranian women with all the figures in traditional costumes of the regions. Part of the interest in that nativity scene is the story of how it made it out of Iran.

"Some are beautiful, exquisite and detailed. Others are plain and simple, but all present the birth of Christ, which is what makes them wonderful," said Fr. Tom.

There are a couple of olive wood scenes from Jerusalem, some chalk ones from the 1940s and 1950s, and a Goebel from Germany in the 1950s.

"A Fontanini set from Italy includes an immense village," he mentioned.

Some of the scenes from Africa portray figures who are holy or intelligent with bigger heads.

One set from Costco is dear to him because it was given by students and faculty at Holy Family School in Clarkston when he was pastor there.

He estimates that the display will take 80 six-foot tables.

Fr. Tom, who studied theology from 1996 to 2000 in Rome and entered the priesthood when he was 38, has served at the parish in Deer Park for six years.

"When I was first ordained in 2000 and serving at St. Mary's in Spokane Valley, we did a nativity display for a weekend. Everyone from the parish brought in their nativity scenes. My collection took up three tables."

Fr. Tom has shared his growing display over the years with the parishes he has served, including St. Mary's which he served simultaneously with St. Joseph in Rockford; St. Charles Borromeo in Spokane, which he served simultaneously with Assumption, and St. Mary's Presentation in Deer Park, which he serves along with St. Joseph's in Colbert.

The display will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Saturdays, and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with Mass at 6 p.m. on Sundays.

For information, call 276-2948, or email

Copyright@ The Fig Tree, December 2023