St. Joseph School continues Nativity tradition

NEEDHAM -- Like many Catholic schools and parishes, St. Joseph School has a tradition of putting on a Nativity pageant each December -- and found themselves needing to adapt it to different circumstances during the coronavirus pandemic.

Usually, the sixth- and seventh-grade students would serve as a chorus while the eighth-grade students acted out the story in front of the school community, with all the younger grades, faculty, and staff present. Every eighth grader had a role, and the cast would even include a baby portraying the infant Jesus.

Last year, they had to forego a live performance, and instead, the cast alone was filmed acting out the story. In contrast, this year seemed like a step up, as the eighth-grade students put on their presentation inside St. Joseph Church on Dec. 17. This time, they had an audience of their family members and a handful of school and parish staff, including the pastor, Father Bryan Parrish.

"We're getting back, slowly, to normal," Bridgid Coyle said afterwards. She teaches social studies at St. Joseph School and has helped organize the Nativity production for the past 10 years.

Since it was the students' last day of school before Christmas vacation, Coyle said, doing the presentation that day sent them off with the story in the forefront of their minds.

"It's good for us, too. It's so crazy in a school at this time of year, so it kind of recenters us on what's really important," she said.

Students took turns narrating while the actors pantomimed the story. Instead of having the chorus of sixth- and seventh-grade students, four soloists sang between the different scenes. They also portrayed the Israelites in a prologue about the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah. Other students played Mary, Joseph, an innkeeper, angels, shepherds, and wise men; a doll was used for the Christ child.

"It was a really fun experience to be a part of. I had a fun time putting it on with my school," Julia Burns, who played an angel, said after the show.

Math teacher Mary Corcoran, who also helped organize the production, said she was "so proud of them, because even though it was a small group, they made it seem like a much bigger group."

She said the last song, "Joy to the World," "brought tears to my eyes."

The presentation was recorded so that teachers will be able to share a link to the video with their classes.

St. Joseph School Principal Lauren Solomon said even though the church seemed "somewhat empty" without the rest of the school community, it still had "the sentiment of togetherness," at least for the students' family members who were able to attend.

"Kids really look forward to participating in the Nativity at the end of December, preparing for the birth of Jesus, and so to at least have this and let the students have the experience is what it's about. So we're grateful for that," Solomon said.