Nativity-A-01-05-12Taking part in the annual live Nativity scene at St. Robert Church in Shorewood on Christmas Eve, 2011, are, from left, shepherd Dave Rowley, Wyatt Lambrecht, 5 months, as the baby Jesus sitting on the lap of Joseph, portrayed by the boy’s father, Brad Lambrecht, Shana Rowley, Wyatt’s mother, who plays the role of Mary, and Julie Gallo, a shepherd. Dave Rowley is Wyatt’s grandfather. More photos can be viewed and purchased at (Catholic Herald photo by Ernie Mastroianni)All eyes were on the camel during the Christmas Eve, live Nativity at St. Robert Catholic Church in Shorewood – not because the 600-pound dromedary was impressive, but because everyone wondered whether he would be allowed a reprise of last year’s performance when he processed down the center aisle of the church prior to Christmas Eve Mass. In 2010, with the permission of St. Robert pastor, Fr. Dennis Dirkx, the 12-foot camel clopped up the marble stairs and down the aisle to a standing ovation from the congregation.

This year, due to insurance issues, the camel remained outdoors; the 2010 exception was made only because last year was supposed to be the swansong of the annual live Nativity; that is, until 16-year-old Joseph Gallo decided to keep the tradition going as a confirmation service project.

“I was bummed out when I heard the news that it wasn’t going to continue, because I have done this live Nativity almost my entire life with my family and friends who were with me from second grade on,” said Joe, a junior at Pius XI High School. “I also wanted to take on this project because it started with Fr. John Pulice who started this live Nativity with my mom. Fr John baptized me and I just wanted to honor him and do it as a service to my community and have fun with my friends. It is a fun thing that not many people get to do.”

When he was 2 years old, Joe served as the littlest angel in the years before the Nativity was taken outdoors. Since that time, he has participated in nearly every capacity, as larger angels, Wise Men, and shepherds. He said the event is a major part of his Christmas celebration and the life of his family.

As a fourth grader, Joe remembers his role as a shepherd because he was caring for a pot bellied pig during the performance when one visitor surprised him with the comment that the Jews never had pigs and therefore there should be no ham on the set.

“Father came out and said that this was an inn and that we were the Gentiles and had people who ate pork in there,” laughed Joe. “The guy didn’t say much after that.”Nativity-B-01-05-12Paul Gallo, his brother Joseph, and their parents Don and Mary Jane Gallo pose with live Nativity scene animals, including the camel Dooley, outside St. Robert Church in Shorewood on Christmas Eve, 2011. Holding the camel in the foreground is George Strobl, owner of the animals. More photos can be viewed and purchased at (Catholic Herald photo by Ernie Mastroianni)

“It is really a ministry for us,” he said. “We have three shifts that begin after the 4:30 p.m. Mass and various members of our family are in this every year.”

The live Nativity, featuring animals from George Strobl’s farm, is important to Joe’s parents, Don and Mary Jane Gallo, who encouraged their children Paul, Julie and Joe to participate each year when the Nativity was included during Mass as part of the Gospel reading.

“Later we moved it outside as the kids got bigger and they wanted to bring in some sheep,” said Mary Jane. “My husband and another family got it going by building the stable in sections. They were involved for many years and decided to step away after their children graduated high school, so they needed people to carry the torch and organize it. I try to keep it going with pictures, and am hoping that someone else will take it on so it doesn’t end.”

In its 12th year on the corner of Capitol Drive and Marilyn Avenue, the live Nativity has featured children in various roles, such as 8-year-old Katie Loughrin, who began her role as the baby Jesus when she was just a month old, and this year, as one of the angels. According to her mother, Laura, that first year was quite different than the balmy weather experienced this Christmas Eve.

“It was very cold that year and we had her all bundled up, but it was a fun experience,” said Laura. “Katie has been part of the angel procession into church, but this year was able to do both – in church and in the live Nativity.”

Over the years, Shana Rowley had various roles in the live Nativity, from holding the flashlight outside, to leading children down the aisle in church, holding the ox and playing the part of the Blessed Mother. This year, her role as Mary took on new meaning as her 5-month-old baby, Wyatt, played the part of baby Jesus.

“He loves the attention, and since he is a miracle baby, I couldn’t be happier to know that I am passing on this tradition to him and spending his first year being part of the Live Nativity,” she said.

Rowley has Crohn’s Disease and not only is pregnancy difficult to obtain, there are serious side affects that accompany it, but young Wyatt was born healthy.

Participating in the live Nativity each year is a boost for her faith, and Rowley looks forward to the connectedness she feels to the Holy Family and to all who come.

“It is a magical night and makes me feel part of something,” she said. “We are all there for one purpose – to share the story of the Christ child – and you can just feel the energy all around.”

While most of the onlookers are excited and surprised to see the menagerie along the busy Shorewood streets, Rowley expects that there will be at least one who isn’t so taken with the scene.

“The kids don’t see a lot of these animals and I can pretty much guarantee that there will be at least one little girl in a red velvet dress and white boots that will start wailing each year because she is frightened of the animals,” laughed Rowley. “But most of the kids are smiling and happy to see the animals – I enjoy seeing their little faces.”

While the live Nativity is intended to bless those who might not have exposure to the true meaning of Christmas, for the Gallo family, the blessing comes back to them in abundance.

“It brings to the experience the true meaning of the holiday and reminds us why we are celebrating and goes back to that day,” said Mary Jane. “It is like we are walking in the feet of Christ when we come into church with the animals and the little ones that are angels, then the shepherds and Jesus, Mary and Joseph and it makes you think about what really happened. It really has become our ministry.”