SPRINGFIELD They came in all shapes and sizes and all were equally blessed during Mercy Medical Center's first Blessing of the Animals service on Oct. 4.
Sister Madeleine Joy, S.P., of Mercy's Spiritual Care Department, explained that Oct. 4 marks the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, and his profound love for all types of animals is well known.
"The Blessing of the Animals is meant to give individuals with animals a chance to consider the positive connection they have to our physical and emotional health," Sister Joy said during an interview with Reminder Publications.
As the sun was slowing setting, more than 50 animals including those with cancer, arthritis, kidney failure and neurological problems had been blessed by Fr. Donatus Ironuma, a chaplain from Mercy's Spiritual Care Department, and Fr. Marion Tolczyk of St. Stanislaus Basilica in Chicopee.
Sister Joy noted that throughout the afternoon there were bearded dragon lizards, hermit crabs, rabbits, cats and dogs of all breeds that were sprinkled with holy water.
The service had been an idea of Sister Joy's for many years and noted she was thrilled when the Spiritual Care Department was asked to come up with a creative idea that would reach out to the community.
Stella Prucnal of East Longmeadow was one of dozens of area residents who brought their beloved pets to be blessed. Her constant companion is "Buddy," an 8-year-old miniature Doberman, who seemed a lot younger than his years.
"We'd both be lost without each other," said Prucnal as she kept Buddy close at hand as numerous cats passed by on leashes. Buddy is diabetic and blind, but you'd never know it to spend some time with him.
"He's lovable and full of joy," added Prucnal.
Laurie Collins of West Springfield, a certified pharmacy technician at Mercy, was also among the participants who brought "Barry," a 4-year-old greyhound, to the festivities. As Barry clung close to Collins, she explained that he had helped her tremendously just being there when she lost her grandmother several years ago.
"He's very gentle and I wanted to give him a good life after what he'd been through," she said.
Sister Joy greeted each attendee and their companion, and made sure that after the blessing, each animal received a sweet treat. Bookmarks with an artistic impression of St. Francis of Assisi were also given away.
In addition to the service, a small raffle was conducted to help raise funds for next year's event.
"We hope to collect enough money so each animal can receive a tag next year indicating they had been blessed," said Sister Joy.
As all the furry friends arrived and departed, one couldn't help but notice that all creatures great and small had someone to love them.