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Franciscan Faces
Making a (Nativity) Scene – A Friar in Cincinnati Displays His Collection of 80 Christmas Crèches

Tim Sucher, OFM, with the first Nativity he purchased as a child with his brother. The stable was built by their father.

Some people collect rare coins, vintage movie posters, and postage stamps. For Tim Sucher, OFM, it’s Christmas crèches – 80 to be exact!. His inspiration came during a holiday spent at his grandparents’ house, and one that developed into a passion when he became a Franciscan friar. While Tim has been displaying his crèche collection for over three decades, this year’s presentation, which he unveiled the day after Thanksgiving, has even greater meaning. It’s the 800th anniversary of St. Francis of Assisi’s re-creation of the Christmas crèche of Bethlehem.

Among Tim’s display at St. Francis Seraph Church in the Over-the-Rhine community in Cincinnati, Ohio, is a large poster 

board that tells of the origins of this re-creation in 1223 in the hill town of Greccio, Italy – where Francis asked a local villager to bring live animals and a manger filled with hay, and then invited everyone to Christmas Midnight Mass.

“The Incarnation was everything for Francis. His spirituality was rooted in God coming down from heaven, becoming human, living among us. Francis was excited to share this story with everyone,” said Tim. “He used what was available – animals and simple things like hay – to make the Incarnation more of a reality for the people of his time. I’d like to think that in some small way, I am using these crèches to make the Incarnation more of a reality for everyone who visits.”

St. Francis didn’t know he’d set off the popular devotion of placing crèches in homes, churches, and public squares. It was the same for Tim, not realizing the huge Nativity scene his grandmother displayed would spark his passion to collect crèches. It would certainly fit the narrative, but Tim’s attraction to the Franciscans had nothing to do with the first Nativity re-creation. Franciscan vocation was a part of the family business.

“[We had six relatives] who were all ordained Franciscan friars. There was no question my vocation would be with the friars. I had no say in the matter!” quipped Tim, noting that it wasn’t until he joined the Franciscans that he experienced the wonderful aspects of friar life.

“I developed a greater appreciation for Franciscan theology. At the heart of our salvation is Christ becoming one of us to bring salvation to the world,” said Tim, whose interest in crèches deepened as a friar when he also began meeting people of 

Among Tim’s collection are Christmas crèches from around the world.

different cultures in his ministries. He was particularly intrigued how people uniquely viewed the Nativity scene with their own cultures and traditions.

Tim built special shelves that he decorates with white lights to provide each crèche with its own space.

“Wherever the crèches originate, the figures look like the people of the respective cultures, which makes the collection even more interesting. Although the figures look different – their clothes, skin color, and other elements of the cultures represented – there is no doubt that each crèche is telling the same Christmas story. And that’s the beauty in every crèche,” said Tim.   

Among his collection are crèches from Uganda, Kenya, Chile, China, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Mongolia, Peru, Philippines, Spain, Tanzania, Ukraine, and dozens of other countries, as well as different U.S. states. 

While he doesn’t have a favorite – “each has something that makes them special,” he says – Tim is partial to the first Nativity he purchased with his brother – the traditional scene of the infant Jesus lying in a feeding trough surrounded by Mary and Joseph, shepherds, and the three kings in a large wooden stable that his father crafted.

Some of his more unique crèches are an African scene with figures made of wood sticks in cultural garb; llamas instead of camels in a Peruvian crèche; a Nativity from Kentucky made of pressed coal; a Native American Indian crèche, and scenes from the Philippines made from volcanic ash and acorns and other natural materials. For a large Nativity scene, Tim created a waterfall, “mountains” out of moss-covered brown packaging paper, and “walls” made of pebbles to re-create what Bethlehem may have looked like at the time of Christ’s birth. He has purchased crèches over the years, but many were given to him by friends and friars stationed abroad.

Special shelves that he constructed (and decorates with white lights) gives each crèche its own display space. Parishioners and friends help with the set-up every year. He first opened his collection to public viewing at St. Francis Seraph Friary, then moved to the event center of a brewery down the street for six years until the establishment closed. Tim is at St. Francis Seraph

Among Tim’s display at St. Francis Seraph Church in the Over-the-Rhine community in Cincinnati is a large poster board that tells of the origins of St. Francis’ re-creation of the crèche of Bethlehem in 1223 in the hill town of Greccio, Italy.

Church to greet and engage visitors, explaining the backstory of each crèche, and sprinkling in some Incarnation and theology talk.

Tim Sucher, OFM, at St. Francis Seraph Church in Cincinnati, where his 80-Christmas crèche collection is on display.

Tim, who professed his first vows in 1976 and made his solemn profession nine years later, has been stationed at St. Francis Seraph for 18 years, where he has served as friary guardian, parish associate, and executive director of St. Francis Seraph Ministries, working with poor and homeless guests. He ministered at a homeless shelter in Dayton, Ohio, living at the facility with the people he served. He also directed a soup kitchen and food pantry at an urban parish in Detroit, Michigan.

With the 800th anniversary, Tim is more eager than ever to share his crèches with others. “I don’t do it for myself. I do it to engage with people. Hopefully, it inspires their faith,” he said.

Content for this article compiled and written by Steve Mangione.

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