Communities Mark Feast with Prayer, Festivals and Pet Blessings

Stephen Mangione Around the Province

The popular feast-day tradition of pet blessings took place at many parishes, including St. Anthony’s in Butler, N.J., St. Mary’s in Pompton Lakes, N.J., St. Camillus in Silver Spring, Md., and St. Anthony’s in Greenville, S.C.

Parishes, educational institutions and other ministries throughout Holy Name Province celebrated the Oct. 4 feast day of St. Francis of Assisi – some in grand fashion, others following simple traditions, and still others with unique activities. Some of the commemorations began a week before the feast day, some last days or weeks – and at least one Franciscan institution is celebrating, Francis for the entire month.

Whether it’s the blessing of the animals, a Mass with special hymns, lectures, or distinctive events, all of these commemorations focused on at least one aspect for which the founder of the Franciscan Order is well-known – his love for animals and nature, generosity to the poor, or message of peace.

St. Bonaventure University, Western New York
In the small town of Allegany, New York, it is “Francis Month 2019” at St. Bonaventure University, which combined the commemorations of the Feast of St. Francis and the 800th anniversary of the meeting between Francis and Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil in a campus-wide, month-long series of events sponsored by John (’58) and Kay Meisch. The “Celebration of St. Francis in the 21st Century” and observance of the historic encounter was kicked off on Sept. 28 during family weekend with a special Mass at the University’s chapel. The weekend also included an art exhibit and gallery presentation, “Out of the Darkness: Putting a Face on Homeless.”

From Sept. 30 to Oct. 2, students attended designated lectures on the “Way of Francis and Clare.” SBU’s Center for Arab and Islamic Studies and University Mission and Ministries co-sponsored a Sept. 30 lecture, “St. Francis and the Sultan: Living Their Legacy Today.” Events will continue through October. Among them are an Oct. 19 overnight retreat (“Open the Eyes of Your Heart – Seeing as St. Francis Saw”) at Mount Irenaeus; an Oct. 24 lecture (“The Faces I’ve Seen: Stories from the Streets”) by Michael Duffy, OFM, a longtime team member at St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia, the Franciscan soup kitchen in the heart of one of that city’s poorest neighborhoods; an inter-religious prayer service on Oct. 27, a panel discussion (“Faith and Fraternity in a Fragmented Age: Catholic and Muslim Perspectives) on Oct. 30. The month-long celebration culminates with an All Saints Day Mass on Nov. 1.

Siena College students and staff attend a panel discussion about the encounter between St. Francis and Sultan al-Kamil. (Photo courtesy of Siena)

Siena College, Loudonville, New York
Oct. 3, the eve of the feast day, Siena College students, friars, faculty and staff, as well as members of the Loudonville, New York, community, celebrated the Transitus of St. Francis – his passage from life on earth to eternal life with the Lord – with a candlelight prayer service and procession from the campus chapel to the grotto. Earlier in the day, there was a panel discussion about St. Francis and the Sultan – how their encounter is a model for modern-day inter-religious dialogue.

St. Francis of Assisi, 31st Street, New York City
The feast day celebration began early at St. Francis of Assisi Church on 31st Street when, on Sept. 29, parishioners, visitors, and New Yorkers filed the aisles with their pets in tow for the popular tradition of the blessing of the animals in honor of the love, care and gentleness for all creatures and creation demonstrated by Francis throughout his life. But the grand event took place Oct. 4, when the 175th anniversary year of St. Francis of Assisi Church culminated on the feast day of its patron saint with a 5:30 p.m. Mass celebrated by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, who was joined on the altar by Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM, and Andrew Reitz, OFM, pastor.

Some of the animals blessed on Long Beach Island. (Photo courtesy of St. Francis of Assisi Parish)

St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Long Beach Island, New Jersey
On the Jersey Shore, Long Beach Island’s St. Francis of Assisi Parish lived up to its patron’s love for all creatures when dozens of parishioners and local residents gathered on Sept. 28 outside the Brant Beach Church with their domestic pets – canines dominated the crowd – for the ceremonial blessing of the animals. Some of the pets came dressed in their Sunday best (even though it was Saturday) with ribbons and bows on their fur, and all seemed to be on their best behavior, lounging on the ground as they awaited the special blessing from Jim Scullion, OFM, pastor. Apparently, it continued when they went home, as parishioner Shannon Given reported in a Facebook post: “So happy we attended with our puppy. It might be just a coincidence but ‘Waffles’ has been on extra good behavior today.” The parish also celebrated the Transitus of St. Francis with a spiritually moving liturgy – which included readings from The Life of Francis, the Gospel, hymns and reflections – at an Oct. 3 vigil Mass.

