Father Michael Wallack, pastor of St. John Parish, Allentown, and Msgr. John Dermond, retired priest of the Diocese and Tribunal judge, bless the Nativity scene installed at the New Jersey State House Dec. 4 by the Knights of Columbus. Mike Ehrmann photos
Father Michael Wallack, pastor of St. John Parish, Allentown, and Msgr. John Dermond, retired priest of the Diocese and Tribunal judge, bless the Nativity scene installed at the New Jersey State House Dec. 4 by the Knights of Columbus. Mike Ehrmann photos
" Now they call me to ask if we’re putting up the stable! "
Carrying on a tradition begun 43 years ago, the Knights of Columbus Council from Allentown, along with many enthusiastic onlookers, gathered Dec. 4 to install and witness the blessing of a Nativity scene at the State House in Trenton.

With the Knights Honor Guard leading a procession, Msgr. John Dermond, a retired priest and diocesan Tribunal judge, and Father Michael Wallack, pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish, Allentown, blessed the stable and figures of the Nativity scene. Adding to the festivities, the St. John the Baptist Children’s Choir led the group in singing Christmas carols.

To view more photos from the Nativity blessing, click HERE.

"As Knights of Columbus and as Catholics, [we profess that] Jesus is the reason for the season,” said Knight of Columbus Jerry Iacona, who has been involved in planning the blessing since 1979. “It’s very important because it shows that as Christians, we have a right to be there at the New Jersey State House … In these trying times, people need to know that Jesus is the hope of the world.”

Although last year’s installation and blessing were more low-key because of COVID-19 and rain interference, the annual tradition has continued uninterrupted since its beginning, when the original installation of a billboard reading “Keep Christ in Christmas” was reimagined. At the time, Iacona was a member of the Trenton Knights of Columbus Council.

“We said, ‘let’s do something a bit different.’ This was before 9/11, so we were able to put [the Nativity scene and stable] right in front of the State House doors,” he explained. “After 9/11 when the pillars had been installed in front of the entrance, they gave us the ground outside the State House to use.”

The grounds are often shared with a display of a menorah during the duration of Hanukkah, which occurs on different dates each year. The Nativity display is usually installed the first Saturday in December and remains up until the first Saturday in January.

Every year Iacona goes before the joint management commission with an application, attending a meeting to plead the Knights’ case for having the stable and Nativity installed. Original bylaws dictate that the display may be up for 10 days only; however, “I got them up to the whole Christmas season,” he said proudly. “Now they call me to ask if we’re putting up the stable!”

When Iacona moved from Trenton to Allentown and joined the Allentown Council, he took the Nativity scene with him. The original life-sized papier mache figures did not hold up in the New Jersey winter weather and were replaced by plaster figures donated by a past Grand Knight. Over time they saw too much wear and tear and were ultimately replaced with fiberglass statues, for which the Knights of different councils raised money jointly to purchase.

The stable itself has been rebuilt more than once; now it comes in several pieces that can be easily transported and assembled.

“I have a good crew in my brother Knights,” Iacona affirmed. “It’s amazing to watch them; they bring the truck to pick up the stable at church at about 8 a.m., at 9 a.m. we set up, and by 10 a.m. we’re ready [for the blessing]. They’re very efficient.”

The Trenton Council 355 is still involved, providing refreshments for the occasion; the state Knights of Columbus councils adopted the project, “so it’s really representing the entire Knights of Columbus of New Jersey,” Iacona pointed out.

He plans to continue with the annual Nativity scene installation and blessing as long as he is able. “I have received an outpouring of positive remarks from people who pass by either on foot or driving,” he said. “I especially love hearing from our New Jersey legislators and state workers.”