Nature shines on St. Francis Day blessing
Aside from a few random barks, Hally and and Rex the dogs with their owners appeared mostly serene and ready when Edmundite Fr. Michael Carter ’12 began his short and intimate “Blessing of the Animals” ceremony on the steps of the Chapel of Saint Michael the Archangel at about 6 p.m. Thursday evening in honor of the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, October 4.
But ready, too, in a less formal way – or so it might have seemed to the eyes of the Middle Ages saint being honored this day, the gentle and holy man whose reputation as a sublime appreciator of nature and God’s glorious creation is popular lore — were the two birds perched on the cross atop the chapel, or the majestic v-formations of honking geese that flew overhead as if on cue after the ceremony. And – as noted by passer-by Declan McCabe of the biology faculty just before the ceremony – it might be best not to forget many nearby squirrels dashing about, or any of the 16 mammal species who are documented to live somewhere on campus, including coyotes and fisher cats.
The group of maybe 25 gathered for this blessing included dog owners, a few Saint Michael’s students and several young girls on campus for a mentoring program, who happened by with their student mentors and decided, impromptu, to hold pictures of their beloved pets, either “in their minds” or on their iPhones, for the blessing. Fr. Carter told a little about the saint of the day, read psalms, said some beautiful and occasion-appropriate prayers, and then sprinkled the canine attendees with Holy Water. As if to endorse and supplement his efforts, a gentle sprinkling of rain arrived seemingly out of nowhere just as the ceremony was wrapping up, and to cap it all off, “Brother Sun” made a spectacular show of it, setting over Durick library in vivid orange colors as the small gathering departed.
It’s been a few years since Saint Michael’s has had such an animal blessing for this feast day, explained Fr. Carter to a pair of local TV news reporters who took enough interest to stop by from their respective stations, including one, Helena Battapaglia, doing several live remote reports during a newscast on NBC 5. The tradition revived after a group under the umbrella of the campus student service group MOVE in Edmundite Campus Ministry called Cause for Paws — specifically its leaders Lauren Walsh and Skyler Accomando who attended the ceremony — asked if it might be possible to do it again, and Fr. Carter was happy to oblige. None of the organizers knew if any animals and their owners would actually turn out, so they appeared pleased at this day’s response. Walsh also spoke with TV reporters to explain about their group and what it does.
The first dog to arrive for a blessing was Hally, a seven-year old Boston Terrier whose owner, Gail Minall of South Burlington, said Hally had attended similar blessings at Christ the King Parish in Burlington in past years. Gail said her daughter, Sarah, is a 2013 Saint Michael’s history graduate. First-year Saint Michael’s student Colleen Swanhart of New Fairfield, CT, a Lyons Hall resident, showed up with a photo to be blessed that she grabbed off her dorm room wall of Tanner, a 10-year old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and the family dog she has grown up with since she was a little girl.
Margaret Tandoh rushed across the green with her dog Rex, a mixed-breed, to make it just as the ceremony began, after seeing the first live remote report on TV, she said. With her was 3-year old Nehemiah, and later they were joined by her nieces, twin Saint Michael’s students Jesse and Jessica Anderson ’21. Fr. Carter knew one of the twins who had been a student in the religious studies class that he teaches.
In his white alb tied at the waist with a rope in a manner that subtly evoked a popular image of Francis, Fr. Carter extended warm and friendly greetings to all people and dogs as they arrived, and during the ceremony, did some “call and response” prayers based on psalms that celebrated nature. Nature, for its part, cooperated by sending an unusually warm day for the time of year, in the mid-70s.