Deacon Greg brings us a story of a priest and his best friend and a parish who “gets it”:

For those who think dogs would be such a distraction in church…here’s the story of how one is renewing a community.

Our Lady of the Holy Cross Catholic Church got a new priest last summer, the Rev. Don Buhr.

With Buhr came Elijah, also known in this North Side parish as the Church Dog.

Elijah is a Labrador and border collie mix who attends every Mass that Buhr celebrates.

“A dog in church — I know it doesn’t sound right and doesn’t seem right,” Buhr said. “But this dog is a gift from God.”

Elijah is slim and black with white paws and a splash of white fur on his chest in the shape of a cross that, Buhr said, marks the animal as “a real priest dog.”

Buhr, 69, insists that Elijah smiles at people he likes. “But it’s the stupidest smile you ever saw,” he said, stretching his lips and gritting his teeth in imitation.

When Buhr came to the church, he asked the parishioners if it would be all right if Elijah attended Mass. He said he didn’t want anyone’s prayer to be disturbed. So far, he said, no one has complained.

Buhr’s last assignment was at a country parish where Elijah was allowed to roam the fields and woods.

The dog has made a smooth transition to the inner city. He is the terror of squirrels and other animals that trespass on the parish grounds.

Inside the church, however, Elijah is as gentle as a lamb.

During Mass, he tends to quietly meander.

He may stroll onto the altar to sit beside Buhr or server Brittany Pfaffenback, 16. At one Mass, Brittany petted Elijah with one hand and rang the bell with the other.

“I’m a dog lover so I’m glad to have him around,” she said….

The priest hopes that word of the Church Dog will spread and perhaps draw people to the parish.

“Maybe there are some dog lovers out there who haven’t been to church in a while,” Buhr said. “And they will come and meet this special dog.”

Read more on this–it’s a great story.

Hey Fr. Buhr, why not do a special “pet mass” once a month so Elijah might meet some friends? That would get the dog lovers in the door!

Honestly, I’m amazed that my dog, Haze, who has attended mass here and there, in a few parishes downstate and who is welcome in the parish center here in Buffalo and who is not always the best behaved, was absolutely quiet at all times in church, sitting quietly on my lap or in his crate. Better behaved than most small children, I might add. I understand that people might find it distracting and Haze has no dander so while allergies isn’t an issue with him, I’m sure that would be a case in some other instances. Still, I think one random quiet dog couldn’t disturb a whole lot, but certainly the dog needs to be well trained.

Ripley and Quigley, our Pastor Fr. Jack’s English Sheepdogs have the run of our parish center and I’m always happy to have Quigley stop by my office to sniff my sneakers and then Miss Ripley comes running after him out of sheer jealousy. My new pals sometimes come in when I’m in the midst of my few minutes of prayer that I try to take every hour and rather than seeing that as a disturbance, they instead always bring me a new awareness of appreciating all of God’s creation–even when Quig is a bit barky or Ripley a bit pushy (sheepdogs are herders, so they often push their nose and body against my leg to tell me to get moving!). Our parish loves them and has embraced them especially as they welcome people into church from the rectory yard. They’re probably not well-behaved enough to just roam around during mass (neither is Haze) but in their own way those dogs are a huge part of our parish family and I do believe that many people come our way because they know we love dogs and they figure if the church is run by a bunch of people who love dogs, then they can’t be bad folks!

Evangelization by canine- Francis would be proud.

A hat tip to the Good Deacon and to STL Today for the pic.