---- — DETROIT (AP) — Before there was Santa Claus, there was St. Nicholas.
And a Livonia Byzantine Catholic priest, who played Santa in the J.L. Hudson's Thanksgiving Day parades in downtown Detroit, recently welcomed the jolly and the bearded from around the country for training.
The Rev. Joseph Marquis, 63, pastor of Sacred Heart Byzantine Catholic Church in Livonia, runs the St. Nicholas Institute, designed to feature the spiritual background of Santa Claus. At the St. Nicholas Institute's opening banquet, Marquis honored Detroit Red Wing legend Ted Lindsay, along with Wally and Irene Bronner of Bronner's Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, and others for "embodying the Christmas spirit 365 days a year," he said.
Marquis was named to the Santa Claus Hall of Fame in Santa Claus, Ind., in 2011.
Marquis said he welcomed 17 Santas from states such as Oklahoma and Florida, as well as two Mrs. Clauses, to a Detroit retreat center for the four-day seminar. The cost of the seminar was $550, or $489 if purchased early.
"Everybody wants cookies and milk," Marquis quipped. "They're easy to please."
Marquis said that his course stresses the origin and history of St. Nicholas, and he provides tips from his four decades of portraying Santa. He said he considers the evolution of the Santa Claus character to be "an extreme makeover" of St. Nicholas, a 3rd-Century bishop from Asia Minor who was known for his charity to children.
Known to legions of Santa enactors as Bernie, Marquis portrayed the Thanksgiving Day parade Santa from the late 1970s through 1984, and he said he is gearing up for another holiday season already.
Michigan also is home to the renowned Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School (http://www.santaclausschool.com ). The Midland school draws about 100 veteran and novice Santas every year.