Dogs in church – an interesting case

Haven’t we all seen the movie or TV show or read the book in which our hero is protected by his faithful but mortally wounded dog?  Our hero – incredibly tough and even sometimes cold-blooded, now weeping has to put his own dog out of its misery?

Here is a story in The Telegraph that underscores the strange bond people have with their dogs, seemingly unlike the connection you humans have with any of your planet’s other critters.

Dog turns up to dead owner’s church every day
Two months after his owner died, a dog in Italy keeps turning up each day at the church she used to attend.

By Nick Squires in Rome

Ciccio, [“Pudgy”] a 12-year-old German shepherd, waits in vain in front of the altar of the Santa Maria Assunta church in the village of San Donaci in the southern region of Puglia.
He heads to the church as soon as the bells begin to ring each afternoon, just as he did for years when his owner was alive.
The woman, who was known in local dialect as “Maria tu lu campu” – “Maria of the fields” – died suddenly in November.
Ciccio attended the funeral, following his mistress’s coffin as it was carried into the church.
The dog’s devotion has so impressed villagers that they have adopted him as their own, giving him food and water and letting him sleep in a covered area outside the church.

The local priest, Donato Panna, allows him to sit in front of the altar during Masses, baptisms and other services.
He is now hoping to find a new home for the faithful hound.
His behaviour is reminiscent of Greyfriars Bobby, a Skye Terrier who became famous in Edinburgh for spending years guarding the grave of his owner.

I suppose this will bring up the whole “dogs in church” thing.

There is nothing per se wrong with an animal in a church, but the risks to the place’s sacral character are obvious.  This, blessing of animals on certain days… in church… nooooo.  Do it outside!   We just had the feast of St. Anthony the Abbot yesterday.  Years ago I stood outside a church in Velletri, Sant’Antonio Abbate, with my holy water bucket and blessed pigs and horses. In church?  Not so much.

But, as hard-hearted as I am, I think I would give Ciccio a pass.

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  1. The Astronomer says:

    I agree, Father; Ciccio gets a pass. I normally have ZERO tolerance for animals in church, but this particular situation borders on the preternatural, if not the supernatural. Perhaps an admonition from Our Savior through a canine creation of the importance of fidelity, extending beyond the bounds of death itself.

    Something to ponder………

  2. “But, as hard-hearted as I am …”

    You and me both, Father, including for such as this.

    My “territorial parish” is reputedly uncertain in its Catholicity — yes, in northern Virginia, it can happen — and the pastor had a dog who would stay with him in church during Mass. I was aghast the first time the first time I saw this, but by the end of the Mass I realized that the dog was better behaved than most of the people.

    And yet, so long as the creature doesn’t enter the sanctuary …

    “… I think I would give Ciccio a pass.”

    So would I.

  3. mschu528 says:

    Normally I would also cringe at the thought of an animal in Church, but I agree this sounds different. Kind of reminds me of Frate Lupo in the Fioretti.

    “Laudato sie, mi Signore cum tucte le Tue creature!”

  4. MAJ Tony says:

    Interestingly enough, having done some recent research, I found that St. Anthony the Abbot is referred to as “Sautoni” (sau= as in sow or pig) in many parts of Germany (mostly in Allemanic dialect areas such as the Black Forest). I had always wondered before why Anthony was such a common Christian name in much of Germany.

  5. Ohio Organist says:

    When I first saw this headline via RSS feed, it brought this article to mind:

  6. Papabile says:

    There’s an old parish in New Haven CT that actually had basins for dogs built into the floor residing partially under the first step to the sanctuary.

    It was common in the 1800’s for people to bring their dogs and have them sit on their feet during the winter.

    Just another practical use for the altar rail…. keep em out of the sanctuary.

  7. Josephus Muris Saliensis says:

    Careful though! What about great traditions like the Palio di Siena, where the horses are blessed in church? See lovely pix here:

    In Salzburg, I am told the hunting guilds would ride into the Cathedral for their blessing by the archbishop, until 30 years ago at least, if not today.

    Dogs, I tend to agree, though many English clergy have dogs which accompany them in church for Mass. And cats, of course, may go wherever they will!

  8. Josephus Muris Saliensis says:

    Ah, Papabile – not ANOTHER use for the altar rail, but its original use!

