How a Church Cat Brought Happiness and Comfort

This heaven-sent feline touched the lives of everyone she met.

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Posted in , May 25, 2021

Gracie in a church pew; Photo credit: Katie Canty

It was noon on a Tuesday, and I was in church for the first time in a decade. A friend of mine was sick with cancer, and I wanted to pray for him. But as a lapsed Catholic, I felt self-conscious and out of place praying in the midst of other parishioners. So I’d waited until off-hours, when the church was bound to be empty. Now I was sitting alone in a pew, the rays of sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows. I bowed my head, closed my eyes and made the sign of the cross.

God, I know it’s been a while, God, but my friend is sick. If you could help him…

I felt something brush against my ankle. My eyes flew open. I looked down to see a flash of black and white disappear under the pew in front of me. A cat! She popped up several pews ahead of me and sprawled out in the main aisle, a patch of sunlight illuminating her fluffy fur.

Intrigued, I walked up to the cat and reached out my hand. She looked up at me with large green eyes and leaned into my touch, purring. She let me pet her for a few minutes. Then, as suddenly as she’d appeared, she got up and sauntered away, disappearing into the church’s shadows.

On my way out, I stopped by the rectory’s office. “There was a cat,” I said. “I don’t know how she got in...”

“Oh, that’s just Gracie,” said the secretary. “She belongs to the church. Helps keep mice out of the food pantry. She’s been here eight years now.”

I loved animals, but I lived in a cramped studio apartment that didn’t allow pets. So the next morning, I got up early and came back to pray, eager to visit with Gracie again. I sat down, and she hopped up on the pew beside me, purring. She made me feel at ease. As if I belonged here.

Over the next few months, Gracie and I forged a lovely prayer partnership. She would approach and politely wait to be invited into my pew and then onto my lap. She took naps while I prayed. Eventually, my friend’s condition improved and I didn’t need to go to church. But I kept it up.

As I sat and prayed with Gracie on my lap, the church regulars would stop and chat with me. They told me stories about Gracie. How she had been spotted during the holidays, curled up in the manger next to the Baby Jesus. How she sometimes drank holy water out of the baptismal font, as if it were her own giant water dish. Gracie made regular appearances during Mass and sat with various parishioners. She had many admirers.

There was a sweet man named Rob, who always talked about his cats, and an elderly woman I often saw praying by herself with Gracie curled up beside her. Her name was Peg.

One day, I walked into the church as usual and was approached by the custodian. “Just so you know, today is Gracie’s last day here at the church,” he said. “Her new owner’s coming to get her soon.”

There had been complaints from some of the parishioners with allergies, and the church thought it best to rehome Gracie. I was heartbroken…until I saw Peg walk through the door, cat carrier in hand. I was so relieved.

“Please stop by and see her whenever you’d like,” Peg told me, giving me her phone number and address. “I’d love the company too.”

I made a habit of dropping by Peg’s apartment every few weeks for lunch and to catch up with Gracie. I soon learned that Peg didn’t have any other friends or family. I was the only one who visited.

After a while, I could tell that Peg wasn’t doing well. Her apartment became increasingly dirty and cluttered. She grew confused and forgetful. I started checking in on her more often. I bought her groceries and drove her to doctor appointments. As she continued to decline, I called around to care facilities to check on availability. I suggested perhaps she should move into one, but Peg was adamant that she was fine.

I hoped she was right, but I gave her building manager my number just in case. A few months later, I got a call. Peg had fallen and broken her arm. After being assessed in the hospital, she was told by her doctors that she would no longer be able to live on her own. She was going to be appointed a public guardian and placed in an assisted care facility. The landlord would clean out her place, but someone had to adopt Gracie.

Immediately, I thought of Rob. Every time I saw him, he asked after Gracie. He missed her terribly, especially since he was grieving the recent death of one of his own cats. When I told Rob my concerns about Peg, we hatched a plan.

We met at Peg’s apartment. If I’d had any doubts about Peg being moved to a care home, they were quelled as soon as we stepped inside. The place was worse than I’d ever seen it, piled high with trash and debris. There was barely enough room for Gracie.

It took quite a bit of convincing to coax her into her carrier, but soon she was in Rob’s car, on the way to her new home.

The first time I went to visit Peg in the nursing home, I was pleasantly surprised to find that she was not only adjusting well but wearing makeup and making friends. Peg had been suffering from dementia and a mood disorder. Now, with the appropriate medications, she was like a whole new person.

Gracie was also thriving. Rob said she was as loving as ever. He sent me plenty of photos. She looked great—her coat was shining, her green eyes bright.

I still keep in touch with Peg and Rob. Recently, I called Peg to chat with her. The nurse informed me she was busy playing cards with friends and would have to get back to me. As I hung up, I couldn’t help but smile.

Peg was in good hands, happier than she’d been in years; I was back on my path with God; and Rob’s grief was soothed—all thanks to a sweet church cat named Gracie.

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