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Historic Sharpsburg church spreading Christmas joy

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Jan Pakler | for The Herald
Joe Zaboroski sets up the manager in front of live tree at St. Mary's Church in Sharpsburg.
Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Lou Borowski's favorite part of Christmas Eve Mass at St. Mary Catholic Church in Sharpsburg is just prior to the start.

“When we flip the lights on the altar,” said Borowski, a church volunteer for almost 40 years, “you can hear everyone go ‘Ooooh.'”

Borowski and a team of six assistants spend two weeks each December preparing the opulent cathedral-style Penn Street church, built in 1917 and visible from Route 28.

Garland wrapped in sparkling white lights is strung high above the altar, with six trees draped in gold ribbon sitting below.

More than 60 red and white poinsettias make a bright splash across the front.

Typically, only parishioners who attend the Sunday and Christmas Eve Masses get to take in the beauty because the church is closed throughout the week. This year, church administrators are opening the doors for the magical display through Dec. 31.

“People always say they can see the church from the bypass, but they think it is closed,” Borowski said. “We want to inform them that we are not closed.”

From noon to 3 p.m., people can visit the church, bedecked with holiday décor that includes a handmade wooden crèche and thousands of twinkling lights.

The two main trees on the altar take two days alone to erect and light, Borowski said.

“They come in four sections, and they weigh a ton,” said volunteer Joe Zaborowski, who has been working on the Christmas displays since 1994.

This year, he crafted a manger from tree limbs and pine swags to house 100-year-old hand-painted porcelain figures of Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus.

“We just want to keep the church going,” he said. “I'm happy people will get the chance to see it. It's the first year in a long time.”

His winter scene rests in one of two alcoves and includes not only the manger but snow-covered rocks, deer, twigs and a lamb. Behind it hangs a blue cloth backdrop covered with painted white stars.

Zaborowski changes the theme every year and works behind cover until the display in unveiled on Dec. 24.

“It's nice. People are always in awe,” he said.

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-782-2121, ext. 2 or

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