pet blessings
blessing of the animals

Blessing of the Animals
in the City of St. Francis
blessing of the animals and pets

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.

Yes, definitely, 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. Francis—Saturday, 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. ‘When’s it going to be?’ they ask. ‘My dog is sick. Can you bless my dog?’

pet blessings“I love doing the blessing. It’s 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 harmony—as one family. And so he could address them as Brother Sun, Sister Moon,...Brother Dog and Sister Cat.”

Father Floyd notes happily that this year’s 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 October’s blessing (1996) and hoped that the custom would continue.

Last year’s 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 Church.

As a courtesy, the San Francisco police block off Golden Gate Avenue in front of the church during the hours of the blessing. A policeman’s horse seemed to like Father Floyd’s 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.)

pet blessing ceremonyThe 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 his eyes.

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.

“Yesterday, 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, fish—and 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 quieter—some 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 creation—humanity, animals, the environment, plants, trees, the flowers, the sun, moon, stars, water, wind, air, all the earth—as good, as brothers and sisters, as revealing God’s 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.

frian blessing petsAs 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 woman’s 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 nose.

The San Francisco Examiner reported on the blessing in the next day’s paper (October 6, 1996) with two photos and a story headlined: “Pets Receive Blessing of St. Francis: Father Lotito Greets Animals by Name.”

“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 wasn’t 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 Floyd’s 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 news—and 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. God’s 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 God’s 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.


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