St. Mike’s Chapel ignites a passion project

January 4, 2024
Cat Cutillo
Social Media and Community Content Specialist

The Chapel of Saint Michael the Archangel – a main fixture on Saint Michael’s campus – is now a central character in an award-winning holiday display called “Christmas in Vermont.”  

The display has lit up McIndoe Falls, Vermont, for the past couple of years after being seen in states around the country. The Chapel stands 11-feet tall and 4-feet wide and includes a working bell tower on top that was modeled after the cupola that was previously on top of Founder’s Hall and now stands in the center of Saint Michael’s campus. 


Creator Richard Carilo began constructing the display 25 years ago. Carilo said it started with candy-canes and a couple of life-size nutcrackers “and just kind of grew from there” as he moved for work around the country, moving the display with his family. Carilo has been in the home building business for 35 years and his family has lived in Colorado, Hawaii, Texas, California, and Mexico, for his work. The Carilo family jumped at the opportunity to move to Vermont a couple of years ago after he was offered a position at O’Brien Brothers in South Burlington.  

Carilo’s daughter, Sarah, graduated from Saint Michael’s College in 2016 while her family was still living in Palm Desert, California. They visited Sarah a few times while she was attending Saint Michael’s and double majoring in Religious Studies and Elementry Education. 

“She always wanted to go to school back east,” Carilo said of his daughter. Referencing Saint Michael’s, he added, “The size was just right. It was just personal enough for her and her style. We loved the age of the school and the history of the school.” 

Sarah had known she wanted to be a teacher since she was in middle school and Carilo said she found a perfect match as an Education major at Saint Michael’s. She knew immediately that she wanted to stay in Vermont after graduation.  

“She loved this part of the country,” Carilo said. “She had offers from multiple schools but the scholarship she got from St. Mike’s was far and above the best opportunity she had.”  

During a break home from college when Sarah was visiting her family in California, she told them she “was looking forward to one day spending Christmas in Vermont.” Those words were all the motivation Carilo needed. In his California garage, he got to work.  

Carilo hand-crafted a Vermont country store, a Vermont schoolhouse to represent Sarah’s dream of becoming a teacher and the iconic Chapel at Saint Michael’s, where Sarah was attending college. Family and friends chipped in to sponsor the purchase of the bells – one of the biggest costs of the display. Carilo’s sister-in-law sponsored the Chapel bell, and there is a plaque on the front of the building to recognize her. He finished the Vermont additions in 2016 and officially gave his longtime passion project its name. 

“I made that in California and surprised Sarah when she came home for Christmas [that year],” Carilo said. “We set up the display in the back yard and I was able to bring her out and show her Christmas in Vermont. I think she was kind of stunned but she really loved it.” 


The display also includes a camper, human-size nutcrackers, Santa’s sleigh, trees, and much more. The Saint Michael’s Chapel is the tallest piece in the display and has spread Christmas cheer in three states. While it originated in California, it also spent six years in Texas before making it home to the Green Mountain State two years ago. 

Since 2016, Carilo has won awards for the display on, and he invites people to come by the house and take photos in person. To install it each year, the display requires help from the entire family and takes a couple of weeks to build. It’s typically up from Thanksgiving through a week after New Year’s. 

“We’ve lived in some beautiful places…but I will tell you that, by far, Vermont has been our favorite,” Carilo said. Now all three of his adult kids—Sarah, RJ, and Emily— all live in Vermont.  

Sarah is now a first-grade teacher in Colchester. Carilo said he thinks of Saint Michael’s with gratitude for giving Sarah the opportunity to achieve her college dreams during a time in his career when he’d been laid off from work. 

“It was a tough time, but she said, ‘I’m going to make it happen’ and she did,” Carilo said. “She worked hard and got the academic scholarship and did everything she needed to do to make her dream come true. St. Mike’s was a huge part of that. That scholarship was everything. It made it possible for her to do what she’d been dreaming of doing. As her parents that was huge.”  

“We’ll always be grateful to St. Mike’s that they gave her that opportunity and were so generous with the scholarship to make it happen.” 

Click here to read the story in the Caledonian Record

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