    They are “altar-rails” not “communion rails”; they were meant to protect the altar for dogs and rowdy people. The practice of administering Holy Communion there came much, much later, when more frequent communion became common after the Counter-Reformation, and was very likely adopted from protestant practices in northern Europe.

  9. FrPaul says:

    I don’t recall where I came upon this factoid but it seems that when St. Vincent de Paul began his work, members of his society agreed to help in many ways. For instance, he asked that they commit to leaving at home their dog and NOT bring it to Church. In 1992 I served in Norhtern Mexico for a year as administrator of a parish. The first Holy Mass there I noticed dogs in the Church. At first I thought “local custom,” and “I’ll have to adjust.” But what happens when dogs do all of the things which dogs will do but now during Church? AFTER that initial Mass I had to station people at the doors to keep out the dogs. We must understand that yes, things can get worse. One dog may not be a problem but what about two or more? Or a cat? Or a fill-in-the-blank? Fr. Paul Weinberger, St. William Church, Greenville, TX

  10. wanda says:

    Ciccio get a pass. (Must dab eyes, now.)

  11. Michaeleus says:

    I heard about this on my Catholic radio station this morning. Kinda cool…and I agree with the exception for this particular canine.

    Does remind me of the joke where the local parishioner’s dog died and he wanted his pastor, Fr. O’Malley, to say a few words in the dog’s honour. The priest said, “this is not a pet asylum me boy, this is the Lord’s House!” To which the parishioner said, “that’s fine Father. I am sure the Presbyterian pastor won’t mind saying something and accepting the $10,000 donation I was going to make in his name.” “Saints be praised!” said Fr. O’Malley; “ye didn’t tell me the dog was CATHOLIC!!”

  12. wanda says:

    Ooooops, Should be Ciccio gets a pass.

  13. anilwang says:

    Agreed on both counts. This is a bit of an exception. Animals at funerals are not unheard of in Catholic Tradition. For instance, St. Mary of Egypt was buried by a lion and Fr. Zosimas.

    Out of curiosity, what would happen if a blind man with a seeing eye dog went into a conservative Latin Mass Church? Would he be allowed in? Could he approach the altar rails with the dog? Or is this something that needs to be discussed with the priest before hand so he could give his permission?

  14. VexillaRegis says:

    Of course Ciccio can sit in the house of the Lord and wait! I don’t like dogs and other animals in church otherwise, but this story is very sweet.

    This reminds me of what an old pastor of mine once told me about a priest he knew in Germany. Hehe. That priest had a big fat dog, who accompanied his master to Mass every Sunday. He lay under the altar and when he thought the priest had been silent long enough after his sermon, the doggie sighed loudly and moved to the other side. Then came the creed. Gosh.

    Night Crew must now have dinner. Bye bye!

  15. MattnSue says:

    I’m sure St Roch appreciates your “indult,” Father. My parish has a statue of St Roch and his dog. It had been in the sanctuary, but it’s now just outside the sanctuary in an area where they made shrines by taking away two of our four confessionals. I know we won’t have four priests stationed there probably ever again, and I should be happy that we still use the two confessionals we do have (after a brieft “tryst” with a reconciliation room, our beloved Pastor re-introduced confessionals shortly after he arrived). Further, the shrines look nice, I just hate to see confessionals go away :(. I know: off topic much?

  16. NBW says:

    Poor Ciccio. I hope they find a home for him.

  17. Faith says:

    To make the discussion more interesting: What if the priest needed a service dog?

  18. Phil_NL says:

    The real question is of course why people would bring animals into the church in the first place. Guide dogs, service dogs etc, I can understand and would not object to, but ordinary pets should be kept outside. (not to mention the problems that arise should more than one be brought in. Should two dogs be tearing eachother apart, I think use of a liturgical Beretta would be appropriate ;)

    But since the dog’s owner is well past addressing that issue, Ciccio would get a pass indeed. If he was welcome during his owner’s life, he should be welcome to pay his respects too now his owner has been deceased.

  19. SKAY says:

    I agree that this wonderful faithful dog gets a pass and I am so glad that the local prist is so kind.

    Although the funeral service was not in a church–this is about a Navy SEAL’s faithful friend.

  20. Supertradmum says:

    hmm, I have dogs in church in Malta and in England.

