By Carol McIntire
Fred Lejuene is sharing the true meaning of Christmas with the entire community this year.
Lejuene, who was born in Belgium and moved to the United States in 1959, served as an alter boy at the Catholic Church the family attended. At the age of 14, when his service was completed, the priest presented Lejuene with a set of nativity figurines.
“We used them (the figurines) in our home at Belgium,” Fred recalled sitting in the living room of his Carroll County home with his wife, Martha, by his side.
“I was 23 when I moved to the United States. My sister lived in Navarre,” he explained in a voice that carries a strong German accent native to the section of Belgium where he spent his childhood. “When I came to the United States, I had to leave the figurines behind. My brother used them in his home.”
On return trips to his native country, Fred packed figurines in his luggage, a few each time, and brought them to the United States.
Over the years, he purchased other figurines and crafted his own mangers using his skills as carpenter.
“I have been a cabinetmaker since I was 12; I have sawdust in my blood,” he said with a chuckle.
He uses a booklet from Germany as his inspiration for the mangers he builds.
“I build the mangers from bark from the woods and other small pieces of wood. Each one is different.”
Fred and Martha said the figurines from Germany were too large to fit into the nativity scenes at their home and they were sort of “pushed into the background.”
The couple attends Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church in Carrollton and volunteer at the St. Vincent DePaul Center located adjacent to the church.
The idea came to Fred of sharing the nativity set with the community through the church.
“I thought that since they are too big for the nativity scenes at home, perhaps they could help share the true meaning of Christmas with others in the community.
The set did not have a manger so Fred selected one to make from the booklet and put it together. It includes separate stalls for the manager animals, removable fronts on the stalls, a fence around the scene that can be removed, benches and moss on the floor.
They found the perfect place to share the Christmas story: the church hall where the Knights of Columbus host a soup kitchen in conjunction with Loaves and Fishes distribution days and where local meetings are held.
“I thought it would be a way to bring the true meaning of Christmas back into Christmas. We need that in the world today,” Fred said. “If just one person sees it and is inspired, I will be happy.”