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.
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