French Settlement, La. -- Father Jason Palermo likes preserving old things. That's why he pushed to restore the old St. Joseph Catholic Church building in the town of French Settlement.
"I'm a restorer," says Palermo. "I enjoy taking things and making them new again."
And he likes small towns, especially around Christmas -- the smaller, the better. It all started when he was a child, with a gift from his great aunt, Sedonia Louvierre.
"The schoolhouse was the first piece she made for the village," says Palermo.
In all, Aunt Sedonia made 13 miniature buildings out of needlepoint. But over the last two decades the village has gotten bigger and bigger, and it's still growing. There is a story behind many of the pieces.
"My dad was in the American Legion so we have an American Legion hall represented," says Palermo, pointing out details among the miniatures. "Pizza is my favorite food, my first car was a Chevrolet."
Father Jason is a bit picky about the types of pieces that go into this display. They all have to be to scale, and they have to fit into certain themes.
The centerpiece is the city of New York, with the Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square and Grand Central Station. Away from the city are smaller towns that carry out the Christmas theme. And there is a large Coney Island amusement park.
"Some people call it Pontchartrain Beach, if they're from New Orleans," says Father Palermo.
And in another room, it's Disney World, complete with monorail and hotels, the Magic Kingdom, Epcot the Animal Kingdom, and fireworks behind Cinderella's castle.
"This is a hobby that is done year round. We start putting the platform in mid-September."
Now, this Christmas collection has more than 350 major pieces.
"You hide the wires with things in front of it such as trees," Palermo tells us.
These 500 trees and seven train sets all combine in a dazzling collection of Americana.
"I think a lot of times we don't think of what America was like back in the day when people actually sat round a table and ate a meal together, prayed together around the table, shared times just talking and being a family," says Palermo.
This magical village draws you in. Every home, every shop and street corner almost seem alive, the longer you stare.
"Kids love it," says Father Palermo. "It's a time when their grandparents and their kids can share a memory together with their grandkids."
It's the same way that restoring this 122-year-old church has touched the memories of many of the lifelong residents of this real Louisiana village.
The Christmas village is set up in the rectory of St. Joseph Catholic Church in French Settlement. You can stop by the church office on weekdays during normal business hours from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. for a tour.
For more information, go online to http://www.stjosephststephen.com/index.html.