Local Knights of Columbus
help keep Christ in Christmas

Father James O’Reilly, parochial vicar of St. Bridget, Richmond, blesses the Nativity set and wooden silhouette that were displayed on the state capitol grounds Friday, Dec. 9, 2022. (Photo/Doug Lynch)

Nativity placed on state capitol grounds for first time in memorable history


For one hour on Friday morning, Dec. 9, Virginians were invited to gather around the Nativity scene at the historic bell tower on the state capitol grounds.

The Nativity set was displayed during a prayer service sponsored by the Knights of Columbus Msgr. Francis J. Byrne Council from St. Bridget Parish, Richmond. It was the first time in memorable history that a Nativity scene was displayed on Virginia capitol grounds.

“A lot of activities and decisions get made in that General Assembly that affect Christians (and) Catholics throughout the state,” said Doug Lynch, grand knight of the Msgr. Francis J. Byrne Council. “It’s really important that people realize we’re here.”

Lynch said he had “done some searching” in preparing for the event, and there is no record of anyone receiving “outright permission from the state to bring the Nativity to the state capitol” dating back to the 1600s.

In September, American Nativity Scene, a nonprofit organization that seeks to display Nativity scenes in every state capitol in the United States, contacted Shirley Jaeger for assistance with bringing a nativity to Richmond.

Jaeger, a member of St. Bridget since 1987, said her name had been mentioned to the organization “as someone who could possibly know the meaning of Christmas.” She told the representative, “I can’t promise you anything, but I will try.”

She approached the parish’s Knights of Columbus council to ask them to be an organizational sponsor for the permit. Lynch helped secure the permit after garnering support from the Knights of Columbus Virginia State Council and the Supreme Knights of Columbus.

“Ultimately, the reason for the season is Christ,” Lynch said. “The Knights pride themselves on activities that keep Christ centered in the Christmas celebration.”

The Nativity set used for the event was provided by American Nativity Scene. A wooden silhouette of the Nativity made by Knights of Columbus Council 11172 at St. Michael the Archangel, Glen Allen, and donated for the event by John Schutrumpf, grand knight of Council 395, was used as a backdrop “so that people could see it easier,” according to Lynch.

More than 40 participants prayed, sang hymns, and heard Scripture readings and remarks from various speakers.

Among those gathered were a representative from the House Speaker’s office, a chief of staff for a delegate who serves on the Virginia General Assembly, members of three local Knights of Columbus councils, State Deputy Patrick Roland and District Deputy Stephen Day.

Father James O’Reilly, parochial vicar of St. Bridget Parish, blessed the Nativity scene and wooden silhouette, and provided a reflection.

The priest, who is a third-degree Knight of Columbus and chaplain of the St. Bridget council, spoke about the importance of signs in everyday life, like traffic signs, and those that people can show “a type of reverence.” The American flag, for example, is venerated and loved in the United States of America, Father O’Reilly said, “but it doesn’t mean we worship the flag in and of itself.”

Similarly, the Nativity provides inspiration for Christians and serves as a reminder of the true meaning of the Christmas season.

“The Incarnation and the Nativity happened because we needed a savior, and this sign is something that can cut through all the noise and chaos in our world,” said Father O’Reilly. “That visual reminder can do a lot of good, and we need to continue taking up space in the public sphere to show Christ the King.”

The priest said he wanted to share a message that would resonate with Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Similarly, Jaeger said that her hope was that by showing Christ’s presence in the Nativity, others might take that idea of Christmastime away with them.

She said supporting the initiative was important to her because “we’ve lost that Christ is the one we celebrate.”

“If any one person came away after we have done our deed with this, if they remember, ‘Yes, Christ really needs to be in Christmas,’ it’s worth it,” Jaeger said.

Lynch said the Knights were very pleased with the turnout and hope to make this an annual event.

“We look forward to coming back next year with a larger Nativity, so you haven’t seen the last of us yet,” he said with a laugh.

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