Most pet owners consider the animals in their lives to be blessings. So it's perfectly understandable that some of these same owners would want to return the favor.
Pet blessings are a time-honored tradition in the Catholic Church, usually held near the Oct. 4 feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, said Deacon Joe Stalcup, who has been performing these ceremonies for in Tinley Park for about 15 years.
READ: Deacon Blesses the Animals at Sunday Ceremony in 2010
"Within the past 15 to 20 years, [pet blessings have] developed more than ever before," Stalcup said.
He attributes some of the rising popularity of these ceremonies to the evolving attitudes of people when it comes to their pets. Today, dogs and cats are looked at as close companions and friends by their owners, who develop relationships with their pets that are similar to the kinds they develop with fellow humans, Stalcup.
"Shockingly, sometimes their pets are more important to them than other people," he added.
Stalcup is a self-professed dog lover ("They have wonderful personalities. They're just great creatures."), and he and his wife own two terriers—an Australian Silky and a Yorkie—although over the years, they've had more dogs than that at one time. Pet blessings have been an important part of Stalcup's duties at St. Stephen's, and he helped develop the special prayer service the deacons and priests use for animals.
"This has always been a big priority for me," he added. "[Parishioners have] been asking about the blessing for about a month."
VIDEO: Take a Peek at the Dogs and Cats Available Through PAWS in Our Weekly Adopt Me Feature
Stalcup will be performing blessings at 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6, at St. Stephen's, in conjunction with PAWS Animal Shelter. Other area churches also will be holding similar ceremonies in their communities on that day. (Check Patch's listing at the end of this story.)
"We look forward to it for all of our animals in the shelter," said Peggy Grimm, a director at PAWS.
In fact, dogs in the shelter's care will be brought to St. Stephen's to receive the blessing, as well as to give prospective pet owners the opportunity to adopt a canine, she added.
Although it isn't as long and storied as the custom of pet blessings, this partnership between St. Stephen's and PAWS has become a tradition that Tinley Park residents look forward to, Grimm said. This year, though, that tradition has a new location.
In the past, the blessings were held at PAWS on 191st Street in Tinley Park, but parking at the shelter is limited, which has been problematic for such a popular event, Grimm said. So this year, the ceremony will move to St. Stephen's, which has more space. Appropriately enough, the blessings—offered in both a general ceremony and individually—will be done in the church's garden next to a statue of St. Francis.
PHOTOS: Check Out Pet Blessings From Last Year at First United Methodist Church in Orland Park
"People can go for a nice walk around the garden with their pet if they'd like to. There's plenty of parking. It's just a real ideal location to do a pet blessing," said Stalcup, adding that future blessings will probably continue to be held at the church.
What to Know Before You Go
There isn't a litany of strict rules surrounding the ceremony, but Stalcup and Grimm offer a few guidelines to ensure the event is enjoyable for everyone:
Everyone's Invited: All kinds of animals are welcome. "A woman came with a horse once," Stalcup said about the most unusual pet he's blessed. "We see lizards, snakes, birds, lots of dogs, cats. Horses aren't usual … but she rode up with her horse, and everyone was fascinated by this."
The only requirements for pets are that they're friendly and non-aggressive, Grimm said. The owners also must have a way to control them, either by having them on a leash or in a carrier or cage, Stalcup said.
You Don't Need to Be Catholic: The event is as inclusive with the humans as it is with the animals. Owners wanting to get their pets blessed don't have to be Catholic to attend, Stalcup said, adding, "Everybody is welcome, and we don't care what your denomination is."
Free, But Donations Are Accepted: "The best part about [the event] is that it's free," Stalcup said. But owners are being asked to help less fortunate pets by donating a toy, treat or blanket for the dogs and cats at PAWS, Grimm said.
St. Stephen's Pet Blessings
When: Begins at 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6.
Where: , Tinley Park
More info: Go to the website for PAWS Animal Shelter in Tinley Park.
Other Local Pet Blessings
- Saint Michael Church, Orland Park: Blessings begin at 3 p.m. Saturday in the church's memorial garden.
- St Francis of Assisi Parish, Orland Park: Blessings begin at noon Saturday.
- St. Julie Billiart Roman Catholic Church, Tinley Park: Blessings begin at 1 p.m. Saturday.
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