Oct. 4 is the feast day of St. Francis, and we have two venues in Danville that will be blessing animals this weekend. San Damiano, the retreat house of the Franciscan friars in the west Danville hills, will hold a Blessing of the Animals at 2 p.m. tomorrow. You can not only get your pets blessed but can also enjoy the view - and, of course, the serenity of the setting. San Damiano always welcomes people of all faiths to visit its beautiful hillside retreat for spiritual renewal and tomorrow welcomes their animals, too.
The next day Peace Lutheran Church is holding a Blessing of the Animals Pet Festival in conjunction with Tony La Russa's Animal Rescue Foundation, which will have its mobile cat adoption unit and therapy dogs. The fest will include animal art exhibits, crafts for kids and face-painting, all taking place from noon to 3 p.m. Plus it offers a prize for those who come dressed as their pets; I assume children will be doing this but you never know.
St. Francis is now the Patron Saint of Animals and Ecology. He was only Patron Saint of Animals when I was growing up in the 1950s but back then we weren't aware we needed anyone to watch over the environment. That was before the plastic bag began to sprout everywhere from our produce aisles to our checkout stands to newspapers and our garbage pails. The newspaper arrived on the front porch so tightly folded in a knot that even in the rain only the outside part would get wet. We lined our kitchen garbage pail with those same newspapers; coffee grounds and other wet garbage that now goes down a disposal would leak through the paper so we had to wash the pail fairly often, but we had plenty of water back then.
It was high time we began to care for Mother Earth, and I was glad to see this added to St. Francis' job description.
"I think it ties in because he was a rich young man and he turned it around to lead a simple life," said Peggy Machesky, a volunteer who is part of the Franciscan Covenant Program at San Damiano. She said they recycle everything and have their own compost garden.
She said for the annual Blessing of the Animals the people and their pets line up on the hillside and come forward to be blessed one by one, telling Father Rusty Shaughnessy the pet's name before he does the blessing. Some 200 people brought their animal companions last year including cats, dogs, birds, snakes and mice. Peggy is hoping for a horse this year.
San Damiano has its own cat in residence, Desdemona, described by Peggy as being "very prissy." Well, with a name like that, who can blame her? Another cat named Blackie was in residence until the spring. He was the pet of Father Emmanuel Muessinggang, who would have turned 100 in June. When Father Emmanuel moved to a rest home about a year ago, Blackie waited patiently at San Damiano to enjoy his visits on holidays. But Father Emmanuel passed away April 4 and, Peggy told me, Blackie died two weeks later.
Peggy remembered that folks from Peace Lutheran attended the San Damiano blessing in the past. "We've had them up here and they're wonderful, wonderful people." And she said they called this year before setting the date for their animal blessing. So we have a choice of two events in Danville to celebrate the special bond between us and our pets. Goes to show, around here we're all blessed.
-Dolores Fox Ciardelli can be e-mailed at editor@DanvilleWeekly.com.
Blessing of the Animals
* San Damiano Retreat Center, 710 Highland Drive, 2 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 4; call 837-9141
* Peace Lutheran Church, 3201 Camino Tassajara, noon-3 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 5; call 648-7000