St. Francis International School and St. Camillus Parish, Maryland
In celebration of the feast day, nearly 150 young people, and dozens of more volunteers, from St. Francis International School and St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, Maryland, kicked off Francis Week on Sept. 28 with Family Peace Camp 2019 – a five-day event in which participants learned and played together in peace. St. Francis International is one of the most culturally diverse schools in the United States – where 80 percent of its students have at least one parent who is an immigrant.

Children, both adolescent age and teens, participated in a number of activities that included cooperative games, peace art, a peace train, circles of sharing and reflection, and meal sharing. St. Camillus Parish pastor Christopher Posch, OFM, joined the children in song during the camp. As Francis lived his life embracing all creation and being a man of peace, the event was designed to help the young participants, through joyful experiences, spread peace to others through positive relationships, acceptance of differences and conflict resolution.

Ignatius Harding with students in Triangle during their walk-a-thon. (Photo courtesy of Jodi Salley)

St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Triangle, Virginia
In northern Virginia, John O’Connor, OFM, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Triangle, was interviewed on Oct. 1 by the Diocese of Arlington communications office in a podcast on the topic, “St. Francis, Creation, and the Tradition of the Blessing of Animals.” John covered all the bases in this everything-you-wanted-to-know about St. Francis, including some of the traditions associated with one of Christianity’s most popular saints.

The following day, the student population of St. Francis of Assisi School participated in the 12th annual fundraising walk-a-thon (which always coincides with the feast day), which took place immediately after the Francis Day in the Park Mass at nearby Locust Shade Park. Students and staff had a little extra bounce in their step at this year’s walk-a-thon because just days earlier (on Sept. 26), U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that St. Francis of Assisi was designated a National Blue Ribbon School for 2019. During the walk-a-thon, students and staff wore blue ribbons to express their pride in being the only school in the Diocese of Arlington to be recognized with this honor. “Excellence in education has been a hallmark of the Franciscan tradition. This is indeed a special moment made even more special by coming at a time when we are celebrating the patron of our parish and school,” John said.

St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Raleigh, North Carolina
Carnival alley, face painting, crafts, tie-dye, a selfie station, an inflatables zone, games and activities, music, magic shows and other stage performances, and a cornucopia of food trucks made the annual 2019 Francis Fest at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Raleigh, North Carolina, one of the most spectacular and well-attended community events of the year for parishioners and local residents. Noting that the Sept. 29 Francis Fest had a carnival and country-fair like atmosphere with fun and entertainment for all ages – from children to senior citizens – the pastor, Steven Patti, OFM, said that organizers and volunteers outdid themselves this year to make the celebration of the parish patron saint a special event. It brought everyone together as a parish family and community in the true spirit of St. Francis.

Elsewhere Around the Province

  • At St. Anthony Shrine in Boston, a traditional Transitus service was held Oct. 3 and a Mass celebrated on the feast day, at which Javier Del Angel De Los Santos, OFM, who professed his solemn vows in August, delivered the homily.
  • A blessing of animals was held at St. Anthony-St. Patrick Parish in Hartford, Connecticut, on Oct. 5, the same day that the parish marked its 190th anniversary.
  • A “Barktober Festival,” with an animal blessing, was held the evening of Oct. 4 at St. Mary’s Parish in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey.
  • Parishioners at St. Anthony’s in Butler, New Jersey, celebrated the parish’s Franciscan identity and the early stories of the Franciscan community through the use of scripture, bread and music at a Thursday evening Transitus service led by pastor Joe Juracek, OFM, Kevin Cronin, OFM, and Ron Gilatta, OFM. The 7:30 a.m. Mass on the Oct. 4 feast day, which featured music led by Robert Frazzetta, OFM, guardian of the Butler Friary, and Tom Cole, OFM, was followed by a special morning prayer service. St. Francis was celebrated at all of the weekend Masses, according to parish staff member Annette Miller, who noted that readings from the feast were used at the Sunday liturgy. In addition, children and their stuffed animals received a special blessing at Sunday’s 9:30 a.m. Mass.
  • Sacred Heart Parish in Tampa, Florida, held a number of weekend (Oct. 5 and 6) events in celebration of the feast day of St. Francis, including a blessing of the animals. George Corrigan, OFM, pastor, shared the following message in an Oct. 1 e-blast: “There has always been something joyful about life as a Franciscan, and it has been my experience that Franciscans of all kinds celebrate the many, many blessings God has bestowed upon us. In a way, the Feast of St. Francis is our fraternal time of ‘thanksgiving’ to recognize and be grateful for this way of life. And so each October, the Feast of St. Francis becomes a time when we remember the saint, his life and death, and mark the celebration with our own ‘family traditions.’ Come share the celebrations, the blessings, the memories, and the traditions of being Franciscan.”

Stephen Mangione is a frequent contributor to HNP Today. Jocelyn Thomas provided research for this article.