FONTANA — The priest, dressed in his green chasuble, celebrates Mass. He proclaims the Gospel, delivers a homily, prays for the sick, and consecrates the bread and wine. He could be at any Roman Catholic Church in the diocese, except for the dog in the sacristy.
A red, Irish terrier sprawls out for a nap and gazes at his master, Fr. Jim McKitrick, as the priest incorporates the Gospel reading into life lessons for the upcoming week.
Is this God’s house or a doghouse? St. Benedict Catholic Church in Fontana is both. Fr. McKitrick brings his pooch everywhere, and that includes Sunday Mass. According to the retired priest of the Rockford, Ill. Diocese, 8-year-old Finbar the dog makes people feel at home and gives parishioners a sense of calm and peace.
“He is very well received by the people at church, because he goes to Mass every week,” said Fr. McKitrick. “After Mass, one of the ushers brings him out to greet the people. He is very much a fixture here at St. Benedict.”
While popular with the parishioners, Finbar is quickly gaining star status as the focus of “Finbar’s Heavenly Father,” a children’s book written by Town of Walworth author, Trudy Schubert. The book focuses on the relationship between Finbar and Fr. McKitrick.
According to Schubert, she and Fr. McKitrick met while swimming at the Abbey Resort in Fontana and soon became friends.
“He invited me to his golden jubilee and I saw that he brought Finbar to the celebration,” said Schubert. “He is such a cute dog and he was so well behaved. One day, I just told him that I wanted to write a book about his dog and he gave me his permission.”
Though the book is written for children, the story can apply to all ages as comparisons are drawn between Finbar’s relationship with his owner and Fr. McKitrick’s relationship with God.
In a fusion of humor and sensitivity, Schubert touches hearts throughout the book by comparing God’s relationship with humans to his with Fr. McKitrick. In a scene where Finbar breaks a vase, she demonstrates compassion for his mistake by bringing to mind the sacrament of reconciliation.
“I just wanted children to understand that the dog’s love for his master is like the priest’s love for his Master and how it compares to his feelings for Fr. Jim,” she said. “Fr. Jim forgives when the dog does something naughty. He has unconditional love like God has for us and with that there is a nice lesson that there is a heaven and there is a God and we will be together always.”
At the bottom of many of the pages are Bible verses to coincide with the scene that Schubert chose herself.
|Where to purchase:
“Finbar’s Heavenly Father”
is available in the office of
St. Benedict Church for $10.
137 Dewey Ave.
Fontana, WI 53125-1239
or from Trudy Schubert
“I wanted to find a way to share the life lesson in the story and this was a good way to do it,” she said. “God was helping me and he gave me the idea; I enjoyed writing it very much.”
“Finbar’s Heavenly Father” is Schubert’s second children’s book. Her first, “Sweet Tweets,” is a story of hens who become jealous of the popularity of the Easter Bunny. Proceeds from that book went to Lakeland School for students with special needs.
Schubert will donate proceeds for “Finbar’s Heavenly Father” to Lakeland Animal Shelter at the request of Fr. McKitrick. She has already raised more than $2,000 to help the animals.
“Fr. Jim liked the idea of donating to the shelter because of Finbar, and he said it’s hard to go in that place and not bring a pet home,” she explained, adding, “It is an honor to do this for them.”
Although Finbar seems to be adapting to his recent celebrity status, Fr. McKitrick’s presence doesn’t seem to net the same results.
“Whenever we go out, he is quite high profile – at least with the Catholics. But that’s OK; it’s for a good cause,” he admitted. “For me, I just keep a low profile.”