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Freezing newborn baby abandoned on steps of Minnesota cathedral

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'I literally froze for what was like 10 seconds.'

Nathan Leonhardt was locking up St. Paul's Cathedral one cold winter night when he noticed an out-of-place plastic green laundry basket at the top of the stairs. What he found inside caused his heart to skip a beat.

Cathedral custodian Nathan Robert Leonhardt discovered a newborn on the steps of St. Paul (Shari L. Gross).

Cathedral custodian Nathan Robert Leonhardt discovered a newborn on the steps of St. Paul (Shari L. Gross).


Catholic Online (
1/10/2017 (5 years ago)

Published in Marriage & Family

Keywords: Baby, abandoned, Minnesota, cathedral

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Leonhardt had already locked the exterior doors that fated Wednesday night at around 6 p.m. It was 2 degrees outside with a 13-below windchill, according to the National Weather Service Office in Chanhassen.

The Star Tribune reported Leonhardt pushed open an inside door of the cathedral, leading to a small stairwell and exterior doors when it smacked against the basket.

Curious, he took a peek and saw a green Ninja Turtles fleece blanket, white socks and a dark-colored women's zip-up hoodie.

Leonhardt admitted he "Didn't really think anything of it" and prepared to re-enter the church, assuming the owner of the basket might be inside waiting to reclaim it.

Instead, he felt around inside the edges of the basket. There was nothing suspicious so he prepared to leave, thinking he would lock the other doors before handling what he thought was forgotten laundry.

Turning, Leonhardt began to walk away until he heard a small cry.

Unsure if it was a puppy or child, he thought it had to be an abandoned pup. He peeled back the blanket and discovered a naked newborn, still slick with blood and afterbirth. A binder clip was used to clamp the umbilical cord.

There was no note or sign of anyone around.

The boy's fingers and toes were starting to turn purple in the freezing weather.

"I was in shock," Leonhardt recalled during a news conference the following day. "It's a scenario that's never going to leave my head for the rest of my life."

Leonhardt, the father of a 4-year-old daughter, gathered the tiny boy and used the blanket to clean him off, feeling like he was back in the delivery room when his daughter was born.

"I felt like it was mine," Leonhardt explained, "like he was my own child."

Leonhardt took the boy straight to the cathedral's rector, Rev. John Ubel, who baptized the boy immediately, naming him Nathan John, after Leonhardt and himself.

At the news conference Thursday, Ubel explained: "As you might imagine, a lot of things happen at the cathedral. It's never a dull day, but we both agree this was the most amazing day since both of us have been here at the cathedral. It was just a pretty profound moment for both of us."

The Cathedral of St Paul in St Paul, Minnesota.

The Cathedral of St Paul in St Paul, Minnesota (CNS).

After his baptism, the St. Paul police were called.

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Sgt. Charlie Anderson, a father of three, took one look at the newborn and said: "I could tell right away that the medics needed to step it up. The baby had lost a little bit of coloring, and we didn't know - with loss of body heat and a child that age, things can be irreversible very quickly."

Rev. Ubel recalled the baby being unusually quiet, with an exception of a small cry he released when a cold wind swept in while Leonhardt brought the boy to the sacristy.

When the tiny boy cried out, Rev. Ubel told him, "Don't worry, it's OK. Welcome to Minnesota. Get used to it. This is life here in winter."

Reverend Ubel admitted the entire experience left him rattled: "Suffice it to say, in more than 27 years as a priest, I've never witnessed anything like this. Honestly, I was very nervous."

Sgt. Anderson took one look at the boy and believed he was delivered "within an hour or so." The child was immediately sent to Children's Hospital, where he was warmed up, fed and placed in an incubator.

Officers pooled money to purchase a monkey hat, booties, a bouncy chair, blanket, onesies, a Sophie the Giraffe toy and a swaddling blanket, which were delivered to the child after he was admitted to the hospital.

Sgt. Anderson stated: "We got to cuddle around the incubator where the baby was. He was snug as a bug. We had some group hugs with the nurses, and everybody had some wet eyes.

"We want to let the mother know that her son was surrounded by people who instantly fell in love with him, and that we wish the best for her and the baby.

While the church does not fall under the Newborn Safety Act as a designated spot to leave a newborn, there will be no attempt to find the child's mother or pursue legal action.

Rev. Ubel told ABC 5: "Somebody chose life. And that's the most important thing...."I am profoundly grateful that this beautiful baby is healthy and safe and that whomever dropped him off at the Cathedral felt that this was a safe place where he would receive the care he needs and deserves as a child of God."

Sgt. Mike Ernster, a police spokesman, reported the child was likely born prematurely as he weighed only 5 pounds. He added authorities were concerned for the mother, who may be suffering post-birth complications.

Authorities hope she will call 911 or go to a hospital for help. DHS Commissioner Emily Piper spoke at Thursday's news conference to remind mothers there is "no blame, no shame" in taking advantage of the safe place law.

Any mothers surrendering their children would not be asked questions and the law will not criminalize them.

"I just cannot imagine the pain that mother feels and the difficulty in the decision," Piper stated. "I hope she has peace with the decision she made."

In closing, Piper urged families to consider the other children in Minnesota waiting to be accepted and loved.

"We have almost 500 other children out there waiting for a loving family to ask for them," Piper announced, hoping those touched by Nathan John's story will pursue adoptions in their state.

Meanwhile, further details of the abandoned baby boy will be withheld under child privacy laws.


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