A special visitor came to St. Joseph Catholic School to teach the children about Jesus. Although invited inside, Paul was more comfortable outside, welcoming every student who came to see him.
Paul is a donkey, one of three donkeys owned by St. Joseph parishioners Jerry and Shirley Youmans.
“The other two donkeys are not as cooperative as Paulie,” Fr. Christopher Ankley said. “He’s named after St. Paul.”
Paul led the St. Joseph Church Palm Sunday procession last year. Ever since, Fr. Chris wanted to bring him to meet the children.
Originally, the plan was to bring Paul inside the school to visit each classroom. Although the Youmans were willing, Paul was not.
“We tried to lure him in with a donut,” Fr. Chris said. “He got right to the front door, ate the donut, and stopped.”
Instead, the children came out class by class, unaware their “special visitor” was a donkey.
“The kids’ faces were priceless because they didn’t know what was coming at all,” St. Joseph School administrative assistant Jeanine Winkler said. “As they rounded the corner you could hear the gasps.”
“Their eyes got big, and they ran out to pet him,” Fr. Chris said.
The Youmans answered student questions, including if Paul was a “boy donkey”, how did they know he was a boy donkey, and if Paul had a wife.
“His handlers were very patient, and Paul was wonderful,” Mrs. Winkler said. “He loved all the attention.”
Fr. Chris, a veterinarian before answering the call to the priesthood, showed the children the cross that is on all purebred donkeys’ backs – a fact few teachers knew.
“I told my kiddos that I learned something new today,” TK/Enrichment teacher Caroline Greenman said. “I had fun petting Paul, too.”
While the children petted Paul, Fr. Chris told them the Legend of the Donkey.
“It’s a cute legend about how the donkey wanted to help Jesus carry the cross, but they wouldn’t let him,” Fr. Chris said. “When the donkey turned away the shadow of the cross fell across his back, leaving him with that remembrance.”
Donkeys are humble figures in Jesus’ life. A donkey carried Mary to Bethlehem when she was expecting Jesus. A donkey carried both Mary and Jesus into Egypt to avoid the Slaughter of the Holy Innocents. And a donkey carried Jesus into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday.
“If we look, there is evidence of God all around us,” Fr. Chris said. “I like that there is a cross on the back of a donkey. It reminds us of the great love our Lord has for us going to the cross and his death on our behalf. If the cross on the back of a donkey makes people think of God, awesome. All creatures of God give Him praise.”
Paul made the rounds all the way up to the eighth grade before heading home.
“He was a very good donkey,” Fr. Chris said. “He took everything.”
Fr. Chris hopes Paul will return next year, as do the teachers and staff.
“Fr. Chris provided all of our students with a hands-on experience,” St. Joseph preschool teacher Kelly Francisco said. “We have been truly blessed to have such wonderful priests here at St. Joseph. They make a special effort to teach us unique things about our faith.”