GENESEO — There may not be any St. Fido or St. Fluffy to whom they can turn, but all pets do have a patron saint to share: St. Francis of Assisi, perhaps the most renowned animal lover in Catholic Church history.
On St. Francis’ feast day Oct. 4, a small group of dogs and their owners congregated in the parking lot of Geneseo’s St. Mary Church for a pet blessing hosted by St. Luke the Evangelist Parish. Father Sylvester Bioh, St. Luke’s parochial vicar, bestowed the blessing while guests of honor displayed varying degrees of their ability to sit still. Father Bioh then sprinkled holy water on each dog. Following the blessing, human participants sang the Prayer of St. Francis hymn (“Make Me a Channel of Your Peace”) to conclude the ceremony. Owners received small plastic bags containing dog treats before loading their pets into vehicles to return home.
The late-afternoon gathering in Livingston County took place as a light drizzle fell. Kilian Fish brandished an umbrella to keep his younger sisters, Josie and Logan, dry as they held Maizy, the family’s 4-month-old Cavalier King Charles spaniel. The Fish children and their puppy had been brought to the ceremony by their mom, Katie.
According to Leslie Nieves, parish minister, pet blessings are an annual tradition for St. Luke the Evangelist, with the Nieves’ 5-year-old Siberian Husky, Juneau, being a veteran of the blessings. Juneau was on hand Oct. 4 along with three members of the Nieves family: Leslie and her daughters, Katharina and Bella.
Also taking part in the pet blessing was Peggy, a 7-month-old English Labrador retriever. Her owner, Brian Lawrence, explained that he and his wife, Rebecca, wanted to make sure Peggy received a blessing because she’s scheduled to have surgery in November.
The brief ceremony at St. Mary was among approximately 25 pet blessings conducted by parishes across the Rochester Diocese on, or near, the feast of St. Francis. Born at Assisi, Italy, in 1881, Francis is revered for having renounced a wealthy lifestyle in order to follow Jesus’ example by dedicating his life to evangelizing and serving the poor. In fact, Pope Francis — the first pontiff in history to take that name — chose the name Francis when he ascended to the papacy in 2013, saying he wished to honor St. Francis’ care of the impoverished.
St. Francis also had a great love for the animals among whom he lived. In addition to being their patron saint, he is patron of the environment; artistic images of Francis often depict him with animals, in nature or both. He founded the Franciscan order in 1209 and was canonized in 1228, less than two years after his death on Oct. 3, 1226.
Leslie Nieves said that pet blessings marking St. Francis’ feast day serve as a reminder that “all God’s nature and creatures were important to God.” She added that the ceremonies reflect the love people have for their pets, remarking, “They do add a lot of joy and comfort to our lives.”
Meanwhile, when Brian Lawrence was asked if pets should be considered family members, he had a quick response.
“Oh, yes, absolutely,” he said emphatically.