The Pittsburgh Foundation

Pittsburgh Creche Endowment Fund

Established: 10/31/2006

Pittsburgh's Crèche is the world's only authorized replica of the Vatican's Nativity Scene as erected in St. Peter's Square. It opens on Pittsburgh's annual Light Up Night in November and remains open through Epiphany in early January.

Each year an estimated two hundred and fifty thousand people stop to gaze at the life-like replicas and the manger scene that is the reason for the holiday celebration. The Crèche has become an attraction to downtown Pittsburgh allowing residents and out-of-towners to connect their beliefs with the joy of the season.

How the Crèche came to Pittsburgh is an example of how a diverse community joined together to accomplish a goal.

In 1996, the Christian Leaders Fellowship displayed a nativity scene near Gateway Center on city property. In 1998, the City of Pittsburgh decided such displays could no longer be erected on government property. Around this same time, Louis D. Astorino, a member of the Christmas Festival Committee was re-thinking the entire idea of the nativity scene display. He had visited the larger-than-life-sized Crèche at St. Peter's Square in Rome's Vatican City in 1993 and wanted to do something special for the Christmas Festival for the millennium. One thought was to make a bigger Crèche and display it where people could linger at a new location. This idea progressed to actually duplicating the wonderful Crèche at the Vatican.

Mr. Astorino with his firm had designed buildings in the Vatican – the Chapel of the Holy Spirit in the Domus Sanctae Martha next to St. Peter's Basilica which was built for the Cardinals visiting the Vatican, including those who gathered to elect a new Pope. Through these ties to Vatican officials, he obtained permission to duplicate the world's only replica of the Vatican Crèche. Mr. Astorino contacted Cardinal Castillo Lara, President of the Vatican City State & Massimo Stoppa, General Director of Vatican Engineering, who became his liaison with Vatican and local participants. Mr. Stoppa put Mr. Astorino in contact with the Vatican architect who designed the stable, Umberto Massana, and with the sculptor who made the figures in the Crèche, Pietro Simonelli.

In 1997, the Festival Committee and the Christian Leaders Fellowship approved Astorino's proposal. Catholic Diocese Bishop Donald Wuerl contacted USX Chairman Thomas Usher, who arranged for the Crèche to be displayed on private property on the plaza outside of what is now the U.S. Steel Tower. Workers at the Civic Light Opera's Construction Center built the stable and, in Rome, Mr. Simonelli crafted the first nativity scene figures.

Local foundations, businesses and unions contributed money, services and labor to the construction and assembly of the Crèche. The Sisters of the Holy Spirit sew and maintain the clothes for all the life-sized figures. The Crèche was dedicated on December 6, 1999 and displayed through January 7, 2000.

Every year since, volunteers and unions have donated their time and corporations have given services to help keep the Crèche a unique part of Pittsburgh's holiday celebration. While much of the work on the Nativity is donated, not all the labor is free and other expenditures are necessary including truck rentals and police service. Because of winter weather conditions the nativity scene also suffers damage to the roof or to the plywood infrastructure and most years needs some repairs. It is for these additional labor and equipment costs and the as-needed restoration expenses that the Pittsburgh Crèche Endowment Committee was formed and an endowment fund was created at the Pittsburgh Foundation.

Type of Fund

  • Designated