Celebrating Mass on the farm

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Rebecca Hannum
Catholics sing during the Catholic Rural Life Mass on the Hinterland Dairy farm in Donnellson Oct. 30.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

Donnellson —Getting wet during the first Mass celebrated on a farm in years was a small sacrifice for around 75 people from four rural parishes in or bordering Lee County, along with their relatives and friends. They began Mass seated in folding chairs on the Hinterland Dairy farm of Ralph and Colleen Krogmeier. The choir sat off to the side, two guitar players among them. Light drizzle developed, but the Mass continued.

When the skies opened up to release a downpour during the offertory, everyone headed for the small sales shop inside Hinterland Dairy to continue the Mass. People squeezed into the shop or stood beneath the building’s awning. The simple wood altar was carried inside and placed between a rack of wine bottles and a refrigerator holding cheese. The altar cloth was soaking wet. Beads of rain clung to the vestments of Father Dan Dorau, the presider, and Deacons Mike Linn­en­brink and Dan Freeman, who assisted.

“I don’t think I’ve ever done it before in the rain,” Father Dorau quipped, referring to the Catholic Rural Life Mass, which was his idea. Two years ago, as a new pastor serving in rural communities, he participated in a Thriving in Rural Ministry Retreat, an initiative of Catholic Rural Life. The retreat aimed to foster spiritual renewal, share best practices in rural ministry, enhance leadership skills, provide insights into integral ecology and offer fellowship.

That experience also provided inspiration for Father Dorau to offer a Mass in thanksgiving for the harvest and a potluck “to help farmers reconnect with their faith in a celebration combining faith, food and fellowship.” He serves as pastor of the four collaborating parishes: St. Boniface Parish-Farmington, St. James the Less Parish-St. Paul, St. John Parish-Houghton and St. Mary Parish-West Point. His homily underscored farmers’ dependence on God in their livelihood, over and above the science and technology that maximize their efficiency.

Deacon Linnenbrink, who also serves the parishes, said he was “excited to offer a Catholic Rural Life Mass in our community. I thought about the Mass that St. John Paul II celebrated at Living History Farms near Des Moines (Oct. 4, 1979), only on a smaller scale.”

Father Dorau asked him to recruit a family to host the Catholic Rural Life Mass. Following a phone message he left with the Krogmeier family, “Colleen called me back. I could hear her excitement

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Barb Arland-Fye
Father Dan Dorau blesses Evelyn, the great-niece of Cindy Coffey of Madison, Wis., during the Catholic Rural Life Mass Oct. 30 in Donnellson.

in her voice and it fired me up to make the day become successful.”

“We were honored to be asked,” Colleen said. The rain did not dampen the couple’s enthusiasm. “I like the weather,” Ralph said. “It’s good that it changes. If it were perfect all the time, you’d never appreciate it.” Colleen added, “You never know what God’s going to send you. I think everyone who came was prepared for the weather.”

Deacon Linnenbrink agreed. “When it started to rain, umbrellas came out and hoods were flipped up. I overheard (farmer) Lee Pieper say, ‘We have to deal with the weather every day,’ which is so true. All of the people at Mass have worked in the elements before and took the rain in stride.”

Among the prepared was Joe Hummel, a young adult from the West Point parish who operated a drone before and after Mass to take aerial shots of the event. “I told Father, ‘It’s a shame we couldn’t have done this a day earlier,’” a day when it didn’t rain! Hummel enjoyed the celebration because this is the faith community in which he grew up.

“We get sent forth every week at the end of Mass to go into the world. The harvest is significant to our community and our parish,” said Rebecca Hannum, parish coordinator for the West Point parish, explaining the practicality of celebrating liturgy and fellowship on a farm.

“It’s God’s land and we’re stewards,” said farmer Ron Overberg. He is grateful for his livelihood raising cattle and crops and for his wife, Suzanne, their three adult children and seven grandchildren. He tells his grandchildren that every day, “I look up to the sky and say, ‘Good morning, God. Thank you for another day.’”

Paul Steffensmeier, 94, a longtime farmer whose son now runs the farm, enjoyed the Mass, which he attended with his wife, Phyllis, and other relatives. Paul vowed, “I’ll go to it every year!” Don Eldred of St. Paul, Minnesota, said he makes the trip back to Iowa to visit relatives whenever “something big is going on. This is cool!”

“It was wonderful to witness the four parishes working together for this Mass,” Deacon Linnenbrink said. “I was grateful for Deacon Dan Freeman and his wife Judy, who helped with the success of the day, witnessing, through this Catholic Rural Life event, the importance of God being part of our food production. Father Dan mentioned in his homily that sometimes we give more credit to the science of growing crops, instead of where the credit really needs to go — God. I believe everyone attending the Mass knows this, but we need a reminder once in a while.”

Father Dorau “is really supportive of farmers. He understands better, now, their passions and struggles so he wanted to celebrate that by offering Mass in an agricultural area,” said Deacon Freeman. The deacon appreciated seeing young and old at the Mass, bringing gifts from the harvest such as corn, soybeans, bales of hay, garden produce and even chestnuts in the opening procession. “We were out in the middle of God’s country, celebrating everything he has made. I felt blessed to be there.”

“We’re hoping to do this twice a year,” Father Dorau said, “in the spring to bless the seeds before planting and in the fall to give thanks for the harvest.” Families are interested in being host farms in the future, said Deacon Linnenbrink, “which creates momentum for the success of a Catholic Rural Life Mass in our diocese.”


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