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Nativity set on Foxboro Common
In the mid-1980s, the Foxboro Jaycees took over the responsibility for not only setting up the scene each December, but storing, repainting and refurbishing the set as needed. 60 years later, we continue the tradition each year.
The completed display:
Keeping holiday tradition alive By Vin Igo, The Foxboro Reporter, 1992
The annual appearance of the town’s nativity scene, formerly housed in its own wooden manger and now erected at the Common bandstand, marks the continuation of a local tradition which began in the early 1950s.
It was 6 degrees below zero on the day the classic nativity figurines were delivered to the home of Mrs. I.W. Reynolds, then-president of the Foxboro Women’s Club.
Florence Buckley, who moved to Foxboro in 1944 for her husband, the late Dr. Francis C. Buckley, also were instrumental in drumming up support for the project.
Mrs. Buckley organized community fundraising activities, which involved all the churches in Foxboro. She was assisted by the late Helen Spillane, who politely, but determinedly, obtained contributions from most of the local merchants.
After the figurines were first delivered, there was still some question of how they would be assembled. Mrs. Buckley contacted Walter Ridley, who was a pillar at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, and less than a half-hour later a work party rolled up in front of her Main Street home — where she still lives, by the way.
Mrs. Buckley unsuccessfully attempted to bring coffee from her house to the men, who by then had transported the figurines to the Common and were hard at work in the sub-zero chill.
“But the water froze before we could get it to the center of town,” she recalled this week.
Over the years, age and vandalism have both taken their toll on the traditional statues.
Many years ago, Foxboro native Luke Ford now living in Florida, put his artistic ingenuity to work repairing and refinishing the pieces. But it was a stop-gap measure at best.
Over the past year, virtually all of the 20-odd pieces have been refurbished by Debra Wood of the Foxboro Jaycees. She undertook the project without any particular training, and completed the work in her father’s barn off High Street.
The Jaycees now assemble and then disassemble the nativity scene each year as one of the organization’s ongoing community service projects. The figurines are stored in the former Quaker Hill School in South Foxboro, where they had been severely vandalized at some point over the past year.
Through her efforts and hard work, Debra Wood has shown the same community interest and civic spirit demonstrated by those women who helped acquire the traditional figurines on the public’s behalf more than 35 years ago.
Photos from 1992 restoration
After the 1992 restoration, former Jaycee Pauline Brown painted several of the statues including the Virgin Mary. For over ten years, Jaycee Kathy Brady continued to patch, plaster, match colors, and make the set look as good as possible.
It was clear by the the early 2010s a new, more permanent fix was needed.
The 2020 MOVE to and from La Salette for restoration by Brother Donald Wininiski, MS:
2020: Before and After Images through the artistic magic of Brother Donald Wininiski, MS:
On November 28, 2020, as an early holiday gift to the town, Foxboro’s historic Nativity set got a makeover due to loving efforts by the Foxboro Jaycees, The Knights of Columbus, and a remarkable La Salette artist.
That morning, the Foxboro Jaycees, with help from the Knights of Columbus (KofC), brought out and set-up the nativity set on the Common which has been part of Foxboro for over 70 years.
The difference this year — the iconic statues have been completely restored for the first time in 28 years (when they were last restored by then Jaycee, Deb Wood) to their original glory by Brother Donald Wininski, MS, of La Salette Shrine in Attleboro.
According to a Reporter article by the late Vin Igo, around 1949 or so, the Foxboro Women’s club, along with a couple of prominent families in town, and local churches and businesses, raised funds and brought the large life-size nativity statues to the Town of Foxboro. This same Nativity set has been set-up on Foxboro Common every December since.
Early this year, the Jaycees, who have been the caretakers of the same nativity statues since around the mid-1980s, put this project above monetary considerations out of love for Foxboro and the community. Despite economic hardships this year limiting fundraising efforts by all civic organizations such as the Jaycees and the KofC, the Jaycees felt that it was important this year in particular to give this gift to the town of Foxboro and the Knights agreed and partnered with the Jaycees to share in the cost of the project.
Frank Nelsen, Grand Knight of Knights of Columbus (KofC), Foxboro/Sharon said, “The Knights support local charities and local community groups. We are pleased to partner with the Jaycees to help refurbish and set up the Nativity on the Common.”
Susan Gillis, 27 year member of the Jaycees who has lived in Foxboro for the last 30 years, offered to chair the project “Nativity set restoration.”
Gillis explained that the Jaycees had discussed restoring the Nativity set for many years but the cost was prohibitive. Over the years, Jaycee members have patched and touched up the set periodically as needed.
She reached out to Brother Ron Taylor at La Salette Shrine and asked him for his help. Brother Ron suggested for the Shrine’s artist, Brother Donald Wininski, who agreed to take on the challenge for an affordable donation gift to the Shrine. The Jaycees needed to wait until May to get the large statues to the Shrine because that’s when the Shrine graciously offered to empty out a section in one of their large garages for us, and for Brother Donald to restore. (This was at the height of the Pandemic).
It was very difficult to get the large statues to La Salette Shrine because to observe social distancing during the pandemic, and we could not get 4-5 strong people from different households to lift the statues together, (some are over 400 pounds). Also, extra precautions needed to be taken every time anyone went to the shrine for the safety of all the priests, brothers, and sisters who live there.
We are grateful to get lifting help from Zach and Nick Hadge, two super-strong Foxboro natives who are world championship title holders in weightlifting and who were quarantining in the same Foxboro family home together.
Nick (26) and Zach (28) Hadge are graduates of Foxboro High School and both attended Springfield College majoring in Exercise Science.
“Yearly we compete in the Team World Championship as a duo team representing the USA,” said the brothers. We are now both training to compete in world’s strongest man. Both are personal fitness trainers and Co-owners of The Performance Vibe.
The mighty Hadge brothers helped to move the heavy statues from Foxboro to La Salette Shrine. After Brother Donald finished his work, in August, the brothers worked with the KofC to move the set back home to Foxboro.
Brother Donald quickly went to work to restore the statues and worked 7-10 hours a day to get them done because he was afraid that if he got sick, the set would not get completed.
Brother Donald said, “First, I was honored that I was asked to restore the nativity figures. There were 13 figures. Over the years, they became damaged and the paint faded. It took months to complete the restoration work.”
“Looking back at the condition they were in and the condition now brings great satisfaction. The figures were brought back to life and their former glory. It makes me happy to know that when people look at this nativity scene, their spirits will be moved in some fashion,” Brother Donald added.
On November 28, Foxboro Cable Access was on hand to record the historic assembly and produced a video of the restoration process.
Lynda Walsh, Jaycee Community Development VP, presented Jaycee spirit awards to Brother Donald and also to Brother David Eubank representing La Salette. Brother David blessed the set. Walsh also presented a partnership award to the Nights of Columbus Grand Knight Frank Nelsen, and Gillis presented a Jaycee appreciation award for the Hadge brothers to Nick Hadge.
The assembled Jaycees then sang, “We Wish you a Merry Christmas.”
2020 has been so hard in so many ways and for so many, this was the Jaycees’ gift to the town. Please make sure you take the time and go see it for yourself. It is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.
The Foxboro Jaycees thank everyone who was involved in any way to make this project possible!