Fr. Gregory Ace, pastor of St. Padre Pio parish in Kleinburg, Ont., stands with part of his 1,300-strong crèche collection. It is becoming so large that Ace is looking for a new home for his collection. Photo by Michael Swan

Fr. Ace’s crèche collection carries on family tradition

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  • December 21, 2013

KLEINBURG, ONT. - Fr. Gregory Ace has crèches from more countries than he doesn’t. His collection of 1,300 (or so) Nativity scenes includes examples from 120 countries. He’s got about 80 more to go.

He has doubts about whether he will ever find an example from Saudi Arabia. He’s only got one from the Vatican — a cloth with a printed Nativity scene. The tiny city state was the most difficult country to strike off his list. The Vatican just isn’t the kind of place where you find a lot of workshops.

He’s got plenty of Italian examples.

He attributes his enthusiasm for crèches to his grandfather, who was Maltese and kept the Maltese tradition of Christmas cribs alive in the family by building his own. The Ace collection is built on the foundation of the priest’s father’s crib.

Parishioners at St. Padre Pio in Kleinburg have taken up their pastor’s enthusiasm for imaginative reconstructions of the night Christ was born. This year’s church display includes the last hand-crafted crèche built by Woodbridge resident Luigi Dotto, another Maltese Canadian.

In addition to the vast display of miniatures inside the church, the parish has put up a larger than-life crèche in front of the church, with traditional Christmas music to accompany the glowing diorama at night. Parishioners and non-parishioners driving by the church come through the circular driveway to get a long look and listen to the carols.

Many of Ace’s crèches were gifts. Some of them were bought off eBay for bargain prices. They include one-of-a-kind, handmade treasures and factory issue, low-cost family decorations.

The collection is so vast that in addition to filling up the display cabinets in the church’s front hall every December with a different display, Ace also annually contributes a few outstanding examples to the St. James Anglican Cathedral Museum’s Crèches From Around the World exhibit.

Ace won’t snap up just any old crèche these days. He wants to fill in some missing countries and he’s looking for things that really are different. In this year’s display at St. Padre Pio, Ace has an American-made crèche which features Old Testament prophets ringed around the Holy Family in prayer.

The collection has become so large that it really needs a new home — a gallery or museum would be nice. St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal has expressed an interest in taking it over, but Ace would like to see it stay in Toronto. His eyes light up at the mention of plans for gallery and museum space in Cathedral Square — a development surrounding St. Michael’s Cathedral that is projected in the archdiocese of Toronto’s new pastoral plan.

“That would be nice,” Ace said.

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There should be a correction posted for this article. Greg is my cousin and I have one of the mangers made by his grandfather who is Maltese. His father and my father are brothers. They both share an Anishinaabeg (native) ancestry. Greg's...

There should be a correction posted for this article. Greg is my cousin and I have one of the mangers made by his grandfather who is Maltese. His father and my father are brothers. They both share an Anishinaabeg (native) ancestry. Greg's father George is not Maltese. His mother is however.

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