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Campus pet community gathers for annual ‘Blessing’ ceremony

By Grey Curcio '24
Published October 17, 2022
Categories: About Eckerd, Student Life

Father Stephan blesses a student’s pet cat. Photos above and below by Penh Alicandro ’22

A cacophony of barking dogs, meowing cats and hissing snakes filled Hough Quad on Oct. 6 for Eckerd College’s annual Pet Blessing.

Animals and owners of all kinds gathered together to receive blessings from Eckerd Director of Religious Life and Chaplain Doug McMahon, Campus Rabbi Ed Rosenthal and Campus Catholic Ministry leader Father Stephan Brown. An established Eckerd tradition, the annual Pet Blessing has occurred every October at Eckerd since 2004, when it was started by former Chaplain Mona Bagasao. 

Interim President Jim Annarelli praises a guinea pig at the annual pet blessing.

McMahon says that despite the wide variety of religious beliefs on campus, the Pet Blessing can appeal to everyone. “Many students who may not identify as religious enjoy participating in the tradition of a spiritual practice; blessing animals and giving thanks for the importance of pets and animals in our life and world,” he explains. 

According to McMahon, the Pet Blessing honors the example of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of the environment and animals.

“St. Francis is a spiritual teacher to us,” McMahon says, “and we expand this to include everyone on campus, even though that is the roots of the traditional blessing … in the Catholic tradition.”

Father Stephan, Rabbi Ed and Chaplain McMahon blessed a variety of pets at the ceremony.

McMahon, Brown, and Rosenthal each led prayers for the pets on campus, blessing them and highlighting the importance of their presence in our lives. 

This year, the Pet Blessing also was used as an opportunity for students, staff and faculty to gather together and support one another in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. Ronald Porter ’05, Ph.D., director of service learning, gave a speech at the event, highlighting the importance of support and action for those who have lost their pets and property, saying that we are “called to care” for those around us. 

Interim President Jim Annarelli spoke as well, acknowledging the work of Eckerd’s Pet Life and Religious Life departments and honoring the special impact pets have on our lives. “Could there be an event more Eckerd than this?” he asked the crowd. “The Pet Blessing is indicative of our values and vision for campus … We all receive blessings from our pets.” 

Mackenzie Siddon—a senior from Clinton, New York, studying human development and biology—is the student director of pet life this school year. She says events like the Pet Blessing are fundamental because they recognize the importance of pets and help build community on campus. “I think [pets] give a sense of support for a lot of people on campus, especially since so many people come from so far away,” she adds. “Being able to have a dog or any animal helps make that transition better and easier for people.” 

Mackenzie has worked for Pet Life since her freshman year at Eckerd and is excited to collaborate with Religious Life to hold more pet-focused events on campus. Next, Religious Life and Pet Life will host a Pets and Grief event later this semester.

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