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Marmion Abbey Church's Creche Collection in Aurora, IL Reflects Cultures from Around the World

A creche collection, numbering more than 300 unique and individual sets, was gifted to Marmion Abbey by a former educator, Leah Marie Theisen, and the sister-in-law of Fr. Kenneth Theisen a monk priest who is part of its community. Scroll down to view more sets now on display in the vestibule at the Abbey church...

When Leah Marie Theisen retired from her long career in education, and later downsized, she donated her astounding collection of 300-plus nativity sets from around the world to Marmion Abbey in Aurora, IL.

Her brother-in-law, Fr. Kenneth Theisen, a monk priest who resides there and also taught at Marmion Academy for many years, was the influence behind her generous gift, agreeing to keep the collection together.


How does one get started on such a large enterprise? Leah’s started humbly when she first received a nativity set as a gift from one of her students. After that, she was gifted many times over by other students, family and friends when they traveled bringing back sets from Peru, Guatemala, Mexico, and Italy to name a few.

Marmion Academy Fine Arts faculty member, Lisa Dzuriscko, sets up Leah’s collection each year. Her favorites, she says, are ones that are interactive. Setting up the display each year takes several hours, and often she is assisted by one or more of her students.

Manger scenes, both live tableaus and collectible sets, have a rich history dating back centuries. During Midnight Mass in 1223, within a cave at the Italian town of Greccio, St. Francis of Assisi first recreated the scene of Jesus’ birth exactly as it is recounted in the Bible.

As Saint Francis’ initial idea became clearer to him, he realized that to pursue it, he needed to receive permission from the Pope, which luckily, was granted. With live animals and people representing the Biblical event, he inspired worshipers to a deeper faith once they were able to personally witness the scene for themselves.

Fast forward to the French Revolution, nativity creches and scenes were banned. As a result, French citizens made them in secret. In Provence, the French province known for its artisanry, the artist Jean-Louis Lagnel began to make affordable nativity creches from clay in 1797. This helped pave the way for the many styles and sizes of sets Christians display in their homes today.

As Lisa sums up, “The creche is an important reminder to us all of the Biblical story and its cast of characters. It enables us to more personally interact with them and reflect upon the real Christmas story.”

About 60 manger scenes from Leah’s collection are currently on display in the vestibule of the Marmion Abbey Church. Visitors can see it on Sundays at 4 PM for Vespers which is open to the public. Marmion Academy is a Catholic Benedictine college preparatory high school for young men. ###


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