The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

A priest’s best friend

From St. Louis, Missouri comes this unusual story of a priest and his pooch:

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.

Elijah occasionally wanders down the aisle and sticks his nose into the pews, seeking affection.

In the summer, he prefers lounging on the cool terrazzo tiles of the high altar.


On a recent cold Sunday, he favored a spot beside a radiator to the side of the altar.

When the crowd lined up to receive Communion, he took up his regular post in front of the first pew on the left. From there, he watched as Buhr distributed the Eucharist.

“He loves that little space and plants himself there every Communion,” said a parish deacon, Gerry Quinn, 63, of Affton. “We do worry sometimes that someone will trip over him, but we’ve all adjusted fine.”

At the end of Mass, Elijah trotted ahead of the servers, deacons and priest as they filed down the main aisle.

Check out more at the link.

Comments read comments(9)
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Bryan Healy

posted January 15, 2010 at 5:15 pm

What’s next, we allow parakeets to fly around the sanctuary? How irreverent can we be in church?
I’m sure that Archbishop Burke would be mortified by this.

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posted January 15, 2010 at 7:37 pm

“What’s next, we allow parakeets to fly around the sanctuary? How irreverent can we be in church?”
I dunno, check with St. Francis.

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El Tigre

posted January 15, 2010 at 7:44 pm

The last I heard, dogs, along with Tigres, were created by God, also. As long as he behaves himself, what is the harm?

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Mike K

posted January 15, 2010 at 11:03 pm

I wouldn’t necessarily be in favor of something like this, but I can see where it might not be an issue in a small, inner city parish.
As long as the dog stays clear of any holy object (or, to use El Tigre’s words, behaves himself), it shouldn’t cause too much of a problem. However, him seeking affection during Mass becomes a problem. People focus on the dog, instead of the mystery occuring on the altar…

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Irish Spectre

posted January 15, 2010 at 11:10 pm

…reminds me of a daily communicant at a seaside town where we have a summer house. The middle-aged man’s confined to a motorized wheelchair, and faithfully brings his dog to Mass, an older black lab who sits perfectly quietly by his master’s wheelchair during the celebration, always parked in front of the front pew.
The pastor’s an older, pretty orthodox fella’, as am I (although a little less the former!) It doesn’t seem to affect the solemnity in the least, and I don’t sense that Father has any problem with this; I know I surely don’t mind.

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Bryan Healy

posted January 16, 2010 at 2:18 am

Obviously, a dog which is serving someone who is disabled should be allowed in the church. Those dogs, however, do not wander around the church and sit on the altar.
Reading the article, you can clearly see that the dog is taking focus away from the holy sacrifice of the Mass. The altar server is petting it, he sits on the altar, he goes into the pews. If one is interested in playing with a dog, I am sure that St. Louis has a dog shelter. This is a Catholic Church and should be respected as such.

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Judith Raczko

posted January 16, 2010 at 8:14 am

What a beautiful thing! This dog is a gift from God–we should all give thanks for this, God’s beautiful creation, and the joy, love and blessing it not only brings to this priest, but also freely shares with all of the parishioners. Let us all open our hearts and live outside the box a little more!

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Joseph J Cleary II

posted January 16, 2010 at 9:35 am

Can one, for even a moment, envision Christ chasing this dog away from the Church during a mass?

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