(Kristen Hannum/Catholic Sentinel)
(Kristen Hannum/Catholic Sentinel)

Bill Zuelke has a Nativity scene in every room of his house, in his car and in his office. His collection is not on display only during Advent and Christmas. It is around all year long.

Zuelke, 67, a member of Holy Family Parish in Southeast Portland, grew up with a crucifix in every room of his home and in his Catholic school classrooms.

“This idea of religious symbols around you is what I grew up with,” he said.

One fall day in 1972, Zuelke was praying in Mass listening to the Gospel of St. Luke. He suddenly felt deeply convinced that his faith life needed reminders that Jesus indeed walked among us. And so he decided he needed Nativity scenes in every room like his family had had crucifixes in every room.

“From then on, I’ve always made it a practice, in all the places I spend time in, that I can look up and see a Nativity scene,” said Zuelke. He has one in the dashboard of his car, one to the left of his computer at work, one in pressed tin hanging in his glass studio, one on the mantel in his living room, one hanging on his refrigerator, one in his bathroom, one in the TV room, one in every other room in his home, and a picture in his wallet.

Zuelke said the idea is not that much different than the bells that ring at Mount Angel Abbey. Religious symbols remind people of what faith is all about. The Nativity reminds Zuelke that God is with him and he’s never alone.

Over time, the meaning of the Nativity scenes has changed. When his now 25-year-old daughter was born, he felt a flood of care for her. His life suddenly revolved around caring for her, keeping her safe and keeping her well. Now when he looks at the Nativity, he knows the outpouring of love that Mary felt for the baby Jesus and that Christ is alive in all hearts.

“I want to feel toward everyone that overwhelming love that I felt for my daughter,” said Zuelke. “Having the Nativity scene reminds me of that.”

Zuekle’s collection of around two dozen nativities includes scenes from all over the world — Central America, Mexico, the Philippines, Oregon, Israel and Oberammergau, Germany.

“One of the great gifts of our Catholic faith is that we’re into outward signs. We have this great devotion of sacramentals,” he said. “If I want my faith to be at the center of my daily experience, it has to be visually around me.”

Zuelke’s wife also collects religious art, hers being art portraying Our Lady of Guadalupe.

“We’re human beings and we need reminders — things in our environments,” he said.“A Nativity that proclaims the truth that God is with us is a really wonderful image to have in our home.”