Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 25, 2022 / 10:00 am (CNA).
Students at Sacred Heart of Jesus School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, are visited twice a week by Gia, an 8-month-old Bernedoodle, and a group of Mercedarian Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.
Gia is a therapy dog who visits classrooms and interacts with the children. Although she is still in training, her warmheartedness and gentle spirit has become the perfect match for the children who attend this Catholic school.
Sister Mary Rosario Vega, who recently celebrated her 50th anniversary of entering the convent, is one of the nuns who trains Gia and takes her to the school each week. In an interview with CNA, she said, “She [Gia] adores children, she’s very loyal, very intelligent, very easy to train.”
Gia spends the majority of her days in the convent with the sisters. Vega explained that the dog sits outside as the sisters attend Mass in the chapel and will even attend adoration with each of the sisters. They are now working on training her to be able to attend Mass with the children.
“In general, she’s very good, very quiet. She comes to adoration — each of us have an hour of adoration with the Blessed Sacrament — that’s her best hour,” she said.
However, it’s her time with the children that makes Gia the happiest, Vega said. And the response from the students, teachers, and parents has made it even more worthwhile.
“It’s just so beautiful to see the children, how they change when they see the dog just wagging her tail,” Vega expressed. “She’s so good with the children. When [the teachers] see them crying or having a bad day or anything, they either bring her to the classroom or take the child to her and they calm down.”
Gia has also begun to form unique relationships with some of the students.
Vega recalled one particular student who “kneels down to her level and gives her a hug and Gia stands and gives him a hug.”
Some of Gia’s favorite activities included recess with the kids, playing in the school gym where the kids throw tennis balls for her, and receiving treats from the children in their classrooms.
Gia is not the first dog the sisters have trained. Fourteen years ago, at their convent in Cleveland, the nuns raised an emotional-support dog named Ava. She was the first dog they trained as part of their efforts to serve the local schoolchildren near their community.
The Mercedarian Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament were founded by Venerable Maria del Refugio in 1910 in Mexico City. Their two pillars are devotion to the Eucharist and to the Blessed Mother. The sisters strive to lead people to experience the merciful love of God found through the Holy Eucharist while being accompanied by the Virgin Mary in the journey of being transformed by the Eucharist.
They also serve Catholic pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade schools. Through their ministry with children, they aim to lead the youth to discover the love of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, encourage the eucharistic celebration to be the source and center of their lives, and spread devotion and filial love to Our Lady of Mercy.
Today, there are more than 430 sisters who staff 83 schools, catechetical centers, and parish ministries in 13 different countries including Mexico, Italy, Spain, and El Salvador, to name a few.
As for Gia, she will continue to be trained in the basics in order to receive her Canine Good Citizen Certificate and strive to be a source of light and joy for the children she visits.
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