Creating Something Both New and Old at St. Mary Oratory
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
December 20, 2018
ROCKFORD—As a child, Sandra Dettori lived in Italy and was captivated by the crèche scenes there and in other parts of Europe.
 
“As a young child, you’re fascinated,” she says of the village scenes surrounding the nativity. “You imagine what’s going on.”
 
Little did she know someday she would be creating a similarly detailed landscape in America, to the right of the main sanctuary at St. Mary Oratory in Rockford.
 
Dettori is a member of the oratory’s Latin Mass community served by the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest. 
 
Canon Benjamin Coggeshall, rector, asked her in October if she’d be willing to build an Italian-style background for the oratory’s nativity set. 
 
At his suggestion, she contacted fellow parishioner Geralyn Coutts to help. Dettori began planning in early November, and they started construction just before Thanksgiving. By mid-Advent, they were well on their way to a diorama that will be unveiled on Christmas Eve.
 
Dettori credits the “inspiration of the Holy Spirit” as she and Coutts create the scene, making structures out of foam and trees and other foliage from floral moss and spices like basil and thyme. 
 
“You have to get creative,” Dettori says.
 
“Sandra did a lot of research,” Coutts says, crediting her friend’s work on the buildings and acknowledging that she herself put together the trees and bushes of various sizes. 
 
Coutts particularly admires Dettori’s caves carved into the cliffs, sheep grazing nearby.
 
The three-level structure is built to suggest the highest points are far away, and the large nativity will be right up at the communion rail.
 
Dettori’s research includes printouts of Jerusalem-area buildings and ideas from model railroads sites. 
The statues, from shepherds and sheep to housewives and husbands, were ordered from European companies when nothing could be found in 
the U.S.
 
“It’s more work than I thought it would be,” Dettori says. 
 
She and Coutts remind themselves that their creation is a first-year effort, with the opportunity to expand in the years ahead. 
 
Dettori recalls statues in European creations that move and scenes that include the Annunciation, Visitation and other steps leading up to Jesus’ birth.
 
The women also point to God’s help during the process, including their discovery of a water stain on the 20-foot starry backdrop they had purchased. 
 
The stain forced them to overcome their reluctance to try to paint the bright nativity star on the material. 
 
It is a labor of love to the One who is guiding them unseen, Dettori says. 
 
“We are offering it up to God.”