CAMPBELL — Not unlike a baby being baptized, some of these holy-water recipients flinched in surprise when the drops hit their heads. But rather than cry, they emitted tiny whimpers and yelps. Less skittish ones, on the other hand, eagerly strained forward as Father Patrick Connor offered them pats on the head as well as this prayer: “Through the intercession of St. Francis of Assisi, may God protect you from sickness and danger, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
With no skirmishes between any honorees, and no sudden messes to clean up, the afternoon of Oct. 4 made for a perfect Blessing of the Animals in the parking lot of St. Joseph Church. A warm late-afternoon sun beamed, as did the owners of their beloved pets. Although the pet blessing was open to all species, this was a day clearly gone to the dogs: Seven canines made up the entire roster assembled near the church’s northern exterior. Of particular note was Mary Jamison, who showed up with her dogs Annie, a Brittany spaniel, and Fred, a Bichon Frise, as well as a cast on her left foot — compliments of Annie, who had a dug a hole that Jamison stepped in three weeks earlier, breaking her ankle.
“She loves to dig holes,” Jamison remarked, adding that she didn’t hold the mishap against Annie: “Oh no, we love these dogs. They’re a part of our family and always have been.”
Although they don’t appear on the census, drop cash in the collection basket, say novenas or sing in the choir, the ceremony illustrated that pets are nonetheless valued members of the parish community. In fact, Jamison said she had eagerly awaited the pet blessing because it was the first in her memory at St. Joseph. She noted that the parish is already dog-friendly thanks to Daisy — whose owner Father Andrew Kalafsky, a retired parish priest, died earlier this year. Daisy is now kept by Father Gerald O’Connor, the recently retired pastor.
“We’re very used to Daisy,” Jamison said.
Just as the Oct. 4 pet blessing was nearing its conclusion, Jamison’s daughter, Theresa, and grandson Zachary, 7, arrived with their dogs Katie and Spot in tow. Those blessings brought an end to the ceremony, and the crowd dispersed as Father Connor prepared to travel north to Bradford for another Blessing of the Animals at St. Stanislaus Church.
At that point a minivan pulled into the parking lot, and Mary Beth Jamison (no relation to the other Jamisons) called out, “Father, am I too late?” She explained that she’d just gotten out of work and was unable to be on time for the 5:30 p.m. blessing.
Seeing that the ceremony was over, she began to pull away, but Father Connor halted her and walked up to the minivan’s passenger window, not unlike a 1950s burger-joint carhop: All he needed was a pair of roller skates. Inside the vehicle Molly and Buddy received their holy water and prayer, swelling the canine count for the day to 11.
The last pet to be blessed at the ceremony broke the dogs-only streak: Mary Beth Jamison’s 18-year-old cat, Scampy, hidden in a cardboard car carrier, stayed perfectly still while Father Connor bestowed yet another blessing.
The pet blessings at these churches were among numerous such events at many Southern Tier parishes on or near the date of Oct. 4 — the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of the environment and animals. Father Connor alone presided over three ceremonies: along with the blessings at St. Joseph and St. Stanislaus, he performed an additional blessing on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 7, at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Addison. These three parishes make up the “A-B-C” (Addison, Bradford, Campbell) churches in central Steuben County for which Father Connor serves as pastor.
Father Connor said he adapted the prayer he uses from the Blessing of the Throats held during the winter. He added that he did several pet blessings during his longtime pastorate at Ss. Peter and Paul Parish in Elmira, saying he blessed mostly dogs but would also get an occasional cat, bird or other animal.
Father Connor observed that pet blessings can serve to remind and inspire us to be more conscious of the earth and all living beings, in accordance with the example of St. Francis.
“If we care for our pets, hopefully we’ll also take greater care of our people,” he said.