Feast of St. Francis Commemorated from Many Perspectives

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Franciscan-hearted people throughout the Province celebrated the feast of St. Francis this month with events that honored the revered saint and remembered his love of all creation, especially animals. Bethany Ministries in Upstate New York even worked to save an eagle that was injured in combat in Afghanistan, by bringing it to a bird sanctuary near New York City.

A letter written by the Order’s General Minister Fr. Jose Rodriguez Carballo, reflected on the Year for Priests, which concluded in June. Distributed by Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, on Oct. 1, Fr. Jose reminded friars that “Francis confessed explicitly his convinced faith in priests.”

He wrote: “For Francis, priesthood is looked at, above all, in relation to the body and blood of Christ … and to the holy words of our Lord Jesus Christ whom clerics pronounce, proclaim and administer.”

Masses, Pet Blessings, Transitus
Commemorations around the Province included Masses, pet blessings and Transitus services.

In Boston, the friars of St. Anthony Shrine, where David Convertino, OFM, is director, offered several commemorations. On Oct. 2, the feast of St. Francis was celebrated at Vigil Masses, and the Arch Street Band featured inspiring music from its new CD, Songs for Worship and Praise, Volume I. On Oct, 3, the Feast of St. Francis was celebrated in all Sunday liturgies and the Transitus was held at 5:15 pm.

Also on Oct. 3, Barry Langley, OFM, officiated at the blessing of the animals, with the help of John Maganzini, OFM. The street that the shrine is on was closed, while people brought all types of animals to be blessed, including the Boston Police K-9 unit of dogs. The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals brought several adoptable dogs.

At Mount St. Mary College in Newburgh, N.Y., where he is president, Kevin Mackin, OFM, blessed pets on Oct. 3 after the 11 a.m. Mass.

St. Francis of Assisi Church in Manhattan, next door to Provincial offices, offered tours of the historic church. It also held two family film nights, featuring The Trouble with Angels and Babette’s Feast, a blessing of the animals and the Transitus. The friars also celebrated the success of their 80-year breadline ministry with a special concert on Oct. 2, with Viva Francesco. Proceeds benefited the breadline.

St. Bonaventure Parish in Paterson, N.J., where Daniel Grigassy, OFM, is pastor, held a blessing of the animals on Oct. 3, and a 7 p.m. Mass on Oct. 4.

St. Francis Church in Long Beach Township, N.J., where Stephen Kluge, OFM, is pastor, began St. Francis Week with the blessing of the animals on Oct. 3. James Scullion, OFM, delivered a blessing outside the church, while Sr. Pat Klemm, OSF, provided a reading. Later that day, the Transitus of St. Francis was celebrated, with a covered-dish dinner at 6 p.m. and the service at 7 p.m. The Secular Franciscans hosted the dinner and Thomas Conway, OFM, preached during the service. 

On Oct. 4, James celebrated the Feast of St. Francis at 9 a.m. Mass at St. Francis Church in Brant Beach, N.J. At 1 p.m., the St. Francis Community Center celebrated with an employee lunch. Steve gave a blessing.

At St. Anthony of Padua Church in Camden, N.J., where Jud Weiksnar, OFM, is the pastor, a blessing of the animals and the Transitus were celebrated. The celebrations can be followed on Facebook.

At St. Paul Church in Wilmington, Del., Todd Carpenter, OFM, said the celebrations were simple but traditional, marking the feast at all the weekend Masses and holding two blessings of the animals, one specifically for children.

In Athens, Ga., the Catholic Center at University of Georgia where Thomas Vigliotta, OFM, is director, held its annual St. Francis Dinner on Oct. 1.

Spreading the Message Through Social Media 
Many ministries posted news and photos about their commemorations of the feast on Facebook pages. These include St. Paul Church, St. Anthony of Padua Church in Camden, N.J.

Several friars communicated the message of St. Francis through their blogs. On Oct. 5, John Anglin, OFM, of St. Petersburg, Fla., posted on his blog “The Wandering Friar,” a reflection describing the many facets of St. Francis including his love of animals and nature and his preaching of the need to “rebuild the house of the Lord.”

William DeBiase, OFM, of Philadelphia, posted on his blog, “Franciscan,” an article titled “Who Was St. Francis” by Fr. Leonard Foley, OFM.

FRANWEEKSaving an Eagle from Afghanistan
Bethany Ministries in Middleburgh, N.Y., where Peter Chepaitis, OFM, is the co-director, worked with his sister, Barbara Chepaitis, to help heal an eagle injured in Afghanistan. The Chepaitises worked for the last three months with U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan who rescued an eagle that had been shot by an Afghan solder on a firing range. Eagle “Mitch” arrived in New York City for his mandatory USDA quarantine on the feast of St. Francis.

“The young servicemen who rescued the eagle and took care of its wounds sought the help of Berkshire Bird Paradise, a bird sanctuary in upstate New York. They learned of the sanctuary in Barbara’s book “Feathers of Hope,” and began the complicated process in late June to get Eagle Mitch out of the war zone and into safe haven,” said Peter.

“What happened is a tribute to the good that can be created through persistence, and through people’s willingness to work together toward the good. It is also a reflection of the vision of Francis who saw all creatures as his brothers and sisters, and it seems to be no accident that Mitch will arrive in New York City very close to his feast day, if not on the day itself.”

The Associated Press reported on the story, along with the Albany Times Union.

— Wendy Healy is a frequent contributor to HNP Today. Jocelyn Thomas contributed research for this report.