Unconditional Love

Jan. 12-18, 2006
Unconditional Love
By Claudia Mathis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Pets Hold Special Meaning for Clergy and Religious in the Diocese

Paddy, a 12-year-old Black Labrador Retriever, serves in public relations at St Joseph’s Church in Endicott. “Paddy’s always there to greet people as they enter church,” said pastor Father Jim Serowik. “She’s also a four-legged alarm — she barks when people leave early.” Father Serowik holds Paddy in the highest regard. “She’s a great friend,” he remarked. “She’s a sign of God’s unconditional love.” Father Serowik decided to name his dog Paddy after receiving him on St. Patrick’s Day in 1995. “I had just become pastor at St. Patrick’s in Whitney Point and I wanted a dog,” explained Father Serowick. “In December of 1994, my aunt who lived in New Orleans asked me if I wanted a puppy from a litter of Labradors that was expected to be born in January. I told her I wanted one, so my parents met my aunt in Tennessee to pick up Paddy. Since then, Paddy’s always been there for me.”

Sister Eileen Derrick, OSF, owns not only a dog, but also two ponies. “I believe in the therapeutic value of pets,” said Sister Eileen. “Interaction with animals puts us in touch beyond ourselves. It brings a sense of calm and well-being into our lives.” Sister Eileen said her dog Molly has been a comfort to her during difficult times. “She’s a comfort and a joy,” Sister Eileen said. “She doesn’t shed, she’s well-behaved and she’s quiet.”

Although Molly is a dear friend to Sister Eileen, it is her connection with horses that brings her satisfaction and peace. Sister Eileen bought her first horse in the mid-1980s after attending a retreat. A conversation at the retreat led to the realization that she had always wanted to learn how to ride a horse. She did so shortly afterwards and has been enjoying it ever since. Her first horse, Sweet, made an impact on her life. “Something special always happened to me when I went to the barn,” she said. “Time stood still and my mind and heart opened to the simplicity of life. When I left the barn, life didn’t seem as complicated as when I came into the barn.”

Sweet helped Sister Eileen understand the benefits animals can bring to people. Sister Eileen currently has three horses and is in the process of beginning an extraordinary program at Alverna Heights in Fayetteville, a retreat center run by the Sisters of St. Francis. The Ponies for Peace program is slated to begin this spring at the center. The program will provide youngsters with the opportunity to interact with ponies, either by learning how to ride or to drive a cart with the pony leading it. These children may be dealing with the stress of a divorce in the family or issues at school. Sister Eileen feels spending time with the ponies will bring them the same comfort and joy it brings to her. “Working through the ponies also helps some children to communicate better with other children and adults,” Sister Eileen said. “I think animals bring out the best in people.”

Father Robert Yeazel, pastor at Holy Cross Church in DeWitt, almost lost his Cocker Spaniel Kacey six years ago. Kacey is 14 years old now, but when she was eight, her liver had started to crystallize. “Her doctor gave her three days to three weeks, tops,” said Father Yeazel. “She was very lethargic and wouldn’t eat.” After a friend’s suggestion, Father Yeazel took Kacey to a veterinarian in Canastota who practiced acupuncture. After participating in a regimen of acupuncture combined with medication, Kacey is now in better health.

Kacey means the world to Father Yeazel. “She represents the unconditional love that God has for all of us,” said Father Yeazel. Father Charles Vavonese, assistant superintendent for Catholic School Advancement, has owned a Black Labrador Retriever for two years. He and his dog live at the Holy Cross rectory in DeWitt. Father Vavonese named his dog Bella, which means “beautiful” in Italian. “She is an enjoyable diversion,” said Father Vavonese. He bought Bella, who had been well trained by her breeder, when she was 19 months old. “She’s exceptionally trained,” said Father Vavonese. “She fits in well at Holy Cross. There isn’t a person she doesn’t love. I tease the ladies who work here by telling them that they are Bella’s aunts because they take such good care of her.”

Sister Kathleen Joy Steck, IHM, has been caring for pets since the time she was five years old. Pet sitting is something she enjoys still today. Sister Kathleen teaches at St. John the Evangelist School in Binghamton. Her retired friend, Sister Dolora Mullarkey, IHM, helps care for the animals when Sister Kathleen is occupied in school. “I love animals,” said Sister Kathleen. “And I like being able to help people out. I hate to see their pets go in a kennel where they are prone to picking up diseases. I see God in animals — I see loyalty and unconditional love.”

