For the Rev. Jerry Dvorak, there's no such thing as too many creches. So far, he's collected at least 250 nativity scenes from around the world.

The priest has displayed his growing collection for nearly 33 years at the various Catholic churches where he's served as pastor.

This Christmas, his first at St. Peter's Church in Richfield, the creches will be set up in the lower level of the church, starting Saturday and going through Jan. 28. They'll be open for viewing before and after most masses.

Dvorak, 58, began to collect creches when he was about 8 years old and started earning money from his route as a paper boy in northeast Minneapolis.

"It's just kind of a fun thing to do. It's a devotion, but also a hobby, too," he said. "I think I was very impressed with the idea that for the Christian, God became man and a little baby. [The creche] kind of shows ... the tenderness of God."

The creches are from Africa, Latin America, Mexico, Europe and Asia. Dvorak has been to many of the countries where he's collected creches, but he's also received some of them as gifts from friends, family and parishioners.

A military chaplain brought him a creche from Korea. One woman Dvorak counseled for marriage gave him a creche from Colombia.

"If I wasn't going to be a priest ... I wanted to work with animals and be a veterinarian," said Dvorak, whose interest in the nativity scene extends to the animals as well. "I was fascinated how some of the artisans could recapture some of the sheep, the donkey and so forth."

One of his favorites is a wood-carved Polish creche, because his family is Polish, and another creche with which he grew up.

"From a priest's point of view, it's to keep Christ in Christmas," Dvorak said of his collection. "The mystery of Christ's spirit touches so many people of different cultures. It kind of speaks to the universality of Christmas."

Rose French • 612-673-4352