Drive-by Blessings: EDS celebrates Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi

Grace Feurtado cuddles her cat, Bella, as they wait in line Wednesday morning for the annual blessing of the pets in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi outside the Episcopal Day School. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

Even if it was a little different this year, the long tradition of blessing the animals among us to honor the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi continued Wednesday morning at the Episcopal Day School in Brownsville, where families lined up drive-by style to have their pets blessed.

St. Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of animals and the environment. His feast day fits right in with EDS’ emphasis on the natural world, school officials said.

Laurie McKim, rector of Church of the Advent Episcopal and the EDS Chaplin, performed the blessing, sprinkling holy water on the pets as the cars slowly drove by in the hour before the start of in-person classes at 8:45 a.m.

About half of EDS students are attending in-person classes during the coronavirus pandemic. The other half are studying from home, Head of School Brian Clyne said

Hymns sung by music teacher Anne Zufelt accompanying herself on piano gave the event a religious air. In other years, students and their pets have assembled on the lawn beneath the large cross on the front of the school’s chapel. Hymns and scripture are included in the form of a religious service. That wasn’t possible this year, but EDS made the best of the situation.

“Everyone looks forward to this and we wanted to keep the tradition,” Zufelt, who is in her 30th year at EDS, said. “We’ve had horses, pigs, all kinds of snakes, monkeys and macaw parrots. We’ve had every kind of animal imaginable. None of them have ever escaped.”

Science teacher Sandra Morfit, also a longtime EDS educator, said the tradition of blessing the pets is part of “learning to care for all of God’s creatures and how important it is for us to take care of every living thing, of Planet Earth.”

EDS in recent years has expanded its nature trail along the back part of the school, where things have been allowed to trend back to the wild.

Francisco Lorenzo, his daughter Julia, 6, and son Hector, 4, brought along their pet French bulldog Max.

“It’s a great event,” Lorenzo said, adding that having a pet like Max gives the kids a chance to share their love.

Patrick Pirtle and his son Cristian, a fifth-grader, brought two dogs, Venkman and Karma, to be blessed.

“It’s a good tradition, but it’s definitely different this year,” Cristian said.

Cristian’s mother Claudia Pirtle said the great thing about their dogs is their capacity to give unconditional love.

As the parade of cars, trucks and SUVs passed by EDS students stood socially distanced on the lawn singing verses from a program.

Fifth-grader Ana Lucia Garcia was one of them. She said she did distance learning for awhile but likes in-person instruction better.

“I feel like I learned great both ways,” she said.

Clyne said classroom teaching is taking place largely as it has in years past, but with all the safety precautions the coronavirus requires. EDS split the staff, with in-person teachers devoting themselves to their classes and online teachers devoting themselves to that task but neither doing both.

glong@brownsvilleherald.com