As friars around the Province blessed animals in celebration of the feast of St. Francis, several described to HNP Today how their own pets bring out the best in them and others. For inclusion in a similar article in a future issue of this newsletter, readers are welcomed to submit to the HNP Communications Office information and a photo about a touching ministry story that involved someone’s pet or a reflection about creation.
Careful not to get under foot of elderly friars, Cadfael, an 8-year-old Welsh terrier, scurries happily through the hallways of Holy Name Friary, the Province’s skilled nursing facility in rural northern New Jersey.
The pet of guardian and director A. Francis Soucy, OFM, Cadfael, pronounced Kadville, brings joy to the residents of the Ringwood, N.J., long-term care facility.
“Pets can bring a lot of comfort and give people a source for displaying their own affectionate nature,” said Francis. Cadfael also provides a diversion for the residents, who are often confined to the friary.
“He will go in and out of every room, pulling shoes and slippers into the corridor,” Francis said with laughter. “He knows who really likes him,” he added, “especially Matthew Conlin, OFM, and Lambert Valentine, OFM.”
Medical studies show that petting an animal can lower one’s blood pressure, according to Francis. Because of the healing nature of pets, he encourages the director of nursing to bring her miniature dachshund to work as well.
Taking Refuge at the Friary
Francis and the staff members have been known to rescue stray animals that find their way to the friary. Surrounded by woods, stray cats are often found roaming outside, and the friars give them refuge.
One nurse recently found a kitten crying because it was stranded in an outside water pipe. With the help of the friary maintenance staff, the kitten, named Piper, was rescued and adopted by the nurse.
The director of the breadline at St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City, Michael Carnevale, OFM, said he gets a lot of joy from his dog and appreciates the unconditional love.
“We walk; we sit in the park,” he said. When he’s working, Michael has church staff members watch his dog, Dolly. “They love her and she loves them.”
Pets, he said, “bring out the best in their owners.” They also reflect the love that St. Francis had for all God’s creatures and how he showed God his appreciation for these gifts.
Franciscan writer Fr. Jack Wintz, OFM, author of Will I See My Dog in Heaven?, agrees. In a recent interview on the Currents Catholic TV program about the feast of St. Francis, he said that the saint treated all of creation as brothers and sisters. He saw all of creation as forming one family. Fr. Jack said that since all creation is created by God, it can then be redeemed by God.
Not all pets are four-legged creatures. John Jaskowiak, OFM, of St. Anthony Shrine has a large bird. Marcelino is a blue-fronted Amazon parrot that he has had for 20 years, ever since she was 4 months old.
“We had a lot of pets as kids, and since we can’t have dogs in the friary, why not a bird?” he said.
Marcelino has a large vocabulary and a good sense of humor, saying things like, “Marcelino’s a good girl,” and “I’m gonna cry.”
Why is she going to cry? As a baby bird, John told her not to bite, saying, “It’s gonna hurt. I’m gonna cry.”
She’s also affectionate, falling asleep on John’s shoulder when she doesn’t have free range of the room or she is playing on her playground equipment. Marcelino, who is trained to go on paper, even helped John recover from a stroke earlier this year. “When I needed her to be quiet she was quiet. She has a lot of awareness.”
Richard Husted, OFM, pastor of St. Bonaventure Church in Allegany, N.Y., is a lifelong animal-lover and grew up with dogs.
Today, Nemo, his Siberian husky, is a great four-legged friend for the friar who lives alone. “He makes me get out during the day and locks up the church with me each night,” Richard said.
Whether he’s sitting in the back of the church with a parishioner at 4 p.m. Mass on Saturday or greeting shoppers at the thrift store during the day, Nemo is very social.
“He is probably better known and loved than I am,” he said. “On occasion, I have taken him with me to a local infirmary. Only occasionally does he take off to go hunting for woodchucks. As soon as he returns, without even telling him, he will go straight to his crate as if to say, ‘I know I’m in trouble but it was worth it.’”
The friars enjoyed the blessing of the animals services on St. Francis’ feast day. “We have such love for our animals, and to recognize that God’s love is for those animals, too, and that God cares for them, also, is comforting,” said Richard. “Pets have a special place in the eyes of God.”
Visitors to Province friaries are often greeted by the resident pet. Guadalupe, or Lupe, runs to the door at St. Anthony Friary in Camden, N.J., where Jud Weiksnar, OFM, lives, and Raymond, the dog of guardian Francis Di Spigno, OFM, greets guests at Holy Name College, Silver Spring, Md.
Jud said that his daily walks in the park with Lupe have gotten him acquainted with many community members as people often come up to pet Lupe. “I’ve gotten to know more parishioners, neighbors, park employees and the Camden police,” he said with a smile.
Whether they are companion animals, friary pets or friends, St. Francis cared about all animals and encourages us to do the same, according to Paul. “Pets are a blessing from God, there is no question in my mind — they are creatures of God, and I pray for them.”
— Wendy Healy, a freelance writer living in Danbury, Conn., is a frequent contributor to HNP Today.