Mission – This week we’re counting our blessings at a church down by the border. We’re at a place that is is your typical Catholic parish, but a priest with a special connection to man’s best friend makes going to mass on Sunday a marvelous stop on The Texas Bucket List.
We’re at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Mission
“It’s a little unorthodox. But as you can see, people love it,” Artie Solis said.
Since 1968, Father Roy has called the Valley home. After graduating from Texas A&M, he became a priest and in ‘74 joined the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a group of priests known as the Cavalry of Christ that originated in France and has been in this part of Texas since 1849. Fittingly, Father Roy is known as the Cowboy Priest.
“This church is everything to this community, especially Father Roy,” Mary Allen Tabor said. “He brings in the people.”
Now, it’s not every Catholic church service you hear country songs during mass, but you do here. Throw in the dogs that attend the service as well, and you’ve got quite the combination.
“They just know how to sit and be good,” Father Roy said. “They love me and I love them.”
It didn’t take long for stray cat to strain that relationship.
“Hey, there they go,” Father Roy said. “That’s the cat! I told you, that darn cat had to mess everything up.”
It took a while to get the trinity of tail wagging show stealers back on track.
“They don’t stay gone long,” Father Roy said. “Get over here! They’ll quit running around. Terrible dog. Come here. Now sit. Why do you have to act like an animal? Oh that’s right, you are an animal.”
Fortunately, during services at our Lady of Guadalupe, the pups are much more behaved.
“It’s good for your soul,” Father Roy said. “Good for your heart. And it’s good for the hearts of the people. You know when you look at those puppies and your heart kind of gets lifted up? That’s the work of the spirit. That’s the spirit right there. The spirit of life. That created spirit of God. The spirit of love.”
As the service get started, it seems like most masses you might find. That is until you take a second to get sneak peak at the priest and his pooches. Once the opening hymn is over and the readings commence, Father Roy and his friends fill their purpose of passing along the word of God’s while truly making the church feel like home.
“If you’ve ever loved a dog, or been loved by a dog, you know that has to do something with the spirit of God,” Father Roy said. “That’s for sure. It ennobles your heart, and it gladdens His heart a little bit, too. It does.”
Despite the occasional drink out of the baptismal font, the fond chasers of felines don’t really disturb the formality of the mass. They’re used to being a part of it and playing a role in more ways than most realize. It seems this experience gives something different to each parishioner.
“It’s the unconditional love,” Maria Quellar said. “When you have a pet and they just … They’re happy to see you when you get home. They’re sad to see you leave. And I just think that the church is the same. It’s just about love. It’s unconditional love.”
For Father Roy, it’s all about making the church a comfortable place for all to come.
“It helps the kids at church,” Father Roy said. “The church … God bless us, especially the Catholic church can be awful rigid, frigid, and formal. We’re kind of infamous for that. So a kid who can hardly stand to sit through all that rigmarole for an hour, walks in there and sees this old dog, and he says, ‘Well, shoot if that dog can put up with it for an hour maybe I can, too.’”
“There’s nothing more beautiful than when a child opens their heart and welcomes Christ,” Maria said. “And I think that that’s because of Father Roy.”
Father Roy will always fight for all his friends because at Our Lady of Guadalupe, it truly is about and I do mean all of God’s creatures.
“Now we’ve got 12 dogs and two donkeys, two llamas, two peacocks,” Artie said.
Fortunately, it’s only the pups that are allowed in on weekly basis.
“I just think that it is a complete representation and the extension of the love that he has, that he’s able to give that love,” Maria said. “He gives us that same love. And you feel it when you’re here.”
Father Roy definitely provides a unique and incredible stop on The Texas Bucket List.
“We hope we’ll lift up your heart with the spirit of the one who was born in the stable,” Father Roy said. “And who formed a team of old fishermen to celebrate the mystery and communicate the message of His love. We think we can do that. We hope we can. We pray that we can.”