Manchester priest's crèches find a home in Enfield
A carved, wood-stained nativity set from Germany is part of the new International Nativity Sets Display at the Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Enfield. It is among more than 450 sets donated by the Rev. Msgr. Charles DesRuisseaux, a retired priest of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester. (Courtesy)
"We're wondering if it isn't the largest collection in New England, 450 is a good number," said Shrine Director Fr. René J. Butler.
He started the collection in 1973 when his aunt made him a nativity set using unique materials such as old spools from Manchester's Amoskeag Mill as well as egg shells.
"I love to travel so I've been to many places all over the world, Africa and Asia and Europe and Latin America," he said, of the places he bought nativity sets. "I'd have to have at least 15 or 20 news ones each year. I'd always have to buy a suitcase to bring all my nativities home."
"I'm a priest so I see the spiritual side of it. God became one of us. But I think it's nice people see him in their own skin and their own part of the world."
"It's a nice opportunity for parents to tell their children the Christmas story. And it shows that people everywhere have great talents and use their gifts to display what they believe."
When the museum was permanently closed, DesRuisseaux asked the shrine if it would like to display the collection. That was about 10 years ago, DesRuisseaux said.
Over the past decade, the collection has lived on shelves and in boxes in DesRuisseaux's condo and at times all or just part was lent to other venues for display such as the Manchester Credit Union Museum and the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven, Conn.
This year during the shrine's annual staff review of its Christmas light display, "somebody said, whatever happened to that collection of nativity sets," Butler said, and the staff worked to find a solution so the nativity sets could be displayed.
"I'm 78 now, and I will be 79 soon," he said, adding that he is happy his collection has found a permanent home in his native state.
"It was a project just getting things out of the boxes and onto the shelves and catalogued," Butler said. "It was a real team effort."
"One of the very first people that was in there said, 'what a feast for the eyes,'" Butler said.
A Kenyan set has the figures dressed in the traditional orange robes of the Maasai tribe.
There's a whole set that is crocheted. There's burlap. Everywhere you look, you think, 'Who would have thunk?'"
The exhibit is free and open to the public, though donations are accepted.
The exhibit will be open daily in the summer from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from June through September. During the Christmas season, the display will be open in the evenings to coincide with the Christmas light display hours. For the remainder of the year, the display will be available by appointment only, Butler said.
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