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Rural Life Day celebrates bond between faith, farming

Dan Hansen
Among the animals blessed by Rev. Robert Morneau, auxiliary bishop emeritis of Green Bay, were alpacas from a local farm..

BEAR CREEK –  Following several days of cloudy, rainy weather with high temperatures hovering just above freezing, the clouds gave way to bright sunshine and temperatures climbed into the mid 50’s.

That was the scene on March 28 as Rev. Robert Morneau, auxiliary bishop emeritus of Green Bay, led a procession of parishioners from St. Mary’s Catholic Church to continue the celebration of Rural Life Day.

Farmers in northeastern Wisconsin are looking for more of those warm, sunny days this spring, according to Mary Behnke, who served as chairwoman of the event hosted by St. Mary’s and St. Rose Congregation in neighboring Clintonville, in conjunction with the Diocese of Green Bay.

Behnke says last year's farming season brought a bit too much rain.

This year her prayer is for more favorable conditions, “Last year it was a little bit difficult to get our crops in the ground, and then harvest.”

Surrounded by children, Bishop Robert Morneau prepares to bless animals at St. Marys Parish near Bear Creek during Rural Life Day.

Emphasizing the importance of the event, she said, “We are so excited to be hosting Rural Life Day again this year. As farmers, we know our livelihoods are in God’s hands. We spend a lot of time praying about everything, from the health of our animals to the right amount of rain and sunshine in the summer. Rural Life Day is a great opportunity to celebrate our way of life with the community.”

The day started at 10:30 a.m. with Mass led by Bishop Morneau that was attended by about 200 people from throughout the diocese. During his homily, Morneau recalled his lifelong association with St. Mary’s parish. “I was baptized and confirmed here, and I buried my parents and siblings here,” he said.

As he blessed soil, seeds, and the farming season ahead inside the sanctuary, Morneau said, “Farmers are really dependent on the soil, the wind, the rain; they really recognize the importance of God. Bless our journey, grant a fruitful harvest, and bless our families with safety and good health.”

Immediately following the Mass, several dozen joined Morneau as he blessed animals, and a parade of tractors and other machinery, sprinkling each with holy water.

Tractors and other farm machinery were blessed as they paraded past the bishop.

Lincoln Wood, the Deacon at St. Mary Parish, says the annual event is also a way to bring the community together, "We're often not together, so when we come together, we have just a really good time, and all the guys love driving those things.”

Behnke stressed that the celebration of Rural Life Day and the connection between faith and farming reaches beyond the rural community, "We are all rural people, we all grew up on a farm, know someone on a farm, worked on a farm, or own a farm, and we all eat; that makes us all a part of it,” she said.

Following the blessing of the machinery, 170 people enjoyed a meal together in the parish hall.

Proceeds raised during Rural Life Day go into a scholarship fund benefitting Catholic students in rural communities who are pursuing studies in agriculture.