A bit of Vietnam Christmas in Joliet remains through March

Seminarian at the Church of Saint Anthony recreates nativity display of his home country

The Church of St. Anthony of Joliet is leaving up its large, handmade nativity display through March so the community can stop and see it.

The display is large, 16 feet high and 17 feet wide, Linda Dyke, the church’s secretary said.

The church, located at 100 N. Scott St., will be open from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays so people can view the nativity scene, which is located near the altar, Dyke said.

No appointment is necessary, but people must wear masks and maintain social distance, Dyke said.

Peter Nguyen from Vietnam, currently at seminarian at the church, created the nativity display based on display church communities often build during the Christmas holidays in Vietnam, he said.

“When I prayed in the chapel, I thought about wanting to do something for Christmas this year,” Nguyen said. “And I had the idea to make something special for the church.”

So Nguyen showed Dyke a picture that best depicted his idea. In Vietnam, people typically build these creches from thin pieces of round wood and snow.

“They work together and build it at the church,” Nguyen said.

So after Dyke said she discussed Nguyen’s idea with St. Anthony’s pastor Rev. John Balluff, Dyke took Nguyen shopping for the following items: 30 to 40 pieces of furring strips and wire along with 40 pounds of batting for the “snow.”

Then Nguyen proceeded to build a snowy mountain for the nativity scene. When he was done, he told Dyke the display also needed some form of lighting.

So Dyke gave some strobe lights she’d put on the deck during the summer to Nguyen, and he hooked them to the back of the display, she said.

“It’s beautiful,” Dyke said. “I don’t think there’s anything like it in the area.”

Dyke said Nguyen also built steps leading to the display so Dyke could move the Magi a little closer to it each day. The “Wise Men” finally reached the creche on Jan. 6, she said.

Nguyen, who is studying English at the University of St. Francis in Joliet, spent nine days in the hospital and three on a ventilator after being stung by bees last summer, Dyke said.

“He was cutting grass and must have hit a hive,” Dyke said.

Dyke said she and Nguyen discussed the event and that he felt God had a reason for allowing it to happen to him. He now carries an EpiPen, she said.

Denise M. Baran-Unland

Denise M. Baran-Unland is the features editor for The Herald-News in Joliet. She covers a variety of human interest stories. She also writes the long-time weekly tribute feature “An Extraordinary Life about local people who have died. She studied journalism at the College of St. Francis in Joliet, now the University of St. Francis.