Special to The Hays Daily News

VINCENT -- For 82 years, members of St. Boniface Parish have enjoyed the celebration of the birth of Christ with a very special Christmas Crib.

When Father Callistus Rectenwold came to the parish in 1927, he began a Nativity display resembling the city of Bethlehem. For 52 years, he lovingly built and maintained the beautiful Nativity scene with the help of the boys of the parish.

Many things on the crib are centered around the song "The 12 Days of Christmas": The pear tree, partridge, doves, hens, maids a milking, etc., as well as the countryside around the "Little Town of Bethlehem" with sheep, dogs, deer, birds, trees, rocks, streams, bridges, water wells and the Bethlehem Inn, which had no room for Mary and Joseph, are all represented.

The rocks and shells come from 105 different countries -- many from the Pacific Islands -- and all 50 states. They represent people from all over the world, for whom Christ was born, lived, suffered and died for the redemption of all mankind.

Rocks come from places like the Philippines, Bora-Bora, Ethiopia, Barbados, the Soviet Union, Scandinavia and Vietnam. Jade is from Taiwan, and a special rock is from the cave of Lourdes where the Blessed Mother appeared to Bernadette. Peacock rocks from the Ozarks and Rocky Mountain rocks from Colorado are among the many other mineral rocks from all 50 states. All are nicely marked as to their origin. Read the labels and be amazed.

Shells from Samoa, Caledonia and the island beaches around the world, a sea urchin from the Caroline Islands, coral from the reefs of Australia and Hawaii, and many other shells from the United States are all displayed.

The polished stones came from Milton Wellbrock, who lived and worked in the community and had a rock-polishing hobby that caught the eye of Callistus.

The wells with rope and bucket represent the dug wells, a means of obtaining water in the Bethlehem area at the time of Christ's birth.

The Bethlehem Inn and other buildings are built from scraps of wood and paneling covered with sand pebbles taken from the church driveway and glued to the walls, making the stone effect.

The stable is constructed from wood taken from a pear tree from a nearby farm orchard to create a Moravian 18th-century style crib, resembling those found in the Pittsburgh, Pa., area where Callistus was born. He spent much of his boyhood visiting the many cribs constructed in the area churches with his parents.

The statues of the three kings are from Germany, as well as the figures of the Holy Family and some of the shepherds. The infant Jesus is from Spain. One of the large camels comes from the Holy Land and is made of olive wood.

An alabaster bird from San Marino, Italy, and cypress roots from Louisiana are only a sample of the many birds, plants and animals found in the crib. Callistus' idea of the Holstein cows and maid on a stool milking a cow near the stable, along with the chickens and other animals, were to represent the many farms in the rural Vincent area.

The dog near the Bethlehem Inn entrance is waiting for his master to arrive home.

Through the years, the construction of the Nativity display changed somewhat, as Callistus always found something new to add to his "Little Town of Bethlehem."

Whenever one of the parishioners took a trip or when the young men were in service during the wars, they always remembered to bring back a souvenir for his crib.

The Nativity scene, which began as a labor of love for Callistus, is now a monument to his memory. Each Christmas since his death in 1980, members of the parish have set up the display as a tribute to its creator and as a memorial in his name, for the education of seminarians in the Capuchin order.

The church is open for visitors from 2 to 5 p.m.Sunday afternoons during the Christmas season. All are welcome to view Callistus' unique work of art. The church is located 51βΡ2 miles south and 2 miles east of Victoria.