    I guess we shall have to agree to disagree on this one. If the dogs are behaved and quiet, and clean and not smelly, I have no problem.

    I have seen this with both big and little dogs, even in the Brompton Oratory

  21. Supertradmum says:

    oops seen…missing, sorry. What about cats?

  22. AnAmericanMother says:

    Ciccio gets a pass for his extreme loyalty and devotion.

    Just like Hachik?, and more recently Hawkeye, who refused to leave his slain SEAL master and lay at the foot of his coffin throughout the service.

    Greyfriars Bobby, mentioned in the article, appears to have been a tourist trap . . . . like the Tuckerbox Dog of Gundagai.

  23. AnAmericanMother says:

    SKAY – my comment went into moderation (too many links) but you beat me to it anyway.

    I have a soft spot for Hawkeye, seeing as he is a Chocolate Lab like my oldest girl.

    But none of my girls have ever been to church, except for the St. Francis blessing in the outdoor chapel. They always enjoy that.

  24. Laura98 says:

    You’d have to be pretty hard-hearted to not have this tug at your heart-strings. :) Even saying that, in general, I do agree that in general animals don’t belong in church, even though they are usually better behaved than a number of the parishioners. Yet, there are exceptions… Ciccio is one. And shows to me, God’s love for us by giving us such wonderful creatures as dogs (and cats) who love and care for us, even after death. I know my father’s cat, Ollie (also a bit on the pudgy side) grieved for my Dad for a long time after his passing. Thanks for sharing this story, Fr. Z.

  25. AvantiBev says:

    “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth
    and of ALL things visible and invisible.” Say it like you mean it.

    Like Balaam’s donkey and a couple of my dachsies, Ciccio is aware of the invisible in his Creator’s universe. In my 57 years I have been to a lot of Katholic liturgies where the humans in attendance were NOT aware of anything invisible/transcendent. Ciccio doesn’t “dirty up” the church anymore than our sinful souls do. Would that we could all say truthfully we were worthy of such love and faithfulness; our divorce courts, abortion mills, welfare offices, and animal shelters would be empty and unused.

    Because my creed is the Nicene Creed, I can thank God that He has come into my life so many times on paws and hooves. God bless Ciccio. God bless my Nikki Sue.

  26. MaryW says:

    There is a priest in my diocese who uses a guide dog and he occasionally says Mass and hears confessions at my parish. The dog remains by his side at all times, even in the sanctuary and confessional.

  27. Jack Hughes says:

    I know of a dog who was ‘occasionally’ allowed to acompany his religious masters into the Oratory for evening prayer in their old home, this dog displayed more respect in the presence of God than many of the people I used to go to Mass with. The irony is that the rest of the time he was completely psycotic.

  28. Jack Hughes says:

    Sorry for the double post but I just remembred a Father of Mercy telling me of the time he blessed a Tarantula named Faustina :)

  29. Ellen says:

    A beloved priest in my home town had a cocker spaniel named Angel. She would come to Mass and wait quietly in the corner until it was over. She was well behaved and a favorite with the congregation.

  30. poorlady says:

    Perhaps God is using one of his creatures to remind us about reverence towards God and respect and love for one another. (This is an old lesson from St. Francis.) There seems so little devotion nowadays.

    An unthinking animal is doing naturally what a thinking human isn’t?

    I digress… and, no, I am not saying animals should be allowed in Mass.

  31. AnAmericanMother says:

    Eddi’s Service
    (A.D. 687)

    Eddi, priest of St. Wilfrid
    In his chapel at Manhood End,
    Ordered a midnight service
    For such as cared to attend.

    But the Saxons were keeping Christmas,
    And the night was stormy as well.
    Nobody came to service,
    Though Eddi rang the bell.

    “‘Wicked weather for walking,”
    Said Eddi of Manhood End.
    “But I must go on with the service
    For such as care to attend.”

    The altar-lamps were lighted, —
    An old marsh-donkey came,
    Bold as a guest invited,
    And stared at the guttering flame.

    The storm beat on at the windows,
    The water splashed on the floor,
    And a wet, yoke-weary bullock
    Pushed in through the open door.

    “How do I know what is greatest,
    How do I know what is least?
    That is My Father’s business,”
    Said Eddi, Wilfrid’s priest.

