Church appeals for return of St. Francis statue

  • The St. Francis of Assisi statue that has long stood outside St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Northampton went missing late last week.  COURTESY VALERIE SCHUMACHER

  • Father Francis Reilly is hoping for the safe return of a St. Francis of Assisi statue that went missing late last week.  — Stephanie McFeeters

Friday, March 25, 2016

NORTHAMPTON — Church members are searching for a St. Francis of Assisi statue that went missing late last week.

For years, the stone figurine, approximately 3 feet tall, rested on a pedestal outside the now-empty St. Mary of the Assumption Church on Elm Street, a reassuring sight to many who cut through the property en route to Smith College.

Now, there’s just a “disappointing emptiness,” said the Rev. Francis Reilly, pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish.

Reilly, whose rectory office sits in the building next to St. Mary’s, said the statue was first noticed missing the morning of March 18, meaning it might have been a St. Patrick’s Day prank.

“We won’t blame it on St. Patrick,” he said, chuckling.

Or, Reilly speculated, perhaps someone was drawn to the figure spiritually, and forgot that one of the Ten Commandments clearly states “thou shalt not steal.”

St. Francis, a medieval nobleman known for relinquishing all his earthly belongings, represents “simplicity of life in this complicated time,” Reilly said.

The monk, considered a strong advocate for animals and the natural world, was named the Patron Saint of Ecology by Pope John Paul II in 1979. And it’s from him that Pope Francis takes his name.

Mary McMahon, who works as the parish’s pastoral minister, said she parked in the lot behind St. Mary’s on Friday and immediately noticed the statue’s absence. “Francis, where are you?” she recalled thinking.

Someone else had noticed it missing earlier that morning, she said. After making several calls, McMahon realized that it had not been removed for cleaning but seemed to have disappeared without a trace.

Valerie Schumacher, 55, of Florence is particularly upset about the theft. She launched a Facebook page, “Help Find the Stolen St. Francis Statue,” dedicated to the cause.

“I was in tears after I knocked on the rectory door to ask where Francis had gone and they told me, ‘we don’t know,” she wrote in an email.

The statue holds special significance to her because it provided comfort several years ago when she lost her pet cat.

“One day I left a note in his empty basket asking for help finding my cat Big who had escaped my house one night in August, never to be seen again,” she wrote in an email. “I went downtown to an appointment and came back through an hour later. It was raining and the sun was shining at the same time and St. Francis was surrounded by that rainbow of light. I took it to mean that my cat was at the Rainbow Bridge, an expression a lot of animal people use.”

Schumacher never found her cat, and suspects a coyote spotted on her motion detector night vision camera may have snapped it up.

As Easter approaches, parishioners are hoping for the statue’s safe return.

Stephanie McFeeters can be reached at smcfeeters@gazettenet.com.