Many Connections. One U.

Alumni Profile

on January 17, 2012 by Janet Edwards

Class of  ’59 alum collects nativity sets that reflect her religion, time abroad

Ica del Real Aquino, ’59 combines her deep Catholic faith and love of international travel in a unique collection. She owns more than 90 nativity scenes, many gathered from locations around the world.

Aquino, a Maryland resident, has a host of different nativity scenes. The first she bought near Murcia, Spain, where artists crafted the Holy Family out of ceramic then draped them in garments of hardened cloth.  Another from her travels to Japan shows simple, white figurines. “It takes almost a week to set them up,” Aquino explains. She arranges backdrops in her Bethesda condominium to set off the nativities. Then, after Christmas, she needs a few days to take the displays down and store them.

“It’s not about the price of the nativity scenes, but the memories,” she says of her collection. Friends have given or made her nativities, and they reflect the international life she has lived.

Born in Cuba, del Real came to the United States with family members in 1960, as they fled during the Cuban Revolution and Fidel Castro’s rise to power. Aquino recalls that her mother firmly believed in the quality of education and values of the Religious of the Sacred Heart. Aquino remains close to her roommates and other friends she made at Maryville, and she recalls her time at Maryville as among the best years of her life. She and her former roommates try to get together every two years.  “The Maryville we had was very unique, very warm,” she says.

Aquino, now 73, also lived abroad for more than 20 years after her husband passed away in 1991. She worked as an information specialist in the press office of the Embassy of the United States in Madrid, Spain. She had many opportunities to travel, where she would select nativities for her collection and visit with the Religious of the Sacred Heart around the world. She recalled that an American nun in Japan greeted she and her husband and invited them to be guests at an elaborate tea ceremony.  

She retired from her work at the embassy in 2008 and returned to the United States to be closer to family.  Now, she spends time with many family members in Maryland. She lives near two of her brothers, nieces and nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews. Each Christmas, they take part in the family tradition of viewing Aquino’s nativities. “My family enjoys them very much. They look forward to it,” she says. To see photos and recent coverage of Aquino’s nativity sets from Gazette.net, Maryland Community News Online, click here.

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