    “But — three are gathered together —
    Listen to me and attend.
    I bring good news, my brethren!”
    Said Eddi of Manhood End.

    And he told the Ox of a Manger
    And a Stall in Bethlehem,
    And he spoke to the Ass of a Rider,
    That rode to Jerusalem.

    They steamed and dripped in the chancel,
    They listened and never stirred,
    While, just as though they were Bishops,
    Eddi preached them The Word,

    Till the gale blew off on the marshes
    And the windows showed the day,
    And the Ox and the Ass together
    Wheeled and clattered away.

    And when the Saxons mocked him,
    Said Eddi of Manhood End,
    “I dare not shut His chapel
    On such as care to attend.”

    Rudyard Kipling

  32. Geoffrey says:

    Many years ago, a retired priest who lived at the parish had a dog. His dog would always lay off to the side of the sanctuary while his master said Mass. Some parishioners complained.

    Another parish I know of has an unofficial parish cat. No one knows where he came from, but he lives outside on the parish grounds, and walks into the church when it is opened. Sometimes he will curl up and sleep under the altar; at other times he has been known to sleep on a pew right next to me (if not on my lap, which makes standing/kneeling more than awkward!). Parishioners have tried adopting him and taking him home, but he always finds his way back to the church.

    I am okay with animals in church (granted, just one animal at a time!).

  33. Long-Skirts says:

    This is such a beautiful story!!!

    You know dogs are now used for helping those souls with epilepsy as the canine can be trained to see, smell/hear the aura around epileptics so as to warn their master of an impending seizure. Man cannot see/sense, etc., these auras and they do occur right before a seizure.

    Deo Gratias!!!!!!

    An American Mother said:

    “And he told the Ox of a Manger
    And a Stall in Bethlehem,
    And he spoke to the Ass of a Rider,
    That rode to Jerusalem.”
    (Rudyard Kipling)


    It is the morn
    Of Christmas Eve
    Scrambled eggs I cook.

    Advent Sunday
    Fourth and last
    Most fasting now forsook.

    The birds outside
    Are singing carols
    Pitched soprano-high

    Above the frost
    Below the blue
    Their midnight moment nigh.

    When beasts will speak
    In whispers low
    How Emmanuel did come

    And they could talk
    And pray an hour…
    While man was struck quite dumb.

  34. VexillaRegis says:

    Dear Geoffrey,

    how lovely to have a cat like that! Pius, the pious cat.

  35. Gail F says:

    Yes, Ciccio gets a pass! I am unclear as to whether the dog came with the woman to Mass or not, but it sounds as if she were an unusual sort of person, and when an animal does something like this so out of character for an animal, I’m all for letting it!!!!! Interesting to hear of different customs in different time periods and places being posted here.

  36. The Sicilian Woman says:

    As an animal lover and one having pets who bring me much comfort, I saw this story yesterday and it warmed my weary soul. God bless Father Panna for allowing Ciccio to stay in church. Ciccio is probably much better behaved than some of the “sheep” at Mass are. (Plus, our Savior was born amongst animals, right?) I support an animal being allowed in church, as long as it causes no disturbance and poses no danger to anyone.

  37. MichaelJ says:

    anilwag, I see that there is still a lot of work to do. It’s quite sad, really, that the general perception of traditionally minded Catholics is so poor.
    To anwer your question, there would be no trouble, and nobody would say a word (except perhaps words of encouragement) “if a blind man with a seeing eye dog went into a conservative Latin Mass Church”

  38. APX says:

    Gail F says:
    when an animal does something like this so out of character for an animal

    This isn’t out of character for dogs, particularly breeds known for their faithfulness. I used to have a rottweiler, but had to put her down last year at the old age of 12 when she got cancer. She used to double as kitchen floor vacuum, pillow, security system, and foot warmer. Now her urn holds up my books. I still haven’t gotten used to having to pick up food that falls on the floor.

    Unfortunately, being a student and having to move and rent a lot, she stayed back home with my parents. When I moved out, for several weeks she’d wait at the bottom of the stairs leading up to my room waiting for me to come down. Then she started collecting my old socks and gathering them on her bed to lie on. When I’d come home, she’d go nuts. When I’d leave again, the same pattern repeated itself.

