MENASHA — “Just put Jesus back.”
That’s pretty much all members of St. Patrick Parish want for Advent.
Sometime between Sunday night, Nov. 26 and Monday morning, Nov. 27, someone stole the Baby Jesus figurine from the outside, hand-carved Nativity scene that had been placed on the west side of the church. In addition, they moved the donkey statue and placed it in the manger.
“We’re just hoping it comes back,” said Joyce Naps, the stewardship coordinator at St. Patrick. “Just bring it back.”
As of Dec. 5, the statue had not been returned.
The Nativity scene has been a fixture of the Menasha church since 2002. Before that, it had been displayed on the grounds of what was then Laemmrich’s Funeral Home (now Wichmann Laemmrich Funeral Home). The set of nearly life-sized figures — the missing Baby Jesus is two to three feet-long — had been donated by parish member Dick Laemmrich, Clem, whose father had carved them in the mid-1930s.
In 2003, Laemmrich told The Compass that Clem had made the figures in his workshop, sawing the animals and painting them each. Clem also built the crib, the church and houses in the scene. Other figures, like carolers, were added over the years. As the display grew, it was moved from the funeral home’s lawn to its parking lot and piped in music added. When Dick Laemmrich prepared to retire, he turned the scene over to the care of the church. The parish has been in the process of refurbishing the vintage pieces. (Leammrich died in 2005.)
Naps said the parish considers the scene to be part of the Menasha community and something they hold as stewards.
“I don’t think anywhere in Wisconsin can compete with it,” she said. “It belongs to the whole community.”
She added that the figure — which is truly irreplaceable, since it is one of a kind — would be hard to duplicate.
“You don’t go to Walmart and buy a three-foot baby Jesus,” she said.
The statue had been taken from the parish grounds once before that Naps remembers, but it was returned the next day.
This was the first year the display had been set up on the west side of the church, where new green space has replaced the old school building. It was a more visible site, near a busy intersection. The scene was on a high scaffold, but there wasn’t any security camera in place.
“We’ll probably have to do that in the future,” Naps said. “Somebody suggested fencing it in. But we want little kids to be able to touch it. We tell people to come and take family pictures — that’s hard to do with a big fence in front of it.”
On Dec. 5, Naps told The Compass that the Kaukauna Street Department had donated a replacement Baby Jesus.
John Wallschlaeger, community liaison specialist with the Menasha Police Department, told The Compass that he is confident the missing statue would show up soon. “Loose lips sink ships — it’s going to turn up,” he said.
Wallschlaeger encouraged anyone with information on the theft to contact Officer Adam Schulz, (920) 967-3500 or email him at [email protected].