By Bill Hudson

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A thick file of old newspaper clippings trace the 75-year history of a popular St. Cloud nativity.

Its life-like cast and elegantly-painted figurines were purchased back in 1944. Stearns History Museum archivist Steve Penick says much of the cost was paid by local schoolchildren who cashed in their pennies.

“It was a community wide-effort [during World War II] to have that done, and then it’s been on display in St. Cloud since that time, really,” Penick said.

In all but two years since, the Stearns History Museum placed it on display. When challenges arose over the legality of nativity scenes on public property, it was moved in 1988 to the front plaza of the U.S. Bank building in downtown St. Cloud for all to enjoy.

So imagine the disappointment early last December in 2018, when the crèche’s main figurine went missing. Someone stole baby Jesus from the popular manger scene.

(credit: CBS)

Despite a police investigation, there were no suspects and no baby Jesus. That was until about noon on Thursday, when a bank employee noticed a person at the manger.

“A gentleman or somebody came up and the figure was put back and they quickly left,” Penick said.

No one knows exactly who the person was, and quite frankly, the museum doesn’t care.

“I guess somebody had a change of heart around Christmas time, somebody felt really bad or guilty or something,” St. Cloud resident Steve White said.

What matters to staff is that baby Jesus is largely intact, with the exception of minor damage to his right arm and some missing toes.

“It’s kind of a fitting chapter at the end that it all came around,” Penick said. “It is good news.”

The nativity is whole once again to depict a scene so central to the season — and so treasured by this community.

Bill Hudson