The big day: Vows and bowwows mix at Joliet church
BY DENISE M. BARAN-UNLAND Correspondent July 8, 2013 3:40PM
Erika and Joseph Mates turn to see the dog belonging to the Rev. Peter Jankowski, pastor at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Joliet, greet their dog, Otter, a member of their wedding party. | Supplied photo
Updated: August 10, 2013 6:05AM
While family and friends gathered last month at the Patrick C. Haley Mansion in Joliet to celebrate the marriage of Erika and Joseph Mates earlier in the day, the couple’s Labrador Rottweiler mix, Otter, 14, was resting at a dog-friendly hotel and dining on a plate of mostaccioli, left over from the rehearsal dinner.
“She takes 18 naps a day,” Erika said, “so she was probably on No. 15.”
Taking her place in the wedding party and nearly upstaging the bride quite possibly contributed to Otter’s fatigue.
Erika said heads turned and cameras clicked when Otter, in her white tutu and matching flower, pranced down the aisle with the ring bearer and flower girl.
“Then she went to the first pew by my mom and stepdad,” Erika said. “He held the leash and she just lay there, watching the ceremony.”
When the couple approached the Rev. Peter Jankowski, pastor of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Joliet, with the idea, Jankowski agreed Otter should participate in the Mates’ big day once he learned the couple’s reasoning for including her.
“I thought bringing the dog would be very appropriate,” Jankowski said, “so I figured out a way to be respectful to the church.”
Erika said Joseph lost both of his parents when he was a teen, his mother when he was 15 and his father when he was 17. Shortly after his father’s death, a friend who had owned Otter could no longer keep her. Would Joseph take her?
Joseph happily accepted the 3-month-old pup — unnamed at the time — and the two quickly became close friends. Otter had a fascination for swimming pools and resembled an otter when swimming, hence her name.
Through the years, Otter “attended” college with Joseph at the University of Florida and spent several months on the road with him when he explored the northwest United States. Otter has visited about 25 states so far, Joseph said.
“She was great in the car,” Joseph said. “I lined the whole back seat with pillows and blankets and she just hung out.”
Joseph always knew Otter would be part of his wedding day. Erika understood his love for and devotion to Otter. She owns a pair of 2-year-old rescue cats, Pebbles and Duke. Pebbles and Otter are already good friends. Duke, Joseph said, is more of a loner.
When planning their wedding, Erika and Joseph researched reception venues and fell in love with the Patrick Haley Mansion. Once they booked it, they began searching for a Roman Catholic church that would welcome Otter.
Jankowski did, citing as the precedent for his decision how St. Francis, in 1223, assembled a live creche for his preaching to the people of Greccio, Italy, about the significance of Christmas.
Soon afterward, Erika and Joseph joined St. Patrick and began marriage-preparation classes. Although they live in Indiana and also belong to a church there, Erika said she and Joseph plan to continue financially supporting the church that supported their dog. They also plan to occasionally worship at St. Patrick.
As it turned out, Otter had canine company for the grand nuptials. Rusty Joe Troublemaker, Jankowski’s 60-pound basset hound, sported a green tie for the day and initially watched the festivities from behind a glass window in the hallway. However, when Jankowski began the homily, Rusty Joe kept interrupting with his own “remarks,” so Jankowski decided Rusty Joe might prefer to be next to Otter.
After the dogs greeted each other, they settled down until Jankowski concluded his sermon.
“Then I took Rusty into the sacristy for the remainder of the Mass,” Jankowski said.