  39. Precentrix says:

    The cult of St. Guinefort persisted until the 1930s, but it got mixed up with quite a lot of pre-existing superstition and witchcraft… Still, it says something that a dog may be considered a saint, even if it be erroneously!

    (cult supressed several times)

  40. Stumbler but trying says:

    A wonderful and yet mysterious story of a loving dog who it seems cannot forget its master. I smiled when reading such and wondered about what our Lord might be trying to say. I marveled at the dog’s fidelity…wake up, walk to Mass, wait in silence, ponder what no man can see…truly wonderful. I too give Ciccio a pass as he inspires many to ponder the beauty of the Lord.
    Loved reading the poems and all the wonderful commentary about dogs, cats, horses. Thanks for sharing Fr. Z.

  41. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Re: the Palio blessing of each contrada’s horse, there’s some very nice pre-Vatican II illustrations of it in Marguerite Henry’s book Gaudenzia: Pride of the Palio. This is the same book that features, as a character in the true story it tells, a certain Vatican Secretary of State who later became Bl. Pope John XXII. So it’s a full value book!

  42. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Oh, and of course the Palios, in Siena and elsewhere, are run in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary on her summer feastdays.

  43. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Forgot that the publishers changed the name to The Wildest Horse Race in the World. Man, now I feel old.

  44. MominTexas says:

    We have a dog that attends daily Mass. You’d not even know he was there, except he is BIG, and hard to miss. His owner is blind, they walk to Mass every day. The dog behaves perfect- as I said, you’d not know he was there. The pews confuse the poor thing though; his owner counts them- he tries to turn into one after the first few!

  45. Gail F says:

    APX: I didn’t mean that being loyal was out of character for an animal, but that going to Mass by itself was!

  46. bookworm says:

    When I worked for a Catholic newspaper I wrote a story about a blind woman who attended Mass with her guide dog. I went to Mass with her and the dog, a black Lab who had been specially bred and trained to be a guide dog. She (the dog) sat quietly under the pew during Mass and accompanied her owner to Communion. She also accompanied her owner to her full-time job at a local bank!

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  48. shin says:

    No dogs. No cats.
    No Ciccio.

    What part of the risks to the Eucharist and the sacred character of the church do people not understand?

    There was a lesson in the old animal sacrifices God commanded. We’re told to overcome human respect — now there has to be animal respect to be overcome? A cute dog and suddenly what is truly important doesn’t matter?

  49. StWinefride says:

    Shin says: No dogs. No cats.
    No Ciccio.
    What part of the risks to the Eucharist and the sacred character of the church do people not understand?

    There’s something far, far worse than animals in Church:

    Communion in the hand.

    Now we’re talking risks to the Eucharist.

    Reading about this in the Italian press, it’s funny to see how Ciccio’s age ranges from 14 to 12 to even 7 years old. The article that mentions that he is about 7 years old says that his real name is Tommy, but everyone calls him Ciccio. “Poorlady” mentioned St Francis above, Ciccio is also a diminutive of Francesco (Francis in Italian).

    Off-topic here, sorry, but it’s interesting to note that in the Latin languages it’s common to say when someone has died “he/she is no more”. (in Italian this is “non c’è più”, in French it’s “il/elle n’est plus”). It has the meaning “he/ she is no more on earth”. It seems less harsh and is a poetical way of saying “their journey continues”. Death is not the end, as we know, and love is stronger than death.

  50. AnAmericanMother says:

    “Cute” has nothing to do with it.
    A dog’s faithfulness unto death (and even beyond) is a special circumstance.

  51. The dog’s presence is a powerful reminder to pray for the soul of the deceased owner. “Let it be,” as the Beatles once said.

  52. David Zampino says:

    In my view, the dog gets a pass on this one.

    Frankly, this story also speaks highly of his late mistress’s devotion to the Mass.

  53. Dismas says:

    I wonder if where Ciccio now sits wasn’t the last place, after her death, that Maria of the fields appeared prior to her burial at her funeral Mass? I imagine with Ciccio’s presence there, Maria must be constantly remembered and the repose of her soul well prayed for by fellow parishioners? It’s only too bad Ciccio doesn’t face liturgical East.

  54. My coffee is salty now, from tears. I pray that the pastor finds a loving home for this faithful companion. It is so sad for me to read this.

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