Searching for an Early U.S. Nativity Society
By Mary Herzel
My sleuthing began with a message from the International Crèche Federation (Universalis Foederatio Praesepistica, known as UN.FOE.PRAE) requesting information about an "American Crib Society." Despite some dead-ends, disappointing leads, and apparently lost information, I was able to glean a brief background of an earlier American Nativity Society.
The first attempt at an American crèche society was just after World War I when a German Jesuit, Father Paul Sauer, attempted to start an organization in Spokane, Washington. With little or no communication among the Catholic missions, and lack of interest at the time among other denominations, the effort failed.
A second try enjoyed some longevity. Aloysius S. Horn (b. 1899/d. 1971) was an American student in Rome at the Catholic North American College in the early 1920s. While there, he purchased some intricately carved Nativity scenes, and his lifelong interest in the Nativity began. By 1925, he had started the American Christmas Crib Society. After his ordination in 1928, Father Horn moved back to Fremont, Ohio, where he had been born, and was assigned to Saint Joseph’s Parish.
At Saint Joseph’s, Horn promoted Nativity scenes to be displayed in shop windows, and organized crèche competitions. By 1953, his American Christmas Crib Society could boast of 125 members scattered throughout the United States. His society is mentioned as a member of UN.FOE.PRAE in its publication of that year.
While the American Christmas Crib Society never had its own publication, Father Horn’s articles were printed in magazines in the United States and in Italy, and the Society was listed in the well-known book, The Christmas Crib by Nesta DeRobeck (1956).
By the 1960s, Father Horn was considered a national authority on the crèche. He participated in the dedication of an 18 th century Nativity scene at the White House in December 1967 as a guest of President Lyndon Johnson.
In addition to his articles in the United States and Italy, Father Horn wrote two books: A Christmas Chronicle (1941) and a history of Saint Joseph’s Parish, Fremont, Ohio, entitled 100 Candles for St. Joseph’s (1957). In the latter, Horn quoted an 1876 entry for "Green material for the Christmas Crib, $1.30." Other notes included an 1880 entry for "Tree-bark and trees for Crib, 50 cents and $1.75."
No records remain of the American Christmas Crib Society itself, only allusions to it from other sources. With Father Horn’s death in 1971, nothing further was heard of the Society.
From the Creche Herald newsletter of Winter 2003/2004, page 5. Used with permission. Sources: Susan Wietnick, Archives Director of the Toledo, Ohio, Catholic Diocese Office; Barbara Paff, Librarian, Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library, Fremont, Ohio, and Ettore Formosa, UN.FOE.PRAE, Rome, Italy.