By Rich Pollack
It was a whodunit with biblical overtones — and a mysterious happy ending.
In broad daylight on New Year’s Day, a brazen thief sprinted across State Road A1A and absconded with the baby Jesus statuette from the Nativity at St. Lucy Catholic Church.
The thief, described by witnesses as a woman in her 20s, ran with baby Jesus in her arms back to a waiting car that sped away.
For six days the culprits were on the lam while some of the wisest men in the Highland Beach Police Department searched for the missing statuette.
Then, almost a week after the heist, the congregation’s prayers were answered when staff at St. Lucy learned the missing Jesus had been found in the parking lot of a Catholic church in Parkland. Nearby was a note that said: “Please return to St. Andrew’s Church in Delray Beach. God bless.”
Although there is no such place in Delray Beach, members of the church in Broward County did some detective work of their own and contacted St. Lucy’s.
“Thank God it came back,” said Jeanette Schmitz, St. Lucy’s director of family life and Catholic outreach.
The significance of the name of the Parkland church — Mary Help of Christians Catholic Church — wasn’t lost on Schmitz or others in the St. Lucy congregation.
“Jesus was returned back to Mary,” she said. “When you look at it that way, it’s the perfect ending to the story.”
Although police had some pretty strong leads, the Rev. D. Brian Horgan, St. Lucy’s pastor, told investigators his congregation had no interest in pursuing the investigation.
“We got back what we had asked for,” Schmitz said. “In the spirit of the season, it wouldn’t have been the right thing to do.”
This season marked the first time that St. Lucy’s had a Nativity in the front of the church, just steps away from State Road A1A. But it ran out of time and didn’t secure the Jesus with rebar on Christmas Eve.
The parishioners were excited about the Nativity, Schmitz said, and raised close to $20,000 in just two weeks to pay for the life-size statues. Were baby Jesus not found, Schmitz said, the church would have needed to purchase a whole new Nativity, because the statues are sold only as a package.
While the new baby Jesus was gone, the church tried to put a substitute statue — one it had kept from years ago — in the creche, but found it wasn’t the right fit and removed it.
“It just looked so hokey,” Schmitz said.
Schmitz said the congregation prayed for the return of the statue as did many Highland Beach residents.
“It just meant so much to the community to have it back,” she said.
The church is planning to put the Nativity back close to the road next holiday season, and baby Jesus — tightly tethered — will be there come Christmas Eve.
“Next year, he’ll be rebar’d in,” Schmitz said.