Blessing of the Animals
in the City of St. Francis
For the last eight years
at St. Boniface Church in the heart of San Francisco, a Franciscan
friar has blessed animals for the feast of St. Francis, the saint
who loved all creatures This article appeared originally in October
1997 print edition of St. Anthony Messenger. Photos and text
by Jack Wintz, O.F.M.
there will be a blessing of the animals this year! says Father
Floyd Lotito, O.F.M., in reply to a telephone call from St. Anthony
Messenger a few weeks ago. And this year the blessing
falls on the feast itself of our Holy Father St. FrancisSaturday,
October 4, 1997.
I started the
blessings eight years ago as an annual event, says the friendly
Franciscan. And I get phone calls from people throughout the
year. Whens it going to be? they ask. My
dog is sick. Can you bless my dog?
love doing the blessing. Its a wonderful thing, says
the 63-year-old friar minor of the Oakland-based Franciscan Province
of Santa Barbara. I like sharing Francis vision with
people. St. Francis of Assisi had a unique vision of creation. He
saw all creatures as being in harmonyas one family. And so
he could address them as Brother Sun, Sister Moon,...Brother Dog
and Sister Cat.
Father Floyd notes happily
that this years blessing will be bigger and better. It
will move out to the street and be accompanied by a carnival,
he says. We are raising money for the retrofitting of St.
Boniface Church, as well as the friary and school building, damaged
in the earthquake of 1989.
His clear assurance
that the blessing would by no means be abandoned this year cheered
me greatly because I thoroughly enjoyed last Octobers blessing
(1996) and hoped that the custom would continue.
blessing was held on October 5, a Saturday (so more people would
be free to attend). Father Floyd conducted the ceremony, which took
place in the Courtyard of St. Clare in the front of the Franciscan
church and friary of St. Boniface, 133 Golden Gate Avenue, in downtown
San Francisco, California.
A native of Los Angeles
and the son of immigrant Italian parents, Father Floyd has served
the streetpeople of San Francisco for over 30 years, especially
in the Tenderloin district which surrounds St. Boniface
As a courtesy, the
San Francisco police block off Golden Gate Avenue in front of the
church during the hours of the blessing. A policemans horse
seemed to like Father Floyds blessing so much that no sooner
did the friar walk onto the street and sprinkle the horse with holy
water than it began nibbling on the sleeve of his Franciscan habit!
(See photo opposite page.)
blessing ceremony actually started in the church courtyard. It was
a bright, sunny day with a brilliant blue sky. The courtyard was
decorated with colorful balloons and streamers. Father Floyd wore
a habit and stole and a festive lei of flowers around his neck.
At times, he donned a baseball cap to keep the glaring sun out of
Every half hour between
1 and 3 p.m., the friar gave a short talk from a small raised platform
before blessing the pets. Peace and every blessing!
he said to the guests. Thank you for coming and bringing your
pets. With a big smile he looked at the people scattered about
the courtyard, some carrying pets in their arms, others controlling
them with leashes.
October 4, the friar continued, was the feast of St.
Francis, the patron of our city and the patron saint of ecology.
St. Francis was a lover, a peacemaker, a unifier, a bridge.
There are stories
of St. Francis blessing the birds, a frightened trapped rabbit,
fishand a story of his making peace between a wolf and the
town of Gubbio.
As Father Floyd spoke,
some of the pets sat quietly, as if listening to the friar. At other
times, however, minor skirmishes broke out as excited dogs barked
and snarled at each other until subdued by their owners. As a rule,
cats were quietersome extremely nervous from seeing themselves
outnumbered by dogs. They sometimes wailed their terror or displeasure
from the safety of cardboard containers.
With a warm, cordial
voice, Father Floyd went on peacefully: St. Francis saw all
creationhumanity, animals, the environment, plants, trees,
the flowers, the sun, moon, stars, water, wind, air, all the earthas
good, as brothers and sisters, as revealing Gods love, providence
and beauty to us.
The way you
respect creation, our mother earth, the way you treat animals reflects
the way you treat others. When you care for the earth and animals,
it makes you a better person, a kinder person, the friar noted
as he ended his talk. Now let us bless the animals!
Father Floyd gave
a general blessing first, followed by a second blessing for any
sick animals. Then he invited the people and their pets to come
forward to be blessed individually.
the people crowded around the friar to present their pets for a
blessing, he would ask the names of the animals so he could bless
them by name, shaking holy water on them and gently placing his
hand upon them.
Lars, my friend,
God bless you, the friar said to one of three Chinese pugs
present for the ceremony. Stay in good health, Cotton,
he pronounced softly to a rabbit held in a young womans arms.
Though most of the
pets brought forward were dogs and cats, there were others, too,
including a parakeet in a cage and a guinea pig with a wriggling
The San Francisco
Examiner reported on the blessing in the next days paper
(October 6, 1996) with two photos and a story headlined: Pets
Receive Blessing of St. Francis: Father Lotito Greets Animals by
Over the years,
the article noted, Father Floyd has blessed iguanas, ferrets,
stuffed animals, pictures of animals, ashes of animals. He even
bestows a special blessing by phone each year to Fat Albert, a parrot
who wasnt supposed to live very long but who still survives
since the time of his first blessing.
Father Floyd is a
well-known personality in San Francisco. For some 30 years he has
been a fixture at St. Anthony Dining Room and at other programs
sponsored by the Franciscan friars for the poor and homeless near
St. Boniface. A comic strip in the San Francisco Chronicle,
Farley, by Phil Frank, often publicizes Father Floyds
blessing with a friendly jest as the Feast of St. Francis rolls
around each year. In 1984, Father Floyd delivered the benediction
at the Demo-cratic National Convention held in San Francisco.
His blessing of the
animals has received wide media coverage. The event has often been
featured on local as well as national TV newsand has even
gone international on CNN.
What message does
Father Floyd hope to convey to the public through his annual blessing
of the animals? Mainly that God is good and gracious and wonderful,
replies the friar. God loves us in a very unrestricted and
inclusive way. Gods care extends beyond the human family to
the whole family of creation. All creation is good. There is no
dichotomy between the secular and the sacred. God loves all creatures.
I feel that strongly!
Jack Wintz, O.F.M.,
is senior editor of this publication. He is also author of Lights:
Revelations of Gods Goodness, an inspirational book
exploring the spirit of St. Francis (St. Anthony Messenger Press)
and the producer of the video Franciscan
Holy Ground: Where Francis and Clare Found God.