Westward Leading, Still Proceeding:
Posted On: December 19, 2012

Westward Leading, Still Proceeding:

St. Coletta of Wisconsin Welcomes Traveler from the East

A new addition to the historical life-size nativity arrived last month in the form of a camel tender.  Perhaps nearly as treacherous as the journey of the Magi, the figure was held up at Marshal Bennett Galleries located in Nanuet, New York while the Northeast was struck by the devastating Super-storm Sandy knocking out power, supply chain and transportation services for days.


The life-size nativity, which has been a staple of the community for nearly sixty years, was originally a gift from Richard Cardinal Cushing, Archbishop of Boston, to commemorate the new chapel built in 1953. The manger itself was built [and also donated] by Stengel Construction.  The debut of the complete set was during the 1954 Christmas season.


The traditional set included the Holy Family, the Magi, shepherds, a number of animals and sheep, and three large camels with accompanying camel tenders.  The addition of this new figure will again restore the set to its original count.  Brother Bonifice Shellock recalls it was in the mid-to-late seventies, sometime late in the night, when one of the camel tenders was taken. “It was found the next day, only to be smashed north of the former St. Coletta campus on highway 18.” he remembers. 


Tom, a client served by St. Coletta since 1958, also remembers the day the camel tender went missing, “We got up in the morning and he was just gone!”  Tom alarms, “someone must have come in the middle of the night.”  Back then, Tom worked on the grounds crew with Sr. Claudiana and Sr. Virgilia who managed 25 boys to do all the snow removal, yard maintenance, and set up the nativity.


“This Nativity set has a strong traditional connection to the community Christmas celebration.  It really deserves to be complete and presented in its fullest splendor.  St. Coletta appreciates the support of the local donors who helped finance the return of our missing tender.” recognizes Ted Behncke, Vice President of Operations.


Last year, Behncke led the efforts to restore the set.  The manger [itself] received a fresh coat of paint and shingles.  All of the statues were touched up and put on display.  Jefferson locals remember seeing the crib at the old campus, but very few remember seeing it with all the members on display. 


“We really need to stay on top of the upkeep of such a heritage piece as this,” advises Jonathan Berger, who painted the figure to match the 1954 versions.  “The original pieces were constructed with a reinforced plaster and over the years have started to deteriorate.” Berger warns.  Some of the statues need an increasing amount of repair each year before they are displayed.  Richard Marshall, owner of Marshall Bennett Galleries notes the use of materials like fiberglass are perfect for applications like this and are becoming quite common today.  “Anytime you have a sculpture that is seasonally moved or is in the extreme elements - the possibility of damage increases.” Marshall notes.


Steve Steele, Director of Mission Effectiveness at St. Coletta explains, “The Nativity is not only a celebration the Christmas season is upon us, but also our Franciscan connection, “ he continues, “St. Francis of Assisi is often credited with creating the first (living) Nativity scene in 1223.”  The popularity over the years inspired many communities to create similar scenes and sculptures.  “The appearance of our Nativity on the front lawn is one of those indicators that the Christmas season is here - the individuals we serve have come to look forward to it and spending time with family and friends.”