Franciscan spirit alive at St. Boniface Parish

By Christina Gray

The Annual Blessing of the Animals, a tradition beloved by Catholics and non-Catholics alike, took place Sunday, Oct. 2, inside the gates of St. Boniface Parish in the city’s Tenderloin district.

The popular event was hosted by St. Anthony’s Foundation, with the parish’s Franciscan friars offering the blessings. Blessing of Animals honors the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi on his feast day, Oct. 4.

A steady stream of local pet owners brought their furry friends to the front of the church on Golden Gate Avenue for a blessing that included a sprinkling of holy water.

“Ok, buddy, are you ready?” Franciscan Father John Hardin asked an excited white German Shepherd named Snowy that leapt at the droplets that fell from the aspergillum. A less-sure brown chihuahua squealed in response to his splashing.

“St. Francis said we’re all God’s creation,” said Father Hardin. “So, we’ve been blessing animals for as long as we’ve been around, and that’s about 150 years here at St. Boniface.”

St. Francis of Assisi was an Italian mystic and founder of the Franciscan order who saw God reflected in all of nature. He may be best known as the patron saint of animals and ecology, but is also the patron saint of Italy, archaeologists, merchants, messengers and metal workers.

St. Anthony Foundation CEO Nils Behnke said people in San Francisco love their pets, especially their dogs. “They are part of our community,” he said.

Dogs be darned, a 16-year-old feline named Adele enjoyed her blessing from the comfort of a carrier, while a black and white tuxedo cat enjoyed cuddles with Father Hardin.

Founded in 1950, St. Anthony’s Foundation provides essential services, health care, and gateway services to stability for families and individuals in need. It embodies the Franciscan spirituality lived by St. Francis of Assisi and is committed to upholding the inherent dignity of all creation, particularly the vulnerable and marginalized members of society.