Father John Manno, parochial vicar at Holy Cross Church in DeWitt, is grateful for the presence of his dog Moses. “He’s great company and he’s faithful and loyal,” remarked Father Manno. “It’s great to come home and see Moses.” “At first, I was skeptical about having a dog,” he explained. “I didn’t think I would have enough time to take care of it. My friends had been urging me to get a dog. I ended up getting a Boston Terrier.”

Father Manno named his dog Moses because of the markings on his face. “His face is half black and half white,” said Father Manno. “It reminded me of Moses parting the Red Sea and that is how I came up with the name.” Father Manno said that Moses has some singing ability. He once brought Moses to church to practice with the choir. “When I brought him in, he sat under the choir loft,” said Father Manno. “When the choir began singing, he tilted his head to one side and howled to the music.”

Father Edward Zandy, pastor at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Endicott, is accompanied by his Golden Retriever Juneau almost everywhere he goes. “He’s my companion,” said Father Zandy. Juneau will be 12 years old in May. Father Zandy was inspired to call his dog Juneau after traveling to Juneau, Alaska during his stint in the U.S. Army. “I liked the isolation,” said Father Zandy. He thought the name was appropriate when he saw how his dog was sitting by himself in the kennel when Father Zandy went to pick him up in Norwich. Juneau was born with cataracts in both eyes and later had surgery at Cornell in 1994. “I’ve always loved animals,” remarked Father Zandy. “Living alone and rectory life can be lonely. Having a dog would soften the approach of the clergy.”

Father John Hogan, pastor at St. John the Baptist Church in Rome, said his dog and his bird have enhanced his life immeasurably. Father Hogan’s dog is a Sheltie named Dudley and the bird is a Cockatiel named Henrietta. Dudley will be 14 years old in July. Father Hogan thought about getting a Sheltie after seeing one at the home of a family that he used to visit frequently when he was associate pastor at St. Charles Borromeo Parish. Father Hogan bought Dudley from a breeder when he was seven months old.

“Dudley has added so much to my life,” remarked Father Hogan. “He grounds me. He makes the rectory seem homey. When visitors see Dudley, it picks up their spirits. Dudley has a calming influence on everyone around him.” Father Hogan bought his Cockatiel, Henrietta, the day after Easter Sunday in 1990. “I was feeling let down,” said Father Hogan. “When I visited a large pet store in Camillus that day, I noticed some Cockatiels near the cash register. I fell in love with them. I chose Henrietta — she was only three months old at the time. “Both Henrietta and Dudley have added a lot to my life,” he remarked. “I’ve gained a new understanding of what a loss it is when someone’s pet dies.”

Sister Francis Patrick Burns, CSJ, is the proud owner of J.P. II (Just Pepsi II), a Pomeranian/Chihuahua. Sister Francis Patrick created the name in remembrance of her first dog, who was named Pepsi. Sister Francis Patrick attained J.P. II three years ago when a person who was raising Pomeranians wanted to give the dog away. “When I looked at J.P. II, it was love at first sight,” said Sister Francis Patrick. “She’s a beautiful girl. When I have company, everyone loves her. She’s as good as gold.” Sister Francis Patrick said she thinks that pets are wonderful. “God created people, animals, birds and fish,” said Sister Francis Patrick. “Animals are part of God’s plan in nature and they are meant to be loved by all creatures of the earth. I thank God for all the animals that He has given.”

Father Thienan Tran of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse, adopted two Cockatiels, Cosmo and Cinnamon, from Avian Rescue in Oswego five months ago. Caring for birds is not new for Father Tran — he used to own two Parakeets. Cosmo and Cinnamon, a male and female, are adapting well to life at the Cathedral. “They’re doing very well,” said Father Tran. “I occasionally let them out of their cage in my office. Cinnamon likes it when I get visitors — she laughs loudly.” Father Tran enjoys the addition of the birds to his life. “They’re cute and it’s really nice to have them,” said Father Tran. “I like birds and fish — they help me to see nature in life.”

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