Group raising money to repair Nativity scene in Daley Plaza

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Group raising money to repair Nativity scene in Daley Plaza

Members of the God Squad‚ a team of volunteers from Chicago-area parishes, assembled the Nativity at Daley Plaza on Nov. 27, 2021. The annual tradition, now in its 36th year, is the only traditional display of the Nativity Scene in downtown Chicago’s public square. The group has launched a fundraising campaign to restore the statues and replace the major portions of the scene, some of which are over 30 years old. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Ed O’Malley, coordinator of the Chicago Nativity Scene Committee and a parishioner of St. Alphonsus Liguori in Prospect Heights, holds a picture set-up for the creche to guide volunteers in positioning the figures. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Volunteers move the figures around. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Vincent Aluise hangs up Christmas lights near the star. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Volunteers hang lights and connect the electricity for the scene. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A member of the God Squad secures a portion of the creche. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Patrick and Brian Howe string lights on one of the live Christmas trees in the scene. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The statue of Baby Jesus is chipped and needs restoration. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The statue of Mary is in need of repair. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The paint is chipped on the statue of St. Joseph. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The group has launched a campaign to restore the Nativity scene and replace portions such as this wiring on this fence and the wood in the fence, which is 40 years old. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Leo Aluise (center) joined Joseph and Jonathan Lam, parishioners at St. Catherine Laboure in Glenview (on both ends), and Liam Nelson, a member of St. Emily Parish, to spread straw. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Joseph Lam, a parishioner at St. Catherine Laboure in Glenview, helps spread straw. It is a tradition that the children and grandchildren of the God Squad spread the straw throughout the creche at the end. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Liam Nelson, a member of St. Emily Parish in Mount Prospect, helps spread straw throughout the Nativity scene. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Ramil Fajardo, rector of the National Shrine of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in Lincoln Park, says a few words before the blessing. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Surrounded by children, Father Stephen Lesniewski from California blesses the Nativity scene. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The Nativity scene is complete. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Members of the God Squad pose for a photo after the service. Many are in the trades and have passed the tradition of assembling the Nativity scene down to their children and grandchildren. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

God Squad, including many involved in the trades, erected the Nativity scene at Daley Plaza on Nov. 27, but this year the group has a focus on the future.

The God Squad has launched a fundraising campaign to replace and repair the weathered structures and statues so that the Nativity scene can inspire many generations to come.

“We’re now at a point where we wanted to do some improvements to it, but we are also experiencing some increased costs from the insurance and the space down here at Daley Plaza,” said Ed O’Malley, a parishioner of St. Alphonsus Liguori in Prospect Heights and a lead organizer of the God Squad. “We’ve launched a fundraising effort to not only get us through the next few years, but we want to make this for the next 10, 15, 20 years. We want to continue to display this Nativity and continually improve on it.”

The group wants to replace or repair several statues, replace the platform and build a new stable.

“It’s the statues and some of the surrounding here. Some of it’s been here for 25 years. It’s time to replace it,” O’Malley said. “We’re looking at even expanding it to other areas of the city, like Millennium Park or other places where we might want to put up a Nativity.”

The group is appealing to those who appreciate the scene in the plaza each year.

“We’re looking for people that enjoy this and want to maintain it and keep it and improve on it,” he said. “We really want to continue to improve on what we have down here.”

Some people have written letters of appreciation to the group.

“The notes that we get from people who are here are moving,” O’Malley said. “They are tremendous. People recognize that this is an important part of the city in light of everything else that’s going on in society. This really brings it back to what it is all about, which is Christ who came down here to save us.”

The display is located just south of the Christkindlmarket facing Dearborn Street.

Many of the God Squad’s family members also attend the setup each year.

Shirlee Pasko attended with her son, who volunteers, and the rest of her family.

“This is Christmas. This is what we do every year,” she said. “It means everything to us.”

The Nativity in Daley Plaza is on public land where citizens are allowed to erect, with approval, religious expressions. It dates back to 1985, when officials in City Hall said they would no longer allow a Nativity scene in the building’s lobby.

Soon after, a group of volunteers received approval from the Public Building Commission to erect a small Nativity scene on the plaza, according to However, the commission reversed its decision and removed the scene. News media covered the removal, which resulted in public outcry.

The group sued the Public Building Commission in U.S. District Court and won. The display has been up between Thanksgiving and Christmas ever since.

Father and son team, John F. and Joe Chesna have been part of the God Squad together for over five years, with John volunteering for over 15 years.

“It’s very important because Jesus is the reason for the season,” said John Chesna, a parishioner of St. Catherine of Alexandria in Oak Lawn. “We are fighting to keep the Nativity in a public square because it’s our tradition. We have the freedom of religion in our country so this is our freedom to put this up.”

Joe Chesna appreciates the tradition of helping to set up the scene each year.

“This is family. This is Chicago,” he said. “This is tradition.”

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