Animal Blessing: Blessing the Four-Legged Who Bless St. Joseph’s

An Animal Blessing took place at St. Joseph’s to celebrate the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi.

Mimicking the movement of the birds circling above Wisdom Circle on October 4, students and staff at St. Joseph’s Indian School did the same below on the dewy morning grass.

At the center of the circle stood Fr. Greg Schill, St. Joseph’s Chaplain. He announced the purpose of the gathering was to celebrate the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment.

After leading the group in prayer, Fr. Greg performed an animal blessing to some of the four-legged who grace St. Joseph’s campus every day. It was a way to recognize, “all animals should be treated with kindness and the dignity they deserve.”

Present among staff and students were three horses from the school’s Equine Therapy program and two dogs from the Houseparents and Pets in (HAPI) Homes program, and each received a blessing.

Three horses from the Equine Therapy program, Sox, Violet and Blue, were present to receive a blessing from Fr. Greg, Chaplain.

The first blessing was for the horses. The Lakota, Dakota and Nakota tribes represented at St. Joseph’s regard animals on a deep level. In particular, they revere the šúŋkawakȟánhorse — for its grace, bravery and ability to assist in healing from trauma, anxiety, and mental and emotional distress.

This was part of the reason why St. Joseph’s launched an Equine Therapy program in 2018. Ever since, the horses have been taking on any trauma, grief or pain for students and helping them release it. To shower the horses with gratitude, Fr. Greg patted drops of Holy Water on their foreheads, before turning his attention to the dogs.

The šúŋka — dog — has long played an important role in Native American society and culture. Before the arrival of the horses to the Great Plains, Native Americans relied heavily on dogs for a variety of tasks. Although the relationship has morphed over time, the connection remains strong, and Fr. Greg again trickled drops of Holy Water on the dogs to bless them.

Tia Fontenot, a houseparents at St. Joseph’s, brought her dog, Andy, to the blessing. She said blessing Andy — the small but spunky Yorkshire Terrier — and the other animals was a perfect way to show how much they are considered family at St. Joseph’s.

“Animals play such an integral role on campus. Whether in the homes, at the school or in counseling sessions, they are a part — big or small — in everything we do and provide support to all of our students,” said Fontenot.

Fontenot recalled a memory when Andy sat outside a girl’s room on campus, even though he’s usually right under her feet.

“When he does this, we know it’s because he’s picking up on something going on inside the person behind the door. In those circumstances, almost every time it’s because there’s a girl who needs extra support from feeling homesickness, nerves or anything else. He gives to the students by helping them cope.”

Fontenot is right. Whether the animal is a part of HAPI Homes or the Equine Therapy program at St. Joseph’s, they all do one thing the same without fail: they continually give back.

Providing the animals with a blessing on the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi was a special way to give back to them in return.

Learn more about how animals are making a difference at St. Joseph’s Indian School by visiting

Author: St. Joseph's Indian School

At St. Joseph's Indian School, our privately-funded programs for Lakota (Sioux) children in need have evolved over 90 years of family partnership, experience and education. Because of generous friends who share tax-deductible donations, Native American youth receive a safe, stable home life; individual counseling and guidance; carefully planned curriculum based on Lakota culture and individual student needs and tools to help build confidence, boost self-esteem and improve cultural awareness. All of this helps children to live a bright, productive, possibility-filled future.

2 thoughts on “Animal Blessing: Blessing the Four-Legged Who Bless St. Joseph’s”

  1. St Francis was so in tune with nature – God’s creation. Nice to see you remembered the animals.

  2. I’m John T Beckman III & have gladly been denoting what little I have, to ALL the children at Saint Joesph’a Indian School in Chamberlain, South Dakota! My prayers have been with each & every single child at Saint Joseph’s Indian School! Your “Animal Blessing” is extremely special to me so let me explain more about myself & why I’m touched so deeply by all of the children at Saint Joseph’s Indian School!
    After graduating from HS I joined the US Navy in 1967, after 4 years was married for 30 years, the government cut the wrong nerve from my left knee in April 1985; while at that time I was then stationed at Sigonella, Sicily, Italy but could only get proper surgery at military hospital at Wiesbaden, West Germany April 1985! After being on crutches for years, I was advised I would no longer walk again & placed in a wheelchair! In 2001 I had to divorce my wife for several reasons, one of which was she stated that she could no longer deal with my problem caused by that April 1985 surgery in West Germany ! I’ve been in my wheelchair for the last 28+ years & have continued to live alone with my various Certified Service Dogs ‍! My first: Haley Marie Beckman I was a female Yellow Labrador who passed on 20 December 2012 at 17 years of age! She was beautiful & had yellow fur, weighed 52 pounds, & loved everyone! My second Certified Service Dog; Haley Marie Beckman II was also a female Yellow Labrador who passed on 10 March 2021 at 15 years of age! She was beautiful & had all white fur, weighed 119.6 pounds & loved everyone! I have both of their Sacred Cremated Remains in their own type Funeral Vases beside my bed! My 3rd Certified Service Dog will be delivered to me from training conducted in Chattanooga, Tennessee, either Monday or Tuesday this coming week to my place of living; Rocky Creek Apartments at 950 Stevens Creek Rd. apartment B2, Augusta, Georgia! My phone number is the following from my iPhone 12; 706-829-3732 & my email address;
    My 3rd Certified Service Dog is now named Hale Beckman & is just over 12 months old & it’s a male Golden Retriever that’s so far trained as a Professional Wheelchair qualified Service Dog as well as qualified for PTSD! I was medically retired from the Navy with 22 years of honorable service in 1989 & still at that time unable to walk using only one leg until this rare nerve disease took both legs & more! During my time in the military I was also involved in fighting was there in Vietnam North & South Vietnam from 1969-70; in the Gulf of Tonkin, in Saigon, South Vietnam & Aldo in North Vietnam on Secret Missions I can’t discuss!
    I’ve PTSD from situations in Vietnam, RSD (Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy) which is from my wrong nerve being cut from my left knee & again from another wrong nerve being cut from my Spine in my second & final military surgery with this procedure done to me called a Lumbar Sympathectomy; was told it was last chance to help me to possibly walk again but failed causing even more problems! The last Medical problem which was also caused by the RSD; Grande Maul Seizures of which I get 18 to 39 per each month! If you look up RSD, my case IS the worst case & only about 4 people in this World are still alive after continuing to have RSD for well over 10, I’m the oldest living survivor (36 years) & I’m a Born Again Christian saved October 21, 1979! (Because I’m 100% disabled; I don’t get any money back when donating; my donations all come out of my pocket!) I do have a few other organizations that I donate to! I continue to pray for ALL the Sioux Children at Saint Joseph’s Indian School in Chamberlain, South Dakota! I felt I needed to share these things with all of you at this time!
    John T Beckman III

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