The Eagle Has Landed with OFM Blessings

HNP Communications Friar News

MIDDLEBURGH, N.Y. — Kevin Mackin, OFM, president of Mt. St. Mary Collegein Newburgh, N.Y., and Peter Chepaitis, OFM, of Bethany Ministries, were true to the spirit of St. Francis recently when they blessed a rehabilitated eagle named Mitch that was rescued by U.S. troops in Afghanistan and sent to a sanctuary in Upstate New York.

Eagle Mitch arrived earlier this month at the Berkshire Bird Paradise in Petersburgh, N.Y., after being driven up from Newburgh where he was quarantined when he first arrived in the United States.

The lucky bird actually was blessed twice, once by Kevin when the bird left his quarantine site in Newburgh, and once by Peter at his permanent home at the sanctuary. Mitch was driven by Barbara Chepaitis, sister of Peter and board member of Bethany Ministries to the sanctuary, owned by Vietnam veteran Peter Dubacher.

Mitch’s story began earlier this year in Afghanistan, when U.S. troops rescued him after he was shot. Mitch, a Steppe eagle, will never fly again but can live out his life at Berkshire. The trip to the United States was arranged by the World Conservation Society, the White House and the Department of State. He arrived in Virginia in early October and was transported to Newburgh by the Pilots-N-Paws rescue group.

The story has been covered by the Associated Press, the Albany Times Union, the Troy Record, and several TV stations.

Barbara Chepaitis wrote of her experiences during the two-hour drive in a treacherous snowstorm with an eagle. She also tells of his introduction to Helga, an older blind eagle at the sanctuary. Dubacher told her that raptors feel more comfortable with other eagles.

She wrote: “I drove Mitch from his USDA quarantine in Newburgh to Berkshire Bird Paradise, outside of Troy, N.Y. Mitch was agitated when we loaded him into the rented SUV (I usually drive a Civic, but they don’t fit eagle kennels). At Newburgh, there was press all around, but I had a moment to just look at this eagle I’d worked so hard for. And here’s the thing about raptors. They don’t look at you. They look into you. Through you.”

As Peter blessed the bird, he said: “Francis of Assisi called all creatures his sisters and brothers. He used to praise the birds for revealing the beauty of God’s creation by their plumage and their song. Birds frequently bless us, with their song, so now we are going to sing to them in words inspired by the canticle of creatures Francis wrote.”

— Wendy Healy is a Connecticut-based freelance writer.