Although he did not use holy water, at least a few of the dogs he blessed on this bright Sunday morning, returned the favor by lifting a rear leg during the blessing.
Just shy of 11 a.m. on Sept. 29, Grindeland had blessed 12 dogs—one via cell phone, but more soon showed up to receive their grace and hobnob with other dogs from the neighborhood near Avenue C and 35th Street.
The Blessing of the Animals had been a long tradition in many other parts of the world, associated with the animal-friendly Saint Francis, who was something of a radical in the Catholic Church during his lifetime, but has become the patron saint of animal lovers.
The feast day of St. Francis, on Oct. 4, memorializes the impoverished conditions in which he and his early brothers lived, once even vacating their lowly hovel to make room for a donkey.
Francis wrote a Canticle of the Creatures, an ode to God’s living things. “All praise to you, Oh Lord, for all these brother and sister creatures.”
Franciscan churches typically have a friar in a brown robe with a white cord conducting the blessing, but churches large and small, of many denominations have taken up the tradition.
Grindeland, who took over as pastor at Grace Lutheran earlier this year, brought the tradition to his church in Bayonne from one of his previous assignments in Wisconsin, where the animals he blessed were sometimes not dogs and cats. During one ceremony, he recalled, two horses showed up.
Inspired by his church’s dog, Sammy, whom he had inherited from a local farm in Wisconsin, Grindeland did the yearly blessing as one more way to reach out to the community, stirring souls through their love of their pets.
“Sammy used to follow me around the church,” Grindeland recalled. “He was our official greeter.”
Grindeland loved Sammy so much, he even mentioned the animal in his annual report to the church elders, thanking Sammy for his contributions.
“He lived to be 15 and I miss him,” Grindeland said. “I tried to look for a replacement but I really couldn’t.”
Among the dogs and their masters who came to get their blessing and their treats was the five-year-old mixed breed Taz, whose owner Jane Wodcanowski said her dog hadn’t had a typical puppyhood, but was learning after five years how to play. Other dogs who came shortly after had no problem playing, although they were as interested in each other as they were in the blessing and the treats.
“These animals are important to people; they are extended members or even members of our families,” Grindeland said.
Yet, in bringing the pets to the church for events such as this, Grindeland embraces people and the community, something he plans to do a lot of in the future, making clear that the church doors are open to everyone.
During the blessing, Grindeland uses a crucifix that had been given to him by a Catholic church in Wisconsin as a parting gift, an usual crucifix in that the Christ figure holds a dove in one hand while the other hand and his feet are nailed to the cross.
“They also gave me a green vestment,” Grindeland said, which, of course, is perfect for when the church celebrates St. Patrick’s Day next March.
Meanwhile, Grindeland has other plans for the community such as an outdoor Christmas tree on the church’s front lawn and possibly a musical performance on the lawn to coincide with a local block party.
“We’ll be just like Central Park and have a concert on the green,” he said, laughing.
Among other churches blessing the animals are Trinity Church on Oct. 6; The Heart of Polish National Catholic Church on Oct. 4; and Calvary Episcopal Church on Oct. 6.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.