Some parishioners stood on pews. Others lay sprawled in the aisle. A few interrupted the priest’s sermon with barks that echoed throughout the cavernous church.
About 80 dogs along with their owners attended the Blessing of the Animals at St Columba’s church on Iona Road, Glasnevin, Dublin on Sunday.
The event coincided with the Feast of St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment. St Francis considered all creatures equal under God and preached to birds, fish and supposedly even instructed a rabbit to smarten up after becoming stuck in a trap.
Breda Higgins of Finglas attended the event with her 5-year-old Border Collie, Lenny, who was her husband’s dog. Her husband has passed away.
“He was mad for the dog. I didn’t know anything about this day or what saint it was for until today, but my husband’s name was Francis,” said Ms Higgins. “We say sometimes that we think my husband’s spirit has got into him (the dog).”
Although the Feast of St Francis falls on Tuesday, October 4th, church organisers scheduled the Blessing of the Animals for Sunday so more people could attend.
Sarah McCann of Glasnevin attended with her 3½-year-old Bichon Cavalier, Dougal. “I thought it would be a lovely thing to do and a good social occasion for the animals as well as the humans.”
For some it was a family affair. John Lennon-Martin and his husband Barry travelled from Balbriggan with their 3-month-old Cocker Spaniel, Murph, who they had welcomed into their home the previous day. The puppy was a wedding present from John to Barry. The two were married last week.
John’s sister, Bronagh Doyle who lives in Glasnevin had told the couple about the ceremony. She attended with her 14-month-old dog, Molly, who is Murph’s sister.
“Everyone needs a blessing,” said Ms Doyle. “Normally, you’re saying ‘be quiet’ in a church, so this is just fabulous.”
Parishioner Roisin Kelly, who helped organise the event said, “there is quite a movement in the church at the moment for the stewardship of creation and nature, so it’s nice to give that a practical focus for people who are interested in that and have a love of animals.”
Many owners brought dogs with health issues who needed a little extra help. Catherine Shortt had heard about the event at her parish in Ballybough and came with her 10-year-old miniature Yorkshire Terrier, Sam, who she found wandering the streets four years earlier. “All dogs need to be blessed but this dog is a little delicate in the stomach. I hope the blessing will help.”
Meanwhile, Martina Creaven of Glasnevin brought her 14-year-old Jack Russell Terrier and Chihuahua mix, Sandy, who is blind and deaf. “Sandy has had many operations over the past two years. She’s my baby and I want her to live another couple of more years, so I wanted to give her a blessing.”
It’s been almost a decade since St Columba’s church held the Blessing of the Animals.
Parish priest Father Joe Ryan, who was presiding over this year’s event, said he’s never been associated with any parish that has blessed animals and he was a bit nervous.
“I don’t even know who is going to be here. Is it going to be a few snakes, cats, horses and cattle as well? It’s definitely going to be different having animals in a church.”
Despite his trepidation, Fr Ryan said, “I’m excited about the animals being here and being part of the season of creation that has been going on during the month of September and ends with the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi. That’s the whole reason to finish on this day as he was a great lover of animals.”
Following a twenty minute service dedicated to our four-legged companions, dogs received an individual blessing from the priest as they exited the church.
But Fr Ryan made an exception for Una Ryan of Whitehall and blessed her five Chihuahua’s and yellow-eared slider turtle named Fannie Mae while the animals sat in her car.
“I got the turtle during the time all the problems were happening with the money and banks and thought what a great name for a turtle,” explained Ms Ryan on why she named the turtle after the US mortgage lender.
St Francis of Assisi was renowned for helping the poor. Attendees were encouraged to donate to one of two collection boxes located in the atrium of the church—the Peter McVerry Trust which assists those who are struggling with homelessness or Blue Cross, an animal charity that provided veterinarian care to those who can’t afford it. Both are involved in the Glasnevin area.