A holy day for the animals

The sounds of morning traffic that usually surround Holy Redeemer Catholic School yielded to the sounds of barking, meowing and yes, quacking on Thursday morning. The annual Blessing of the Animals was in full swing on the school’s campus as students brought in their favorite pets to be blessed as part of the traditional ceremony.

“It is a great delight for the kids and families,” said Monsignor Jack Foley, better known as Father Jack. “Some [kids] brought pictures of their pets because their parents couldn’t get off work [to bring the pet in].”

World Animal Day is Oct. 4 and is set aside to honor the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals. Stories abound of St. Francis’ love of animals. Many statues of him portray this, one depicting him lovingly holding a small bird. The story is that one day while traveling with his companions he came upon a tree full of birds. As he stood under the tree and began to preach, the birds surrounded him without flying away.

St. Francis’ compassion for animals is a trait that many can understand and rally around. “The fact is that we have to take care of the animals,” Foley said. “They are our companions and [we depend on animals].”

The blessing ceremony began years ago at Holy Redeemer. One of the first to be blessed was Foley’s dog, Scud.

“He lived to be 13 ½ years old,” Foley said.

Over the years the types of animals coming to be blessed have changed. Foley said that a few years back there were many iguanas, however, Thursday’s ceremony saw more bearded dragons than in the past. Not surprisingly, dogs and cats outnumbered all other visiting pets.

“This is Chocolate Chip,” said Erica Dennis, a second-grader. She held onto her pet’s travel cage tightly as other dogs and cats paraded by.

Claire Garcia brought her dog, Max, to be blessed.

“It’s fun,” Garcia said of the event. It wasn’t clear whether little Max knew of the importance of the day but a quick, loving hug from Claire made any nervousness of his fade away.

Most of the animals calmly waited for their turn, though a few dogs mistakenly tried to lap at the holy water as it was sprinkled across their face.

Shelby Reif and her friends, Jainie Helberg, Christina Venneri and Carinne Candiff all gathered around her little dog Roxy after her blessing. Roxy took it all in stride as she just laid back in her owner’s arms.

Asked what she thought the significance of the ceremony was, 7-year-old Brooke Vallier responded that, “It tells me that when they die, they will go to heaven.”

As Bradley Beyer stepped up with his dog, his mother Laura gave Foley a little instruction.

“Give him extra blessings, Father,” joked Laura.

“For which one — the dog or Bradley?” questioned Foley.

“For both. Just douse both of them with holy water,” she said.

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