Father Roy Herberger, who has collected Nativity sets for more than 30 years, is now looking for a permanent home for the 600 or so sets in his possession. This is the same collection that had been displayed at Buffalo's SS. Columba-Brigid Parish during Christmas.
"I want it to be a permanent location. Every year when we pack up and then unpack, Joseph loses a head and a shepherd loses an arm no matter how careful people try to be. I've always had a vision of once they're up, that's it," Father Herberger explained.
He thought he had a home lined up at Main and West Mohawk, but the government entities that rented the upper floors of the building moved to Appletree Mall in Cheektowaga. When HEAP moved out, vacating the first floor, the building was left empty except for the museum in the basement.
"That wouldn't work for them. They also decided with everyone moving out, they'll probably convert the building into possibly some apartments or retail space," he said, adding, "There was no room for us at the inn, so to speak."
He now is in desperate need of a new home. His vision is to have an open space around 2,000 square feet, on a ground floor with wheelchair access to accommodate senior groups, preferably in downtown Buffalo, so people could stop in before or after sporting events and concerts. Most people associate Nativity scenes with Christmas, but Father Herberger wants the St. Francis Nativity Museum to be open year-round. He pictures it as a stopping point for bus tours that visit Fatima Shrine in Youngstown and Our Lady of Victory Shrine in Lackawanna. He also hopes to invite students from public and private schools, "as a cultural experience, not a religious experience."
Not only will his collection be available for viewing, but paints, clay and pencils will be on hand to allow students to create some art of their own to add to the collection.
The museum is named after St. Francis of Assisi, who recreated the scene of Jesus birth during a special Mass inside a cave in Greccio, Italy in the early 13th century using live animals, to make people aware of how "God came into our world in the very human, humble form of a baby," Father Herberger said. "What my international display tries to remind people is, He came for all people, all nations, all languages, all races, so how do people portray that?"
Father Herberger started his collection about 30 years ago, when at a Catholic education conference in Baltimore, he bought a Nativity set made from ebony from a conference vendor.
"That's when it hit me between the eyes. I was used to the traditional Nativity set from Kresge's Five and Dime Store that used to be downtown." He was also used to seeing European artists depiction of a Caucasian-looking Jesus. "When I saw this, it was so African, so out of my comfort zone. It's was, 'That's right. He did come for everybody.'"
Some sets are of a traditional mold and beauty, others are unique. One set is made from newspapers, others from auto parts and Coke cans.
"We have one set so small, each figure is a single grain of rice that is painted," he said. "Artists using whatever materials are available or however they are inspired to portray this event in time and history."
Most of the sets Father Herberger bought himself. Some he received as gifts. He found some online from Third-World countries, where the money he spends goes to help the villages. They answer the question, "What would Joseph, Mary and Jesus look like if the came from Ecuador or Nigeria?"
Father Herberger is now asking anybody with a good location for the museum, or anyone who knows anyone, to contact him at 716-852-2076 or firstname.lastname@example.org.