FOND DU LAC — “Grandpa Joe, I saw the crib today with the baby Jesus in it when we walked to church,” Teddy Schumacher often told his grandfather, Joe Schumacher, over the years.
Teddy Schumacher, now a seventh grade student at St. Mary Springs Academy middle school in downtown Fond du Lac, could be the fourth generation of the Schumacher family to construct the Nativity scene each Christmas, although at a location other than where the original construction occurred.
“Teddy is sort of a religious guy and knows the importance of the birth of Jesus,” said Joe Schumacher.
Schumacher, along with his father Paul Schumacher, built the sturdy stable 50 years ago in its current location between the school and adjacent St. Mary Church.
The Schumachers, builders by trade, have maintained the Nativity scene since former St. Mary pastor, Fr. Henry Maurer, asked Paul in the late ‘60s if he would make the crib.
“Christmas is all about Christ being born and the church didn’t have an outdoor Nativity scene,” said Joe Schumacher. “So I helped my dad build the crib in his workshop. It is so good for the children to see the Nativity scene as they go from school to church for morning Mass. And it’s located at a sharp one-way curve in the bypass of downtown Fond du Lac, giving drivers a full view of the crèche.”
Paul Schumacher, who died five years ago, brought his family to Fond du Lac in 1960 from nearby St. Cloud, located in the midst of an area known as the Holy Land. Joe Schumacher, 71, took over the annual construction of the Nativity scene following his father’s death and gained help from Teddy’s father, 43-year-old Brent Schumacher.
“My dad worked on the crèche right up until he died at the age of 90. He was very involved in his Catholic faith,” said Joe Schumacher.
Being builders, the Schumacher clan constructed the six-by-six foot tall crèche, sturdy enough to last generations.
The crèche is constructed of two-by-fours with cedar wood siding and a roof covered with rubber.
“The roof itself weighs about 300 pounds. It takes four good, strong guys to lift it and place it on the walls,” Joe Schumacher said of the crèche, which is constructed in five sections.
The crèche resembles a sturgeon spearing shack not unfamiliar to the Schumachers, well known for their sturgeon spearing ability during the annual sturgeon hunt on Lake Winnebago.
“What makes it different to the viewer is the large glass window which allows passersby to see the 60-plus year old cement figurines inside the structure. The crib and figurines consist of two sheep, statues of Jesus, Mary and Joseph and a shepherd holding a lamb,” Joe Schumacher said. “For years my dad and I and Brent would get the crib out of storage. Then Erv Sabel, a good friend and longtime faithful parishioner of St. Mary, would place the figures inside. One year we put the crib up and a week later the figures weren’t in there. Erv was sick and could no longer help so we started putting the figurines in every year to continue with the Christmas tradition.”
Schumacher said parishioners are often seen with their families viewing the crèche after Mass during the Christmas season.
“A lot of people take photos of their children and the crèche. The scene sends a message that Christ is still around and in our lives. People should take notice that he is still here, but that seems to be fading these days,” Schumacher said.
Fr. John Mitchell, associate pastor at Holy Family Catholic Church, said he appreciates the Schumacher family’s longtime involvement with the crèche.
“The crèche is a great witness to the core of what Christmas is all about, which is Christ coming to be with us. Emmanuel,” he said. “This is a great spot for it and a great gift for the school kids who see it every day and are touched by it, to have the feeling of Christ when they walk into the church every day. As well, it is in a great spot in the city so it is a real witness to Christ within Fond du Lac.”
Fr. Mitchell said the crèche is a statement of faith being handed off from one generation to the next.
“It is a beautiful example of how we share our faith with our families,” he said.
Fr. Mitchell said, as a child, the annual presentation of the Nativity played a part in developing his faith and the faith of his brother, Fr. Peter Mitchell, pastor of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Greenville in the Green Bay Diocese.
“As kids we would move the Wise Men, which were placed upstairs in our parent’s bedroom on a shelf, through the house each day of Advent until they arrived downstairs by our Nativity scene on the Epiphany. That was fun,” Fr. Mitchell said.
The Schumacher family’s commitment to erect the crèche remains, but the future location of the crèche, which is in need of repair, is in question as the church is already closed to general Masses and the school will be closed in 2016 as part of Catholic school consolidation in Fond du Lac.
“I don’t know what will happen next year when the school closes but maybe they could move the crèche to our new church, Holy Family Catholic Community Church, on the west side of Fond du Lac. There is currently no Nativity scene there,” Schumacher said.