Equines, Canines, and Encountering the Divine

By Marc Massery

Growing up as a horse-riding instructor on her family’s farm in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and having gone to college to study horses, Sr. Mary Veronica Fitch found a unique way to evangelize her Catholic faith. 

“I wasn’t trying to do anything but live the Gospel,” she said. “I was just a riding instructor fervent about God. I was just as loving and gentle as possible with the horses and that was affecting people. [Through my ministry] four marriages were reconciled; a woman who had an abortion came back to Confession; there were also conversions to the Catholic faith and Catholics came back to the Sacraments.”

She felt a call to the religious life, to which she said “yes.” But later she doubted the call because working with horses had been so spiritually fruitful. “I knew you had to give everything up to be a religious sister,” she said, “And I wasn’t ready to give up animals, so I went about my own business.”

When she was about 26 years old, she accepted her call to the religious life and searched for a community. Around this time, she discovered St. Faustina’s Diary, which would have a lasting impact on her. “I read through the whole thing in about a day or two. I just devoured it,” she said. “It was only by reading some quotes from St. Faustina’s Diary that I discovered the community where I belonged.”

In 2002, Sr. Mary Veronica joined a cloistered Franciscan community. She would’ve liked to have found a cloister centered on Divine Mercy, but for now, she felt led to put that desire aside completely. “I loved the cloister. I felt I was free to be who I was with God,” she said. “The cloister is beautiful. You learn a lot about relationships in the cloister.”

Still, her love for Divine Mercy never went away. In October 2016, she received permission for exclaustration so that she could live a life more centered around Divine Mercy. She moved to Marshfield, Wisconsin, in the hopes of leading others to live mercy in their daily lives, most notably through animal-assisted therapies.

The same month she moved to Wisconsin, the local bishops consecrated the entire state to Divine Mercy in honor of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. Sister Mary Veronica took this as a sign that she was in the right place. With the encouragement of the bishop and the support of generous donors, Sr. Mary Veronica acquired a 38-acre property with everything she needed to integrate equine and canine-assisted therapies, including barns, space for a chapel, and areas suitable for teaching and spiritual direction. She named it Merciful Heart of Jesus Farm.

“We are just beginning animal-assisted therapy with the dogs and horses. We have three horses in training. We have two religious aspirants, whom I’m training to handle the horses. We have two German shepherds we are training as therapy dogs, and we’re going to get four more horses,” she said. 

“Animals, especially horses, are so sensitive to emotions. They’re like a mirror. If there’s something inside of you that’s not right, you’re going to find that come out in the animal. They won’t behave until the person says what’s bothering them. When they do, the horse calms down. … When people can see this big animal respond in a free way, it’s a huge message, and it shows that love, gentleness, and kindness work.

“We try to teach and enable people to live lives of reconciliation,” she said. “I’m not a psychologist, but I’m living a healthy spiritual and emotional life, a life of faith. As such, I’m a natural reconciler and healer because of the way that I live.”

In addition to animal-assisted therapy, she teaches various classes on Catholicism and offers retreats. In fact, since being in Marshfield, she has inspired more than 150 lay people to commit to performing one act of mercy per day. 

“Saint Faustina’s Diary showed me that God wants to have a deep and intimate union with us that is so personal,” she said. “I never really realized the depths and the tenderness of the union that He wants with us. I needed to hear most of all that God wants a relationship like that with me. And this gives me the hunger to want this deep, tender, intimate union with Him.”  

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