A minister describes how his cat served as his spiritual guide and why she deserves a place in heaven.


I was unemployed. It was a time of anger, fear, self-pity, and housework.

It was also a time of considerable spiritual uncertainty. I had been ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1960. For some 20 years I scrambled through several pastorates, none very successfully, gradually drifting away from my inherited Protestantism. The current on which I was drifting carried me into the Catholic Worker Movement and to the office of a Catholic spiritual director. The former gave me a taste of Christian poverty; the latter set me to work on the Ignatian exercises. The combination made me seriously consider joining the Roman Catholic Church.

Enter Katie.

She came to us from the library of the College of St. Catherine, an orphan kitten hidden by my wife’s student assistant in her dorm room. Her meowing was beginning to make obvious the fact that some dorm rules were being broken. In a desperate attempt to find her a home, the student brought her to my wife’s office in the library.

My wife agreed to keep her ‘for a few days.’

Katie had found her permanent home.

When Katie entered my life, I was fifty-seven years old. Without a job. Dependent on my wife and parents. Between religions. And with lots of time on my hands in which to pray and lots of issues to pray about.

Katie entered into my prayer practice just as she entered every other part of our lives. She became for me a spiritual provocateur and guide.


Katie never seeks self-improvement. She never petitions us to help her become a better cat.

It probably never enters her cat-mind that she needs improvement.

When she stares at us or snuggles against us, when she follows us around, she does so either because she enjoys doing so or because she wants something from us. She does not use our presence as an inspiration to become a better cat.

And that is not because she is a perfectly obedient cat. She does not always do our will. She gives us our dawn licking even though we command her to stop. She often refuses to come when called. She sometimes jumps on the dinner table even though we have clearly instructed her not to. She disobeys our commandments and ignores our will.

She even has a Pharisaic streak in her. She over-obeys one of our commandments. She obeys so well our dictum, ‘Thou shalt urinate and defecate only in the ca-box’ that, if she is outside and needs to relieve herself, she scratches at the screen door to come indoors to use her facilities!

She is not, by religious standards, a righteous cat. Yet, despite her breaking of our rules, we love her.

No, more than that: because she breaks our rules we love her. Her very disobedience is a part of the perfection of her felinity. She is perfectly cat-like and being cat-like includes indifference to our desires. We find her independence delightful (most of the time).

Might not God feel the same way about me? I have been told that the Lord accepts me the way I am. Might there not be more than mere acceptance?  What if God enjoys me the way I am? Maybe the Holy One takes a certain wry pleasure in my indifference to divine will, a certain amusement in my attempts to get away with something …

When I think of how much of my prayer has been devoted to begging God for assistance in self-improvement, I am both appalled and amused.


Katie was killed tonight.

After supper she sat at our apartment door, looking up at us, patiently waiting for her evening walkabout. We let her out, and then lowered the cat-ladder (a rolled-up carpet) so she could climb up to our balcony when she decided to come home.

She stayed out later than we expected.

My wife went downstairs to see if, by some chance, she was waiting at the door. She came back stiff-faced. ‘There’s a cat lying in the middle of the street.’

I went downstairs. I saw the body. ‘It’s not Katie,’ I said to myself. ‘There’s too much white.’

But it was Katie.

She was still warm when I picked her up. She lolled in my arms just as she had when she was alive – paws sticking out, head in the crook of my elbow. I carried her to the door. My wife was waiting.

We cried. We loved that cat. I carried her upstairs to our apartment, half-numb, half-hoping it wasn’t true, cradling her as if she were still alive. God damn it to hell, god damn it to hell!

Gradually I became aware that I wanted to bring her body to St. Joseph’s, my church, to it’s chapel. More and more it seemed right to do so. Even if she was a cat, she was a loved and loving cat, and that which is loved and loving belongs to God and is of God. So we took her body to the chapel and prayed and wept and remembered.

Katie had an old towel on which she liked to sit. We wrapped her in it. We laid her on the living room floor and cried. Finally, we carried her body to our garage. We found there an old beer carton. It was, in its own way, a friendly and familiar box – one that had been with us through several of our moves. We put Katie in it, wrapped in her towel. It felt cheap and inadequate but we didn’t know what else to do …

I know of no reason to believe that cats are not souls. It seemed at that moment that human arrogance was the only explanation for the claim that only human beings are souls. O God, if You are the God of the loving, You are the God of Katie as much as You are my God. If You are the source of all being, You are her sources as well as mine. It seems right to have honoured her and honoured You by bringing her body, in its cardboard beer carton and faded towel, to Your altar, that You might have mercy on us all …

I have never been very confident of my ability to love. It has often seemed so difficult to feel affection for many of the people for whom I am supposed to feel affection.

But I know, now, that I am able to love – more able than I thought – because I know I loved Katie.

One Last Trip

Fifty yards east of St. Joseph’s Parish Centre there is a ravine, a little drainage stream-bed.

We buried Katie on its banks this afternoon. I borrowed a shovel from the church tool room. My wife held the box containing Katie’s body as we drove to the place. She said, ‘One last trip, Katie.’

I remembered our other trips, to the veterinarian, to our summer place. Katie would move about the car – up on the dashboard, down under the seat, up on the rear window ledge, down under the brake pedal, curl on our laps, climb on our shoulders. At the beginning of any trip she was constantly on the move.

On this trip, of course, she was still.

We went to worship this morning. When we returned we found an envelope under our apartment door. Inside was a prayer, a memorial for Katie. It was unsigned. I think it was from someone from St. Joe’s. We read it and cried. We prayed it as we buried Katie.

And so it ends, the insistent, funny, affectionate, evocative company of our cat. The love does not end, I think. We care and will continue to care. We remember and will continue to remember and the recollections will both pain and please us.

One last trip.

Are you now one of that ‘cloud of witnesses’ (Hebrews 12:1) who surround and cheer on the faithful? God, in Your mercy, do You designate a place in heaven’s bleachers for pet cats? Special memberships in the communion of saints for four-legged lovers?

© Don Holt, 2001

From ‘Praying with Katie’ by Don Holt. Copyright Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2001. Reprinted with permission from the publisher. To order the book, please visit www.amazon.com or call 1-800-572-3688

Don Holt is a retired Presbyterian pastor who served small urban churches for most of his career. In 1993, he became a Roman Catholic and worked as a lay minister. He currently lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he does volunteer work and writes.

My thanks to Caroline Clark, (North Carolina) who sent this to me.






A Cats Prayer

Lead me down all the right paths,
Keep me from fleas, bees, and baths.
Let me in should it storm,
Keep me safe, fed, and warm.


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