Dozens of pets of all shapes and sizes, including dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, horses, turtles and goats were blessed with Holy Water during the “Blessing of the Animals” celebration on Oct. 4 at St. Francis of Assisi School in Yorba Linda.
STUDENT HOLDS HER PET TURTLE DURING THE “BLESSING OF THE ANIMALS” EVENT HELD ON OCT. 4 AT ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI CATHOLIC SCHOOL IN YORBA LINDA. PHOTO BY RENNE ENRIQUEZ/DIOCESE OF ORANGE
The tradition is said to have started more than 800 years ago by St. Francis of Assisi, the Patron Saint of Animals, who saw all living creatures as God’s creations and therefore holy.
The event is usually held on or around Oct. 4, the feast day of St. Francis.
This year, the Blessing of the Animals coincided with the 25th anniversary of St. Francis of Assisi School.
The day started with a Mass to celebrate the school’s first 25 years, followed by lunch, a prayer and then the blessing of the animals on the field behind the school.
Tributes were paid to the two founding fathers, Fr. Séamus Glynn and Fr. Richard Delahunty, who were pastors of San Antonio de Padua and St. Martin de Porres respectively at the time.
“It’s been a great 25 years,” said Fr. Séamus, who was on hand for the celebration.
“Well, I think everything that we do that surrounds our faith,” said Debbie Vallas, St. Francis of Assisi’s first principal in 1998. “And so, they bring their animals, or they bring pictures of them, and then we have a beautiful ceremony with (priests) who comes to bless all of the animals. And it’s really quite beautiful for all of the kids to understand St. Francis.”
Then Bishop Norman McFarland chose the St. Francis of Assisi as the name for the new school at the time. St. Francis serves students in preschool through eighth grade and is supported by the tri-parish communities of St. Martin de Porres, San Antonio de Padua and Santa Clara de Asis.
If there was an award given to the pet owner who brought the largest and most animals to be blessed, the winner would have been Camila Healy of Yorba Linda, who brought three horses, her quarter horse, Gitana, her Appaloosa, Freckles and her mini blue roan, Tuck. She also brought along her baby goat, Buttercup.
“I want them to be healthy, safe for my daughters, and I want them to be blessed from God,” sad Healy, who was having her animals blessed for the third time.
Gemma Healy of Yorba Linda brought her two rabbits, Nilla and Benji.
“We love animals and we want them to live a super happy life,” Gemma Healy said. “And we figured what better way than to have the blessed by the deacon and the father.”
For more than 800 years, Catholics and non-Catholics alike have been honoring St. Francis and his reverence for God’s creatures by having their pets blessed on the “Blessing of the Animals.”
St. Francis of Assisi saw all living creatures as God’s creations and therefore holy.
In one famous story, St. Francis spoke to hundreds of birds in the Spoleto Valley near Assisi, telling the creatures to be thankful to God for their feathers and wings and for living under the care of God. The birds remained still as St. Francis walked among them, only flying off when he said they could leave.
Another well-known story involves a wolf that had been preying on people and animals in the town of Gubbio. When the townspeople wanted to kill the wolf, St. Francis intervened, persuading the wolf to never kill again. The wolf became a pet of the townspeople who made sure the animal always had plenty to eat.
Fr. Michael Nguyen, parochial administrator Santa Clara de Asis Catholic School, which is adjacent to St. Francis, had blessed the animals once before as a seminarian. But this was his first time performing the blessing as a priest and he had a smile on his face the entire time.
“We always tell ourselves that the children are the future and what a great opportunity for us to bless their animals, bless them, bless the families and see the excitement,” Fr. Nguyen said. “The Catholic Church
is all about symbols and rituals and about tangibleness. The blessing is one of those experiences where tangible meets the religious.”
Msgr. Stephen Doktorczyk visited Assisi several times during his time in Rome. He noted that it was evident to him that the hilly town was different—far from being a tourist destination, it was frequented by pilgrims, many of whom wanted to experience the spirit of St. Francis.
“My experience of Assisi is that it is a city filled with piety; once there, one tends to forget about worldly things and instead focuses on the spiritual,” said the pastor of St. Martin de Porres Church in Yorba Linda.