Elizabeth Mahlou shares the story of Sula, a cat that is a cherished member of the congregation at California's Old Mission San Juan Bautista, a church that was built by Franciscan monks in the 1800s. Enjoy these images of Sula in her church home.
Old Mission San Juan Bautista has hosted a long line of resident cats, of which Sula is the latest. There's even a cat door carved into the side door of the chapel.
Sula, seen here with Cody, an employee of the Mission's gift shop, has an amazing knack for singling out the individual at any given church service who is most in need of some tender loving care from a furry friend.
During a Christmas Eve service in 2013, Mahlou watched as Sula settled into the lap of a worshipper sitting right next to her. "I think this is a sign from God," the man said to Mahlou, revealing that he'd never been able to forgive himself for the mistreatment he inflicted on animals during his troubled childhood. "I think it's a sign that I've been forgiven."
In 2014, Sula was diagnosed with skin cancer and had to have her ears removed. The parishioners donated the money for her treatment and care. During that year's Christmas Eve service, Sula touched another worshipper sitting near Mahlou. The woman whose lap Sula rested in wasn't specific about what might have been troubling her that evening, but she said to Mahlou, "I think Saint Francis gave me a job tonight to hold the cat and warm her from the cold." Afterward, Mahlou wrote, "[The woman's] face was radiant. There was a peace about her that I felt sure she hadn't known of late."
Some weeks later, Mahlou found herself so stressed by her busy schedule, her many responsibilities at work and at home, that she was tempted not to attend Saturday evening services, as she did every week. In the end, she attended the service, but was ill at ease and distracted throughout. Suddenly, who should appear at her feet but Sula. "She crawled up into my lap," Mahlou wrote, "and immediately my stress left me... A feeling of calm came over me, as if I were the one being held. And I knew—we were both here for a reason."
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