I have been agitating for years to awaken compassionate concern and work for
the animals in the Catholic Church. Are they not God's creatures as we? Of course,
my voice is small - even tiny and easily discounted, but I try. Over the years I have
even tried talking to some priests and nuns about the terrible incidence of animal
cruelty - hoping to illicit not only words of compassion and understanding from
them, but a desire and commitment to help the suffering animals in their teaching
capacity. Basically, it was an exercise in futility as well as were the 360 letters I
wrote to the Bishops in this regard in 2003.
I've gotten a lot of mileage from that rather tedious and expensive mailing, but not
in the way you may think. Although the response was beyond sad - 13 responses
which were basically kind, I never fail to remember that I tried and that always
makes me feel good.
I also laugh now thinking about my letters in the 70's to 100 US Senators re animal
welfare concerns -hoping to illicit compassionate responses from them. I think only
one New Mexico Senator, soon retiring from the Senate, took the time to answer
compassionately. Yes, I felt I was a David -facing a formidable giant, but unfortunately,
my stones never made compassionate contact to the people in power who could make
much needed changes for the animals.
On the local level, I once thought that this particular priest would listen to my thoughts
on vegetarianism. Wow, was I ever wrong. Before I could even launch into my
beliefs in this regard, he cut me off by saying that Jesus ate the Pascal lamb at the
Last Supper. Well, that was that, but today if I saw him again, I would tell him that
there is no proof that Jesus partook of a lamb at the Last Supper because it is now
thought that Christ himself was the Pascal lamb- soon to be killed and immolated on the
wood of the cross.
Another time I approached the nun who was conducting a Bible lesson class and asked
her if she knew how cruelly we treat our farm food animals in the CAFOs. Her
response - Yes, the Sisters were aware of this. Nothing more, nothing less. I was so
stunned by her lack of a compassionate response that I just moved on. I expected her
to say something like - yes, we are deeply saddened by this and we should do much more
as a people of God to treat our food animals with concern and compassion. One simple
sentence that never came out of her mouth.
So, when October's Guidepost came in the mail yesterday, I was stunned to see a
post titled "Mission of Mercy" showing a beautiful young nun cradling a tiny sweet
kitten in her hands. The subtitle read "Noah did the very first animal rescue. But
even he didn't have to face a nuclear disaster."
Sharon Azar, Guidepost Administrative Assistant who wrote this piece- mentioned
how for the past 30 years she herself had worked to rehabilitate stray and abandoned
dogs - trying to find new homes for them. She also said that during this time she had
met quite a few dedicated animal rescuers, but still was amazed at learning about the
work of Sister Michael Marie, a member of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart in
I'm amazed too - simply that finally that there is a Catholic Religious Order or
Congregation which is showing concern for the animals. I am beyond amazed - I am
ecstatic. As a child growing up on her family's 40-acre Wisconsin farm, Sister said
she learned a lot about goats, sheep, pigs, geese, guinea fowl, chickens and turkeys,
and of course, dogs and cats. She even remembered wandering into the woods behind
the farm where there were beavers, wolves, foxes, otters, owls, and even eagles. And
she also remembers that she found herself thinking of St. Francis of Assisi and wanting
to follow his path. She told Azar "Farm animals, wild animals, pets, I prayed for
them all, and I wanted to protect them."
How I wish that the Franciscan Orders would also be inspired, but I see no animal
welfare work concerns coming from them. Sadly, I left the Secular Franciscan Third
Order after a few years because I found absolutely no concern for the animals in the
chapter to which I belonged. I sadly also believe that my chapter was not unique in
As a young woman, Sister Michael Marie had first thought that the best way to help
animals was to become a veterinarian. She even worked for a few years as a technician
in an animal hospital to gain hands-on experience. But this was not to be, because she
received a calling from God to enter the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart convent and
she thought animals would no longer be a part of her life's work. She believed then that
she was called to serve people in need.
God bless her awesome and far-sighted Superior, who after attending a conference on
providing emotional and spiritual support to disaster victims, came back with the idea
which would change Sister Michael Marie's life forever. She told her that she knew of
her past work with animal care and told Sister that she could apply her skills and
knowledge to animal disaster aid. She told her that she could help people the most
through helping the animals. What a kind and compassionate woman to realize that
by helping the animals you are helping their owners as well.
And so Sister Michael Marie trained in disaster relief with the Red Cross and FEMA.
Once prepared, this work would take her all over the world. In 2007 she went to flood -
ravaged French West Africa. In 2010 she worked on the Gulf Coast searching for
aquatic animals afflicted by the BP oil spill and reported them to a rescue hotline. At
the beginning of this year, she was in Brazil tending to animal victims of the mudslides.
But her greatest challenge to date was facing the devastation and ruin in Japan. Working
in an area so devastated that just getting to each town was challenging. Roads there were
largely impassable and power lines dangled dangerously. Because the residents had left
so hurriedly, not only did they find cars and bicycles dropped haphazardly in the road, but
it was heart-wrenching to find pets and farm animals searching for food and their owners.
These were the lucky ones though because they also found animals who had already died of
starvation and dehydration.
One tearful woman asked Sister to look for her two cats which she had to leave in a
hurry. While Sister could not find them, she left a live trap with food which might lure
them from hiding.
Though sadly many of the animals could not be located, Sister and her team were
heartened by those they were able to rescue. A picture in Guideposts shows Sister trying
to calm a black Labrador retriever who was fearful. After a half an hour of quiet talking
and treats, Sister was able to get close enough to touch him and slide a leash over his
head. He would not move, but Sister picked him up and carried him to their van. This
very thin dog whose ribs showed was very tired as he had traveled for quite a distance.
But now though scared and tired, he rode without protest for the few hours it took to
arrive at a shelter. Here they found radioactive material in his fur which they were able to
decontaminate. Now safe and sound, he awaits for his family to find him and to be
joyously reunited with them.
Azar asked Sister if she was afraid during this time. No, she said she was not. but just
grateful to God to be at a place where she could do the most good. And she added:
"Helping all his creatures is a way of doing God's work here on earth....after all, wasn't
Noah's Ark the first animal rescue shelter?"