Feast of Saint Francis: Is La Verne Church for the Birds, or Is It Just Going to the Dogs?

September 24, 2009
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Taxi is a blessing to her owner.

Taxi is a blessing to her owner.

Mother Kelli Grace Kurtz won’t be offended, if on Sunday, Oct. 4, you think her sermon is for the birds.

That’s the special day when she — in the spirit and tradition of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and ecology — will bless not only birds but a flock full of furry, feathered and finned friends dear to their owners and companions.

The vicar has long maintained this blessing of the animals at St. John’s Episcopal Church in La Verne and other churches where she has ministered. Each animal or pet is individually blessed in front of the altar. If you can’t bring your beloved creature to church, you can bring a photo of your pet to be blessed.

A prayer for a long life may be said for a frisky new puppy just making her way in the world or a healing prayer for an arthritic dog.

“I tell you, when I’m standing in the front of the congregation, it moves me to see so many people with their pets and animals,” Kurtz said. “It’s important, it’s not frivolous. These people love their animals, and their animals love them.”

And Vicar Kurtz clearly loves this traditional feast that is practiced all over the world in honor of St. Francis (1181/82 – Oct. 3, 1226) , the son of an affluent merchant who abandoned his dream of becoming a knight to don the clothes of a poor farmhand and care for the sick, including animals. There are countless stories of how St. Francis, the Protector of Animals, tamed the wild beasts and grew kinship with birds.

My new puppy will attend St. John's to be blessed.

My new puppy will attend St. John's to be blessed.

“If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men,” St. Francis said.

Vicar Kurtz has watched a menagerie of animals being led to the altar on his feast day, including a horse dutifully trailed by two attendants with shovels.

One of the most famous celebrations takes each year at Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. In years past, attendees have included eagles, camels, llamas, rams, full-grown bulls and a boa constrictor, just to mention a few.

“If the circus is in town, Kurtz said, “you might even see hippos and tigers proceed down the center.”

Sunday church services are 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. The service will be dedicated to the pets, and they will be welcome to remain throughout the service.

The church is at 4745 Wheeler Ave. For more information, call (909) 596-1321.

Many of the stories that surround the life of St. Francis deal with his love for animals. Perhaps the most famous incident that illustrates the Saint’s humility towards nature is recounted in the “Fioretti” (“Little Flowers”), a collection of legends and folklore that sprang up after the Saint’s death. It is said that, one day, while Francis was traveling with some companions, they happened upon a place in the road where birds filled the trees on either side. Francis told his companions to “wait for me while I go to preach to my sisters the birds.” The birds surrounded him, drawn by the power of his voice, and not one of them flew away. Francis spoke to them:

My sister birds, you owe much to God, and you must always and in everyplace give praise to Him; for He has given you freedom to wing through the sky and He has clothed you… you neither sow nor reap, and God feeds you and gives you rivers and fountains for your thirst, and mountains and valleys for shelter, and tall trees for your nests. And although you neither know how to spin or weave, God dresses you and your children, for the Creator loves you greatly and He blesses you abundantly. Therefore… always seek to praise God.

The Blessing of Pets usually goes like this:

“Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures. You called forth fish in the sea, birds in the air and animals on the land. You inspired St. Francis to call all of them his brothers and sisters. We ask you to bless this pet. By the power of your love, enable it to live according to your plan. May we always praise you for all your beauty in creation. Blessed are you, Lord our God, in all your creatures! Amen.”

Even a tiger or two has been known to walk the aisle on the Feast of St. Francis' procession and blessing of the animals.

Even a tiger or two has been known to walk the aisle on the Feast of St. Francis' procession and blessing of the animals.





To ensure your dog has his day, on Oct. 4, call Palace Pet Salon for anesthesia free teeth cleaning. Your pet will thank you for it. They will look and smell their best after a cleaning. For more information or to make an appointment, please call:

1485 Foothill Blvd, La Verne

located in the CVS Drug Store Center at Wheeler

909 593-5714

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