The life-size statue, called Whatsoever You Do, had been sitting outside the Church of Saint Stephen-in-the-Fields in downtown Toronto since September.
Schmaltz, whose work has recently been praised by Pope Francis, initially expressed shock when the statue was stolen last week by an unidentified thief. Now that's it has been returned, along with an apology note, Schmaltz said he feels "optimistic."
"The fact that it's back and this man actually had the courage to bring it back and actually even write down 'I'm sorry' on it really makes me feel optimistic about Toronto and people's nature in general," Schmaltz told CBC's The Morning Edition host Craig Norris on Monday. "Everyone basically does mistakes and this guy had the courage to fix it as much as he could."
Statue depicts Jesus as homeless
At first, Schmaltz thought the life-sized statue, which depicts Jesus as homeless, was stolen because someone was trying to stifle the message of the statue.
"It's a very powerful message," Schmaltz said. "Basically what it's doing is it's showing a connection with the most marginalized in the community.
"I've had quite a few complaints with some of my pieces that that's not a way to represent Jesus; they're used to the more traditional representations of him."
Once the theft was reported, "the community really became upset by it," Schmaltz said.
He theorizes that once the thief learned of the outrage in the neighbourhood, the statue was returned. "I just think he really had a turn of heart," he said.
"I was quite uplifted and the fact that they brought it back really made me happy. The guy had a lot of courage to actually rip off the sculpture in the middle of daylight, but I think he had more courage to come back to the location and drop it right down at the same church, so it's a good story.
"It's interesting because I always thought Toronto was an amazing city with lots of polite people, and I guess even the thieves are polite," Schmaltz said.