St. Mary's parish in Troy closed in 2010, but one feature of the church continues to be an important part of the city's holiday season: its Nativity scene.
The crèche is currently on display in the window of Michele's Floral Design Shop at 299 4th Street in Troy. In past years, it was displayed in the window of the former Cuzzo's store and at a U.S. Track and Field Association building.
"This Nativity scene honors our past," said Sam Chiappone, co-facilitator of a Quality of Life Committee dedicated to revitalizing Troy's Little Italy neighborhood.
St. Mary's parish was located at the corner of Third and Washington Streets in Troy's historic Washington Park neighborhood. A dozen pastors served there during its 167-year existence, with Sam Marro serving as parish administrator from 2003-2010.
When the parish was closing its doors as part of a pastoral planning process in the Albany Diocese, Mr. Marro talked with long-time parishioner Mr. Chiappone about finding a new home for the crèche, which dates back to the 1940s or '50s.
The Nativity scene has more than a dozen large plaster-of-Paris figurines, including the Holy Family, three Wise Men, a group of shepherds, a cow, a donkey and several sheep.
"You should take this and put it on the roof of your house," Mr. Marro joked.
That sparked an idea: The crèche should stay in the Little Italy neighborhood that had been its home for decades.
The Chiappones -- four siblings who all live locally -- took custody of the crèche and have arranged for it to be displayed in storefront windows of neighborhood businesses during the Christmas season.
"It's an honor to have it," said florist Denise Teta-Schrom of Michele's Floral Design.
When the crèche was displayed at the florist's last year, it was noted that the figurines were getting a bit worse for wear. The shepherd had lost his staff over the years and the cow figurine was missing a horn, said Mr. Chiappone; all the statues were nicked and dented.
The Little Italy Quality of Life Committee spearheaded a campaign to raise funds to repair and restore the statues and add a backdrop to the crèche. Former St. Mary's parishioner Andrea Daley of Restoration Specialists worked with fellow artists Nancy Stoliker, Jean Tower, Tali Saxton dePerez, Nina Stanley and Chris Spencer to oversee the project.
To find artists, Ms. Daley made it a contest. The expert offered free lessons in plaster restoration. Each artist took charge of repairing a piece of the Nativity scene.
"We supplied the paints, materials, fillers and instructions," Ms. Daley explained. The figurines "were all a mess; they were pretty well banged up. The baby Jesus had his foot off."
After a whole summer of work, the restorations were completed in October. "They came out perfect!" Ms. Daley noted.
The crèche was displayed at an annual spaghetti supper held the night before Election Day at Troy's Italian Community Center. Hundreds of people turned out for the event, a fundraiser for food pantries maintained by the Roarke Center and by St. Joseph's and Christ Sun of Justice parishes in Troy. LaSalle Institute in Troy presents a community service award at the dinner each year.
The crèche was officially unveiled in the florist's window in early December. Ms. Daley told The Evangelist that Rensselaer County executive Kathy Jimino, a former St. Mary's parishioner on hand for the event, wept as she remembered bringing the baby Jesus figurine up to the altar as a child.
Mr. Chiappone, who now attends Christ Sun of Justice parish in Troy, says that, while his family doesn't take their responsibility for the crèche lightly, carrying on the tradition of displaying it publicly is about the whole neighborhood and community.
It keeps the history of St. Mary's parish alive, he said.
(The crèche will be displayed at Michele's Floral Design until Jan. 6, the feast of the Epiphany, also called "Little Christmas." Learn more at www.troylittleitaly.org.)