National organization based in Minnesota advocates for rural communities, ministries

Categories: Around the Diocese

4C CatholicRuralLife

Maurie Weiler, a member of Pax Christi Parish in Eden Prairie, talks with Peg Louiselle, director of development for Catholic Rural Life, at the St. Cloud Diocesan Rural Life Celebration Aug. 23. Dianne Towalski / The Visitor

By Kristi Anderson
The Visitor

What is Catholic Rural Life?

Catholic Rural Life — previously known as the National Catholic Rural Life Conference — is a national, Catholic nonprofit organization headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota. It is a membership-based organization, comprised of bishops, laity and religious who are joined in a common effort to serve the rural church, rural people and their communities.

“Our mission is renewing Catholic faith in rural America by educating, advocating and applying the church’s teachings to issues surrounding rural communities,” said Jim Ennis, the organization’s executive director. “We are the only Catholic organization dedicated to rural life.”

What does CRL do?

“The Catholic Church affirms and esteems farmers and we want to do all we can to let farmers know that the church cares. So we advocate on behalf of farmers. We also provide lay leadership training because we want to help equip lay men and women to lead spiritual formation programs in their communities,” Ennis said.
CRL does this through three distinct areas of impact:

Rural outreach and ministry

  • Lay Leadership Program — educates lay leaders to bring about spiritual revitalization in their parishes through catechetical study groups.
  • Rural Ministry Practicum — works with seminaries to provide future priests with resources and knowledge for ministry in rural parishes and communities (see story, at right).
  • Native American Scholarship Program — supports the education of Native American students committed to sustainable and traditional agricultural practices.

Ethical food and agriculture

  • Policy advocacy — promotes public policies that support family farms and ensure the economic vitality of rural communities.
  • Vocation of the Agriculture Leader — provides future leaders in food and agriculture with practical resources that integrate their faith with their work.
  • Farmer-to-Farmer Program — connects volunteers with agricultural expertise to service opportunities in developing East African nations.

Stewardship of creation

  • Environmental awareness — collaborates with the U.S. bishops to increase public engagement with environmental issues from a faith-based perspective.
  • Stewardship study guides — produces study materials and backgrounders that make the connection between the Catholic faith and environmental stewardship.

Why is rural life important to the life of the church?

Although the number of people living in urban areas has increased in recent generations, there are still 50 million Americans that live in rural areas, according to CRL. Ennis said these rural residents are not only important to the country, but also to the Catholic Church.

First, many vocations to the priesthood and religious life come from rural communities, he said.
Second, “eating is a moral act,” and therefore Catholics have a responsibility to call for ethical practices in agriculture and food production.

And third, rural people have a special role as stewards of creation.

“I am most excited that what I see with Pope Francis leading the way is that there is a whole new way of looking at creation. And farmers and ranchers are on the forefront of the care of creation in working with the land,” Ennis said. “Pope Francis’ recent letter, ‘Laudato Si’,’ is a real watershed for the church and it applies to everyone.

“It’s the first Catholic document that has articulated a richer theology of creation,” he added. “Those in rural areas are often on the front lines of environmental challenges like clean water and healthy soil.

“And farmers work with nature to grow crops so they are also concerned if climate is changing,” he said. “They are dependent on the weather. This letter is for everyone to read but it holds a special place for rural communities.”

I live in an urban area. What does rural life have to do with me?

“Everyone has to eat,” Ennis said. “Urban people should be aware of us and what we do because it affects everyone. We all have to eat and, therefore, we all should want to support farms and farmers across the country. It is critical to grow the food we all need.”

Become a member

Memberships help continue the work of CRL. To learn more about CRL or to become a member, visit