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A Christmas Image from the Viatorian Art Collection

December 4, 2018

Br. Don Houde, CSV, the unofficial curator of the religious art collection at the Province Center, begins

Br. Don Houde displays this rare wood carving of the nativity scene.

searching around the middle of summer. His quest? To find a unique rendering of the holy family that would be suitable for the Viatorian Christmas card.

It’s a treasure hunt of sorts, and this year’s find rested for years on a little known table in the third floor of the Viatorian residence wing. Admittedly, Br. Houde says, it’s one of the more unusual pieces in the collection — and up until now, overlooked.

A closer look reveals a hand-carved nativity scene created by the Swiss artist, Christian J. Strässle, with his nameplate still intact on the back. Br. House believes the woodcarving was created from the trunk of a birch tree in the Swiss Alps.

Wood carving, enhanced for cover art by Pete Donahue

Fr. John Brown, CSV

What’s more, he believes it was Fr. John Brown, CSV, who added it to the collection. Fr. Brown served as Provincial from 1949-1959 — when the provincial headquarters moved to Arlington Heights and Br. Houde was among its first novices — and he personally worked to establish a collection of religious art.

Br. Houde believes Fr. Brown — who had a talent for woodworking himself — acquired the piece during a visit to the wood carving museum in Oberammergau, Germany, which specializes in religious art.

While Christmas cards bearing the image are still being sent, the carving itself is displayed prominently in the lobby of the Province Center, greeting all who enter and reminding them of the holiness of the season.