When worshipers arrive for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Masses in the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, they will find the church filled with more than two dozen artificial trees illuminated by thousands of tiny, white lights. There also will be countless poinsettia plants, wreaths on the doors and the inside walls. (Click the arrow on the picture above to view a photo gallery.)
Focal point of the Christmas decorations once again is the large, historic crèche, which dates to 1928. In fact, it was blessed for the first time at Christmas Eve Mass that year.
The crèche was a gift of Bishop (later Archbishop) Joseph Schrembs, who led the diocese from 1921 until his death in 1945. A native of Germany, he commissioned the cathedral crèche from a well-known German artist in Munich.
Volunteers – including a group of Saint Ignatius High School students – joined cathedral staff members to set up the decorations. Bishop Edward Malesic stopped by on Dec. 11 to check on the progress of the work and to greet the students and volunteers. St. Ignatius students have volunteered for a number of years to help haul decorations from the basement into the church and to assist with other tasks, according to Ryan Franzinger, assistant principal for student discipline and assistant football, track and field coach.
Also that day, Father Sean Ralph, cathedral rector, supervised installation of the crèche near the Superior Avenue door of the church. Volunteers carefully sifted sand, shaping it into mounds, and placing dozens of figures – camels, sheep, shepherds and others – outside of the stable and in nooks and crannies of the structure. Statues were unpacked and lined up in pews until placed around the crèche.
Volunteers “fluffed” the artificial trees, which range in size from tiny evergreens to about 15 feet tall. Father Ralph said the trees are inspected each year and there is a regular process to replace them when needed. The new trees are prelit with more energy-efficient LED lights that shine brighter and burn cooler.
Because of ongoing construction at the cathedral, the outdoor Nativity scene cannot be displayed this year.
The decorations will remain in place until early January, when the process will reverse and things will be returned to their boxes and stored until next December.