Pets of all sorts blessed at St. Joseph

Father Tomasz Zalewski blesses pets Tuesday at St. Joseph Catholic School in honor of St. Francis.
Father Tomasz Zalewski blesses pets Tuesday at St. Joseph Catholic School in honor of St. Francis.

Tuesday was Elvis’ first time. Same for Toothless. Deaf Molly was an old pro.

Pets of all shapes, sizes and ages were blessed equally Tuesday afternoon at St. Joseph Catholic School, as part of the feast day for St. Francis of Assisi. The courtyard filled with yapping dogs, purring cats, hampsters, tortoises, birds and even a bearded dragon for the event in which Father Tomasz Zalewski read a special prayer and blessed the animals with holy water while family members observed.

Felix Estigarribia, a prekindergarten student at the school, let Elvis the bird sit on his shoulder and climb around his collar before the ceremony. It was Elvis’ first time being blessed. The family, which has two older students as well, also brought their two pet cats for the ceremony.

“They’re part of our family, too,” said Paige Estigarribia, the mother. “A really important part.”

Kaya, Julian and Sonny Hogue surrounded Molly, a deaf border collie, spaniel mix, while she was blessed. Molly, a rescue dog, comes out every year for the blessing, the family said.

Not all the pets blessed belonged to children and families in the school. Toothless, a bearded dragon belonging to 18-year-old Juliet Ryan, a parishioner at the church, was also there to be blessed.

“I’ve always wanted to have Toothless blessed, but I’ve always been too busy or in school,” said Ryan, who will attended the University of Tampa in the spring.

St. Francis wasn’t just an advocate for animals, but he was also a champion of the environment, school Principal Deborah Suddarth said.

“He had love and respect for all creation,” she said.

Before blessing the pets, Zalewski had the students make a promise to help take care of their pets.

“Most of these pets are at your homes because you wanted them and your parents love you so much and got you those pets, right? So now you have to help to take care of them,” he said.

Meghin Delaney: 941-745-7081, @MeghinDelaney