by Marie Elena Giossi
Creatures, both great and small, gathered with their human companions at St. Francis College’s inaugural animal blessing on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, Oct. 4, in Brooklyn Heights.
As locals hurried to work and students arrived for classes, Father Brian Jordan, O.S.F., college chaplain, welcomed an array of “friends who have furs, feathers and fins” for an 8 a.m. prayer service outside the Franciscan Brothers’ school on Remsen Street.
Joined by fellow Franciscan Brothers and Father Edward Doran, pastor of nearby St. Charles Borromeo Church, Father Jordan extended his hands and special prayers over dogs, cats, birds and a fish named Mervin. Individual pet blessings followed.
Area resident Juliette Ibelli smiled when Father Jordan said a few words over her canine buddy, Cooper, a 10-year-old yellow Lab mix. Cooper was sidelined by surgery in June, and though he’s made a full recovery, Ibelli brought him out because, she said, “You can never have too many blessings.”
German Shepherds Apache and Buster, from the NYPD Transit Bureau’s K-9 Unit, stood alongside their handlers, police officers Mike Boehn and Peter Bagnasco, respectively, as Father Doran sprinkled holy water on their heads.
Boehn said this was Apache’s first blessing, and he was glad to bring him.
Perhaps the cutest pair were Suzie, a Shih Tzu, and Lily, a dove, who attended with Lydia Matos, a parishioner at St. Paul-St. Agnes, Cobble Hill. Matos placed Lily on Suzie’s shoulders for part of the ceremony.
Brother Owen Sadlier, O.S.F., philosophy professor, who helped with the prayer service, said it was a “great opportunity” to spread the Franciscan spirit in the college and the wider community. “We want to let everyone know the message of St. Francis is universal,” he said.
The blessing ceremony and the Mass that followed were the culmination of the college’s annual observance of St. Clare and St. Francis Week.
“We reaffirm our Franciscan identity and inspire a new generation to follow the ideals and values of St. Clare and St. Francis,” Brother Owen explained.
Other events included an interfaith prayer service; screenings of two documentaries, “Rise and Dream” and “An Inconvenient Truth;” the annual Franciscan Lecture featuring Paul Moses, author of “The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi’s Mission of Peace;” and the Thomas J. Volpe Lecture Series featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson, the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium.
Throughout the week, the college also collected canned food for CHIPS Soup Kitchen, Park Slope.
Father Jordan said the weeklong commemoration is an extension of the college’s ongoing mission “to teach the living tradition of St. Francis,” specifically the values of respect, service, social justice, environmental stewardship and tolerance.
“Everyone here embodies the great qualities of our patron,” shared Robert Oliva, special events director and an alumnus, who brought his dog Amstel, a German Shepherd/pit bull mix, for the blessing. “Everyone focuses on giving back.”
While giving back takes different forms for every member of the college community, many students and faculty members devote their time to efforts organized by the campus ministry department, headed by Father Jordan.
In the spirit of St. Francis and the Franciscan Brothers, who founded the school over 150 years ago to serve Brooklyn’s immigrant population, the campus ministry department seeks to foster social responsibility through community service, including peer counseling, interfaith prayer services, food drives and fundraisers.
“In the college, we try to turn acts of love into acts of service,” said Brother Owen. “Everything he (Francis) received in life – natural and supernatural gifts – he shared with others. He turned love into action and service and that inspires me every day.”
Sometimes that service is as simple as offering a blessing upon one of God’s smallest creatures, like sophomore Nora Martini’s Albanian rescue cat, Zana.
Martini couldn’t bring her feline friend to college, so Father Jordan was happy to bless an image of Zana displayed on Martini’s smartphone.
A graduate of St. Francis Prep, Fresh Meadows, Martini chose to continue her education at St. Francis College because, she said, “I like the Franciscan values of living humbly, peacefully and charitably.”
She admires the Franciscan Brothers who model that behavior on campus every day.
Living the Franciscan ideals, however, is not easy, admitted Father Jordan.
“In contemporary culture, we have an idolatry toward money, sex and power,” all of which are in direct contrast to the Franciscan vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, he noted.
“It’s like Jacob struggling with the angel. It is a struggle,” he said, “but a worthwhile struggle.”