This is another post inspired by my trip to North Carolina earlier this month to be hooded. For three or four years while my husband and I lived there, we fed feral cats who lived in the gully next door to our apartment complex. After I got my job in Ohio and we knew we were going to have to move, a friend of mine, a cat lover, connected me with a local organization that manages feral cat colonies. The organization came out over a period of several weeks to trap the cats. There were a couple of litters of kittens that they kept to put up for adoption. The adults they spayed and returned, so that at least the colony wouldn’t reproduce further. The plan was that after we moved, the organization would maintain a feeding station for the cats. (The term “feeding station” called to my mind some kind of plastic device, but it turned out that it just meant a volunteer would drive by every night to lay food on the ground.)
During our return visit, my husband and I drove through the apartment complex for old time’s sake. (I’m more nostalgic about the place than he is, but that’s because I’m more prone to romanticize poverty.) It was so early in the afternoon that I didn’t expect we’d see the cats, but we did see the feeding station. A single cat was there eating; as our car approached, it leaped straight up the chain link fence, climbed over the top, and disappeared into the gully. It happened so fast, I couldn’t get a good look at the cat, so I can’t say if it was one of “ours.”
What does any of this have to do with religion in America? The cat-lover friend who connected me with the organization that now manages “our” colony is Catholic; she wrote a dissertation on Roman Catholic Womenpriests. She told me at one point that she was praying to St. Gertrude for the cats. She was actually the second cat-loving academic colleague of mine who I knew had made St. Gertrude part of her life. My second colleague had an icon of St. Gertrude in her home, which I tried to find a copy of online to accompany this post, without success. This is the image our friends at Wikipedia make available.
Gertrude became patron of cats because she’s customarily prayed to against infestation by mice or rats. How that custom developed, I haven’t yet been able to find out.