FONTANA — Finnegan is not a baptized Catholic. He has no professed religion, but he is a staple at St. Benedict Catholic Church.
He is often seen walking around the parking lot before Masses and greeting parishioners of all ages.
Father Jim McKitrick tries to keep Finnegan from jumping on everyone.
“He doesn’t come into the church,” McKitrick said. “I like to walk him around the parking lot, and then he’ll stay in here (a back office in the parish center). After Mass, I bring him out.”
Finnegan is a dog.
McKitrick’s 1 1/2-year-old Labradoodle, a mix of Labrador retriever and poodle, has been at St. Benedict since he was a 6-weeks-old puppy delivered from Portland, Ore.
McKitrick is a retired priest and part-time pastor for the church. He calls Finnegan a rock star.
“I live alone on a small road near the lake,” McKitrick said. “In the summer, we get quite a bit of traffic. Finnegan likes to think every car that passes and every person that walks by is coming to see him.”
The dog is small enough to sit on McKitrick’s lap and has enough energy to greet all the kids after Mass.
“I’ve had many parishioners say their kids don’t mind coming to Mass if they get to see Finnegan,” McKitrick said. “He’s a very social dog.”
McKitrick was ordained in the Diocese of Rockford, Ill., in 1958. His family, all Irish Catholics, was supportive of him entering the priesthood.
“They encouraged me to become a priest,” he said.
For 12 years, he served at a Newman Center, a Catholic student society, at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.
“It was a very exciting time to be on a college campus,” McKitrick said. “It was during the ‘60s and ‘70s. There was a lot going on. Not a lot of people wanted to be on a college campus, that’s why I stayed there so long.”
Since then he’s had multiple assignments at different churches, and he couldn’t say which was his favorite.
“I’ve liked all my assignments,” he said. “I was very happy at the Newman Center, and I’m happy here.”
McKitrick retired in 2000 and started assisting at St. Benedict.
“St. Benedict is a wonderful parish community,” he said. “They have a priority of service to the community. They’re just an outstanding group of people.”
The parish now has a mascot, too.
“I’ve had a dog for 82 years,” McKitrick said. “I can’t even tell you how many dogs I’ve had. Before Finnegan, we (at St. Benedict) had Finbar.”
Finbar and Finnegan both have Irish names, and McKitrick said he has given most of his previous dogs Irish names as well.