A few dozen dogs barked and wagged their tails, most likely unsure why they were on the St. Joseph Catholic School playground with their school-age owners. Oct. 4 is the feast day for St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and a popular day to hold pet blessings.
Besides the pups, Myrtle the turtle, Coco a green-cheeked conure, two ducks and a guinea pig also got to go to school.
It was the first time at the annual blessing of the animals for Queenie, a 2-year-old Jersey Wooly rabbit.
When asked why she brought Queenie and not her pet dog or cat, which both stayed at home, Lily Standridge, 9, said, “Cause, well, I don’t know. I love the bunny. Maybe next year I’ll bring the cat.”
Even Principal Mary Ellen LaRose brought her Boston terrier, Jones, to Wednesday morning’s event.
“He’s kind of like the school mascot,” said LaRose, who’s been principal of the school for about a year.
She reminded the students to be reverent, a tough task with so many animals around at the beginning of the school day.
St. Francis was born into a wealthy family, the son of a cloth merchant, and eventually converted to a life of religious and minimalistic living. He became known for his love of animals and nature, with one story saying he once preached to hundreds of birds.
With about 300 students gathered outside, along with some parents toting pets, Rev. Gary Lazzeroni referenced the Book of Genesis, which says that God formed all living creatures and man named all of them.
“That’s what God tells us at the very beginning of The Bible, that he entrusted us to give names to the animals. And, all of you have done that with your pets, whether they’re here with you today or they’re at home,” Lazzeroni said.
Some students who didn’t bring their pets brought pictures of them. The kindergarten class held onto coloring sheets depicting an animal blessing.
Lazzeroni walked through the crowd using water from the church’s baptismal pond to bless the animals. Dogs licked their noses and squinted as they got hit by the holy water. Others tried to catch the water with their mouths as it was flung from an aspergillum, a liturgical tool for sprinkling holy water.
“We praise you for giving us the animals, birds and fish, which fill your world. May we think of you and thank you when we play with and care for our pets,” Lazzeroni said. “We praise you for making us so happy to have our pets and have them to play with. We ask you, Lord, that we may be good to our pets always, so that they may be happy also. Help us to take care of them so they may be healthy.”