Animals receive blessings at St. Anthony Shrine on feast of St. Francis

BOSTON -- You can lead a horse to holy water, but you can't make it stand still.

Liberty and Henry, two horses belonging to the Boston Park Rangers, were skittish as they, along with 50 other animals, received blessings at St. Anthony Shrine on Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis.

"I'm thrilled," said Madeline Huganis, who took Bella Mia, her 11-year-old Italian greyhound, to be blessed. "I just want to have her for as long as I can."

Charles Munroe brought Jimbo, his black lab-German shepherd mix, to be blessed for the second year in a row.

"Jimbo deserves the best," Munroe said.

The blessings came from the Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province, who operate the shrine.

Father Frank Sevola, the shrine's religious superior, said that the friars have been blessing animals for "God knows how long."

"It comes from the heart of what St. Francis wants," said Father Paul Keenan. "That every part of creation is part of the kingdom of God. Brother, bird, sister, dog, mother, cat. They all matter."

Father Keenan added that he loves all animals -- "even the seagulls that can be a real bother."

Most of the animals blessed in person were dogs, but thanks to video conferencing, Father Keenan was able to bless a few birds and even a pet turtle via cell phone.

A large number of Boston police officers, including Police Commissioner Michael Cox, attended the Blessing of the Animals.

"Your faith is not just in God," Cox told the Franciscans, "but more importantly, it's in your community... Faith is what we need."

The blessing was part of Faith and Blue, an initiative that works with religious organizations to strengthen ties between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

"Police and Fransiscan friars have two things in common," Thomas E. Conway, the executive director of St. Anthony Shrine, told the people in attendance. "We both have a lot of rules, and we both keep confidential things confidential."

Several police dogs were blessed, including one so important that he has his own business card. Oscar the K-9 is trained to sniff for bombs at national parks across Massachusetts and, according to his card, likes relaxing in the sun after a long day's work.

U.S. Park Ranger David Pinkos, Oscar's handler, said that Oscar is set to retire next year at the ripe old age of 10. Pinkos hopes that the Franciscans' blessing will make Oscar's last year on the job a success.