(WVUE) - Sometimes a hobby that you start as a child can stick with you for a lifetime. That's what has happened to a Catholic priest in the town of French Settlement.
Father Jason Palermo likes preserving old things. That's why he pushed to restore the old St. Joseph Catholic Church building.
"I'm a restorer. I enjoy taking things and making them new again," he said.
And he likes small towns - especially around Christmas. 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," Palermo said.
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," Palermo said. "Pizza is my favorite food, my first car was a Chevrolet."
Father Jjason is a bit picky about the types of pieces that go into the 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," Palermo said.
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 in mid-September," Palsermo said.
Now the Christmas collection has more than 350 major pieces.
"You hide the wires with things in front of it such as trees," Palermo said.
500 trees and seven train sets that 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 around a table and ate a meal together, prayed together around the table, shared times just talking and being a family," Palermo said.
The magical village draws you in. Every home, every shop and street corner almost seems alive the longer you stare.
"Kids love it," Palermo said. "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 Cchristmas 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 for a tour.