December 2, 2022

The love story of Christmas is celebrated and displayed in a Nativity scene project

St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg is one of the 28 schools and parishes in central Indiana that participated in the continuing effort to emphasize the true meaning of Christmas and help make central Indiana the “Outdoor Nativity Scene Capital of the United States,” the goal of Jim Liston, who started the program. Jean McCorkhill, St. Malachy’s coordinator of children’s faith formation, and Father Sean Danda, pastor of the parish, pose by one of the Nativity scenes with Father Danda’s dogs, Finley and Bentley. (Submitted photo)

St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg is one of the 28 schools and parishes in central Indiana that participated in the continuing effort to emphasize the true meaning of Christmas and help make central Indiana the “Outdoor Nativity Scene Capital of the United States,” the goal of Jim Liston, who started the program. Jean McCorkhill, St. Malachy’s coordinator of children’s faith formation, and Father Sean Danda, pastor of the parish, pose by one of the Nativity scenes with Father Danda’s dogs, Finley and Bentley. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

Jean McCorkhill has a soft spot in her heart for a love story at Christmas.

And she can’t imagine a better one than the love story that features a mother, a father and a child—and the best Christmas gift that’s ever been given.

“It’s the gift of Christ’s birth,” McCorkhill says. “Without his birth, we couldn’t have his death and resurrection and our salvation. The love story between him and us all begins with the birth of Christ.”

With that belief in her heart, McCorkhill embraced the opportunity to be part of the continuing effort to emphasize the true meaning of Christmas and help make central Indiana the “Outdoor Nativity Scene Capital of the United States.”

That effort started last year when Jim Liston—a member of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Indianapolis—reached out to all the Catholic schools and parishes in the Indianapolis deaneries and Hamilton County in the Lafeyette Diocese to have them ask their families who would be interested in buying a Nativity scene to display in front of their homes.

That first year led to 600 new Nativity scenes being displayed across the area, which surpassed Liston’s goal so much that he decided to do it again. And this year, 1,378 more Nativity scenes were sold, including 206 at St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg where McCorkhill led the charge as the parish’s coordinator of children’s faith formation.

“There was a lot of excitement in the parish about it,” says McCorkhill, who credits pastor Father Sean Danda and Father Michael Clawson, the parish’s assistant pastor, with promoting the effort during Masses and also praising parishioner Abby Hendrickson for encouraging the effort in the parish school. “People were so glad we did it.”

McCorkhill had the same grateful reaction a year ago when she put away the Christmas lights, the gift boxes and the deer that she normally displayed in her front yard and instead just put up a Nativity set with a spotlight focused on the scene.

“I enjoyed it so much better,” she says. “I enjoyed seeing it lit up at night. It keeps me focused on the reason for the season—Christ.”

That’s exactly the hope that Liston had when he started the project. It ties in with the mission of the Catholic Business Exchange, a group that Liston founded to promote faith, friendship and business.

‘It’s just a wonderful feeling’

“We should all feel good that during the Advent season there will be more than 1,900 Nativity sets in place around central Indiana that wouldn’t have been there without us launching this campaign,” Liston says. “It’s just a wonderful feeling.”

He is also heartened by the increase in the number of schools and parishes that participated in the project this year—growing from 10 last year to 28.

There was also one special touch that Liston wanted to add this year—having the Nativity scenes blessed before they were distributed. The blessing was done by Msgr. William F. Stumpf, vicar general of the archdiocese and pastor of St. Matthew the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis.

“It’s always important to keep Christ at the center of Christmas,” Msgr. Stumpf says. “That’s why I was happy to go out and bless them.”

After they were blessed, the Nativity sets were distributed from a central location during two days in mid-November.

When representatives of the schools and parishes picked up their orders, Liston always thanked them. In return, he was often thanked for making it so easy for people to get them. Still, Liston’s favorite story from the pickup site involved a forklift operator who loaded the crates of Nativity sets into people’s trucks.

“At the end of the two days, he asked me, ‘How do I get one of those?’ ” Liston recalls. “When I asked if it was for him, he said, ‘No, it’s for my mom.’ He wanted to get her one by Thanksgiving. What I love about that is he was thinking about his mom. I told him I would help him get one.”

‘This is why we have Christmas’

The project also offered some financial help to each school and parish that participated. Liston negotiated with the manufacturer to reduce the usual $110 cost to $90. Then $20 was added to the price—money that each school and parish could use for a project of their choice.

Cathedral High School in Indianapolis contributed its funds to tuition assistance for families in need, while St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis is steering its profits toward its young adult programs.

SS. Francis and Clare of Assisi Parish in Greenwood used some of its funds to help defray the cost of the school’s eighth-grade trip to Washington, while St. Malachy will use its profit to help restore statues on the parish grounds.

Still, McCorkhill of St. Malachy says the best windfall of the project is its priceless message.

“This is why we have Christmas—keeping the Christ in Christmas,” she says.

Liston is touched by the simplicity of the Nativity and the love story it represents.

“The Nativity is in my DNA now,” he says. “Christmas means even more to me now. I hope displaying the Nativity becomes common, the norm for communities. There’s obviously a thirst among people to be reminded of the true meaning of Christmas.” †

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