HARTFORD – They came to the church on a drizzly Saturday morning – a Siberian husky wearing a “Lithuania” T-shirt, a pug in a red parka, a black cat shielded by a blue and white umbrella – and all waited on the small patch of lawn behind Holy Trinity Church on Capitol Avenue.
Presiding over the pets and their owners was Father Charles E. Jacobs, wearing a stole around his neck that depicted smiling faces of children of all races. As the chaplain of Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford, he had just returned from the nearby hospital, where he blessed a child who was heading into surgery.
Switching seamlessly from children to pets, he said, “We invoke the divine blessing on these animals through the intercession of Saint Francis of Assisi.”
The annual Blessing of the Animals is a Christian tradition that has been honored at Holy Trinity each year around the feast day of Saint Francis ever since Father Jacobs, who has a great affection for animals, was assigned to the city parish in 2001. This year the blessing was held on Oct. 1.
In addition to offering a blessing, Father Jacobs asks his parishioners to bring donations of pet food for the Connecticut Humane Society’s Pet Food Pantry in Newington, which provides free pet food to pets in need.
“Each one of us has a profound responsibility to care for all of God’s creation,” Father Jacobs said. “Both Saint Francis and Pope Francis would agree.”
This year, following the blessing, parishioners donated unopened packages of dog kibble and cat food, dog biscuits, cat treats and stuffed pet toys.
Bob Finnegan, a Humane Society volunteer ambassador, accepted the donations at a table in the church hall, where he also offered pamphlets and information on the Humane Society.
The Humane Society’s Pet Food Pantry currently serves 78 families across the state, said Barbara Naugle, the society’s director of development. Families in need can register in person at one of the three Humane Society shelters – in Newington, Waterford and Westport – or by calling the society’s main phone number.
Today, he helps to find homes for displaced pets, and marshals his whole parish in support of animals. Last Christmas, he led Holy Trinity in donating gift baskets to all three of the Humane Society’s shelters and to its Fox Memorial Clinic in Newington.
“There’s something about animals that brings people together,” Father Jacobs said.
And so they do.
“He’s wonderful,” said Ms. Naugle. “He’s such a compassionate man. He and I share a tremendous love for pets. He’s one of those people who is a friend for life, once you meet him.”
Parishioners agree. “Father is part of a special community in that we can share with Father Jacobs our love of pets,” said Desi Clark, who attended the blessing with her husband Paul.
Father Jacobs shares his life in the rectory with a Chihuahua mix named Cheech and a Lhasa apso named Snoop. Both were in need of a home when their former owners, both parishioners, could no longer keep them.
A lover of all animals, Father Jacobs has also turned the tiny strip of land between the church and the rectory into a virtual nature sanctuary for city critters. The two evergreen trees outside the door of the rectory harbor bird feeders that attract both songbirds and pigeons. A tiny wooden picnic table affixed to one of the trees serves as a perch for squirrels that nibble on corn cobs and peanuts.
“This is like a piece of heaven in the concrete jungle,” Father Jacobs said of the small plot of land outside his door, with its fluttering and scurrying inhabitants.
“He loves every little animal,” parishioner Theresa Rogers said of the priest, and the animals love him. As evidence, she said of her own terrier mix, Eli, “When it’s between me and Father, Eli goes and sits with Father.”
On the subject of animals, Father Jacobs said that a quote by the French poet, journalist and novelist Anatole France sums it all up for him: “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”