Darlene (Pecinovsky) Blankenship of Topeka, who is wintering with her husband, Michael, in Los Fresnos, Texas, recently wrote to us about her Christmas memories of growing up at Tampa. She especially remembered attending Christmas Eve Mass at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church and viewing the Christmas display at the front of the church.
“Each Christmas, the altar would be decorated so beautifully with several Christmas trees, lights, and ice cycles,” she wrote. “But what really comes to mind is the large Nativity display that was carefully placed in front of all of the decorated trees. The Nativity Manger and Nativity figures were just magnificent. I wonder what ever happened to it.”
Well, Darlene, it’s still there, even though the church is mostly closed. Thanks to the efforts of Jeanne Rziha and Mary Jirak, the trees, ornaments, and Nativity figures are put in place at the altar every Christmas. The only thing missing is the large, wooden stable and manger, which is too heavy for the two women to carry up into the sanctuary from the basement.
The scene will remain in place until the middle of January, and visitors are free to enter the church and view the display from Christmas Eve until then.
Holy Redeemer Catholic Church is now an oratory, meaning it can still function but is not part of a parish. The church still has an altar society and still provides religious education for youth.
Mass is held the fourth Friday of every month. Tampa natives Father John Jirak and Father Paul Oborny occasionally conduct services there, and special Masses are held at holiday times.
“If you are in the Tampa area, you are welcome to take part in church activities,” Rziha said.