By Sister Elizabeth McDaniel, as told to Mercy Associate Kathy Schongar*

* In 2013, two years before her death, Sister Elizabeth McDaniel shared this hopeful story with Associate Kathy Schongar. We share the story now to lift our readers’ spirits during these dark days of COVID-19 and to remind us all that Christ is always redeeming our broken world.

As young sisters on our first mission in the late 1940s, Sisters Mary Luke, Catherine Ryan and I were excited about the upcoming celebration of Christmas at St. Patrick Church’s in Ravena, a village of Albany County, New York. For days, we worked after school to prepare. We polished the brass candle holders, washed the linens and then carefully brought out the stable and gently placed it on wooden horses. Trees were lovingly placed, hay and animals readied. Angels, greenery and poinsettias were all in their proper place in anticipation of the holy day. It was lovely!

On Christmas Eve, all that was left to do was place the infant in the scene. We sent one of the young boys to fetch the statue from the basement. Not realizing the baby was not attached to the manger, the child hurried in, calling out, “Here you go, Sister!” As the words left his mouth, we watched the Baby Jesus fall and smash into what seemed like a million pieces before our eyes! Christmas would be ruined without a “Bambino,” as the Italian community of St. Patrick’s lovingly referred to the statue of the Christ Child.

Just then, the pastor came by and remarked on the beauty of the church that Christmas Eve.

But then he asked, “Where is the Bambino?” We explained what had happened and he chided us for not smashing the donkey statue instead. He lamented, “We might as well take all the decorations down because we can’t have Christmas without the Bambino.” We were heartbroken, but we vowed to save Christmas!

We called O’Connor’s Religious Goods in nearby Troy. No luck. It was, after all, Christmas Eve. And so, our Christmas Eve saga began, on the coldest and snowiest Christmas Eve of our lives. With the enthusiasm of youth and the faith of our founder Catherine McAuley, we began our quest. The words of our pastor were ringing in our ears.

After we secured permission and bus fare, Sister Luke and I set out for Albany. It was freezing cold and snowing as we approached the first religious goods store. “Sorry, sisters,” said the gentleman. He was fresh out of Baby Jesus statues, but could order us one from New York City. We walked on in the snow and cold, in full habit and only winter shawls to warm us. We found another shop owner who did his best to help us. He had a small Hispanic Baby Jesus to offer us. It was lovely, but much too small to meet our needs. We thanked him for his kindness and walked back out into the cold to continue our journey. Sister Luke called her brother Tom, who insisted we stop in for food and to get warm.

After eating, we made our way down a snowy, steep hill with barely enough bus fare to get home. We were dejected at our failure to secure an infant for our empty manger. It was dark, windy, cold and still snowing. We caught the last bus from Albany back to Ravena. Christmas was ruined. Or so we thought.

Then Sister Luke remembered that there were several Baby Jesus statues on display at the Motherhouse convent. Dare we ask? We called, and Mother Adrian assured us that we could borrow one. Sister Luke’s brother Tom drove us there and back to Ravena. We, and the borrowed Baby Jesus, made it to St. Patrick’s in time for Midnight Mass.

Tired, happy and relieved, we celebrated a most meaningful Christmas Eve service. The travels of Mary, Joseph and the Infant carried a new depth of meaning for us after our journey that day. Like them, we had been blessed by the kindness of others.

To our surprise, more blessings soon followed. 

A few days after Christmas, a package came to our convent. Enclosed was a note that read, “To the two little Sisters who were searching for the Baby Jesus on Christmas Eve. I am sure they have found him.”