Blessing of the dogs

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A church on Mott Street marks the Feast of St. Rocco with its first celebration of the love of animals


  • Pit bull-terrier Penelope at the church with her owner. Photo: Estelle Pyper

  • The Rev. Monsignor Donald Sakano, next to the statue of St. Rocco, at The Basilica of Saint Patrick's Old Cathedral for the Blessings of the Dogs. Photo: Estelle Pyper

  • The Rev. Monsignor Donald Sakano at the Blessing of the Dogs. Photo: Estelle Pyper.

Penelope, a hefty pit bull-terrier mix, sauntered through the gates of The Basilica of Saint Patrick’s Old Cathedral on Mott Street last Wednesday evening with her owner in tow. Little did she know, she would exit those gates a blessed dog.

August 16th marked the Feast of St. Rocco — the little-known Catholic patron saint of dogs. The story goes that Rocco (who also represents knee problems and other diseases) was heavily involved in tending to those who had the plague. So much so that he acquired the plague himself. He retreated into the forest where he found a spring to drink from, but had no food. But it was a dog that brought him bread and licked his wounds until they healed. Thus Rocco is an emblem of the bond between humans and dogs, solidifying their place as “man’s best friend.”

When Kathleen Brady learned that St. Patrick’s has a stained glass window and a statue of a dog (accompanying St. Rocco), she knew it had to be celebrated. She was there for an event at the end of July with her friend and member of the church, Anne Riccitelli, listening to the Rev. Monsignor Donald Sakano speak.

“Monsignor said, ‘I like to tell people that we are a church that has a statue of a dog,’” Brady recalled, “and I’m sitting there and I’m thinking, ‘We should have a blessing of the dogs on the feast of St. Rocco!’”

Sakano loved the idea. The only hitch? August 16th was only two weeks away, but they spread the word and threw together the church’s first Blessing of the Dogs.

The informal event lasted from 6 to 8 that evening in the courtyard. Dogs and owners could come and go as they pleased. Animals waiting to be blessed sat (distractedly) in front of Sakano while he read a prayer and blessed them (and their owners) with holy water.

“I say a prayer that acknowledges the role of dogs in our lives, ‘God we offer every gift, animals and dogs are a way you provide help for our needs,’” said Sakano. “They’re very special. You know, a dog is the only animal that looks a human being in the eye. No other animal does that in a meaningful way.”

Sakano was accompanied by a large statue of St. Rocco with the little dog at his feet: there is a lesion on his knee, and the dog carries bread. Being a saint of knee issues as well, St. Rocco served a second purpose for Sakano: “I just had double knee surgery,” he said. “But I’m doing pretty good — due to St. Rocco.”

The low-key event well-received by parishioners, with smiles all around. Water and doggie treats were available for the blessed animals.

The church hopes this is the first of many annual dog blessings to come. Neither Brady nor Sakano have dogs themselves (although Sakano spends a lot of time looking at beagle videos on YouTube), but for an evening, they united a community through the love of animals.

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