‘Blessing of the Animals’ brings fur-friends to Campus
Fr. Michael Carter was on the front steps of the Chapel of Saint Michael the Archangel before anyone else arrived for the annual “Blessing of the Animals” on Oct. 4 — a tradition to honor the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi. A scattering of golden leaves lined the campus pathways and crunched under paws and feet as people and their pets started to approach the chapel steps. It looked like autumn but felt like summer with temperatures in the 80s during a rare stretch of fall heat.
“Usually, the dogs like a little Holy Water on a day like today,” Carter said.
Carter has been a priest for six years and has performed this annual blessing numerous times. He said it was always interesting to see what sorts of animals came. Dogs were the mainstay, but he’s seen ferrets, cats, and someone once brought a fishbowl.
He wondered aloud what animals might visit this year’s blessing and smiled.
“I’ve encountered one student who had a hedgehog, and I’ve heard rumors of the presence of a pig on campus,” he said.
Carter explained that St. Francis of Assisi was a medieval holy man who taught a message of love for all people and all of creation, including the natural world and animals. He is often portrayed in art as being out in nature and surrounded by animals.
A stately standard poodle named Piper pranced up alongside her human guardian, Donna McSoley. It was Piper’s 13th birthday, and McSoley thought a blessing was the perfect way to celebrate.
“I won’t pass up a blessing,” McSoley said. “I was at Mass today, so I ran home to get my dog. I figured she deserves it.”
Piper made fast friends with a 12-pound Havanese pup, aptly named Stamp since she is a campus fixture in the Saint Michael’s mailroom alongside her human, Allison Close, the campus Mail Clerk. Stamp is 3.5 years old and has been coming to campus daily since Close adopted her in March of 2020, right before the pandemic.
“She works here so I wanted to come and be blessed,” Close said.
Another person arrived with a picture of their animal, which they held onto as Carter led a series of prayers for the group. At the end of the blessing, Carter sprinkled Holy Water on the animals, and Stamp looked up at that exact moment with surprise.
“I thought her reaction was funny,” laughed Close. “She got hit in the face with the Holy Water. But she got extra blessings later…It’s a nice thing for the school to do.”