By Jenny Erickson of Bird Island
If you happen to live near a large body of water like the ocean, then you know all about the seagulls! You see and hear them squawking as they fly over the water in search of food on the shore, especially after the tide brings in some goodies, AKA seafood, for their next meal!
There’s an interesting story about one such seagull told by Sr. Laura, a religious nun from Boston. She met up with the bird one day and later called him Francis (named after St. Francis of Assisi, “Patron Saint of Animals”).
Sr. Laura explained, “I encountered Francis about 15 years ago. At the time, I was attending a retreat in Gloucester, Mass. In between the sermons and conferences, I would go to the seashore. The view of the ocean and sounds of the waves were always so fascinating to me. I just loved it there--what a beautiful place for reflection! It always gave me a sense of peace.”
And so one day, there she was in her blue habit and apron, walking along the shore, enjoying her surroundings. She noticed the birds as she always did. But then, peering farther down the beach, she observed one seagull in particular. She said, “This one caught my attention because of the way he was jumping around. As I got closer to it, I realized his feet were literally tied together. They were entangled with orange plastic netting. And it was wrapped so tightly it was squeezing his skin.”
The bird saw she was approaching and acted anxious. It flapped its wings as it hopped from one place to another, trying to evade her.
“Here I was, alone, and saw this bird in distress and I instinctively ran after it,” she said. Since she knew the bird was scared, she thought the best way to catch him was to use her apron and throw it over the gull so he couldn’t see her picking him up.
“After I got him in my arms, I asked myself, ‘Now what am I going to do?’ Before I could think of a solution, I figured the best thing to do was to secure the seagull’s beak with my hands so he wouldn’t bite me,” she said. “I also held his body firmly so his wings wouldn’t flap.”
At that point, Sr. Laura recognized a woman named Kathy from the retreat center walking near her and asked for her help. A gal named Beth also joined them and together the three worked to solve the poor creature’s dilemma!
While Sr. Laura was detaining the bird, Kathy went up to the road and stopped the first car she saw. After explaining about the seagull, she asked the passengers if they had a pair of scissors. To her relief one of them pulled out a pair from their purse and handed them to Kathy.
After that, Beth offered, “I can help clip the plastic mesh, but I don’t like the sight of blood and I’m afraid I might jab him!” But Sr. Laura recalled, “Despite her apprehension, Beth started to clip the orange plastic around the seagull’s feet. I kept reassuring her that there was no blood and that he was fine. She did a wonderful job!” Then Sister added, “Kathy was also very encouraging and helped to keep our ‘surgeon’ calm.”
After the gull was freed from the netting, Sr. Laura put him down on the sand. The women and the small crowd who had gathered watched to see what he would do. The gull seemed stunned and did not move; it just looked up at the ladies who had helped him. Then the crowd started clapping their hands. It seemed everyone—and most assuredly, the seagull--was happy over the outcome! When the bird didn’t fly off, the crowd slowly disappeared.
Watching the gull walk around with his newfound freedom, Sr. Laura said to him, “I should give you a name…hmmm…how about Francis?” And since then, that’s what she calls him when she tells her story.
For a while, the bird stayed close to his new friends who saved him. Then at last when evening was ending and the sun sank low in the sky, Francis flew off into the sunset.
In the days following, Sr. Laura returned to the shore. She would watch the many gulls fly and hunt for edible treasures. Sometimes she thought she saw Francis and wished she could hold him again. Sr. Laura thanked the Lord that she had discovered the poor bird, and felt truly blessed to have had Kathy and Beth there to help free him.
She used this experience to reflect on Jesus’ love for each of us and His constant saving help in our lives. Her prayer on that retreat was, “Lord, set me free from whatever binds me to the earth, so that I may fly to you!”
To our readers: Being that this experience happened many years ago, Sr. Laura has forgotten the names of the two women who had helped her and so to simplify the story, she used the names “Kathy” and “Beth.”
Sr. Laura, as mentioned above, is a religious Sister (also called a “nun”) of the Daughters of St. Paul in Boston, MA. Throughout her whole life she has had a tender love for all kinds of animals, and she was very willing to share her story.
Originally, Sr. Laura grew up in Minnesota, and after high school, she went on to become a veterinarian technician. During her internship in Alaska, she met a small group of Daughters of St. Paul who ran a bookstore there and held vocational retreats. Sr. Laura was inspired by their lives and mission.
After a lot of prayerful consideration, she changed the path she was on and decided to join the convent instead of working as a vet. Today, she paints the scenes of the Gospel on canvas. And in some of her paintings she includes a variety of her favorite animals.