ALLOUEZ — Even though it’s been a long winter, spring officially begins on March 20. The rural community of the Diocese of Green Bay will celebrate that new season with prayer, blessings and luncheons.
The annual Rural Life Day events will take place March 24 and 26. The intention is to pray for successful spring plantings and an abundant harvest in the fall. Both days will begin with 10:30 a.m. Mass.
Bishop Robert Morneau will be the celebrant at St. Mary Parish, Crivitz (808 Henriette Ave.), on Tuesday, March 24. Bishop David Ricken, will be celebrant at St. Isidore the Farmer Parish in Tisch Mills (18424 Tisch Mills Road, rural Denmark), on Thursday, March 26.
Fr. Willie Van de Loo will be the luncheon speaker at both events. Fr. Willie was born in Hollandtown in Outagamie County and grew up on his family’s farm.
“I was the oldest of nine,” he said. “Each one of us boys had a chance to work on the farm. My dad had two jobs, so, during the summer most of us had the chance to be a farmer as we went to college.”
He said he has lots of good memories of those days, “even though I know I couldn’t name the machines anymore. I’d be lost out there, as much as I was OK with them when I was 18 or 20.”
When asked what he liked most about farming when he was growing up, Fr. Willie replied, “The community. The times we got together for thrashing and harvesting. That’s what I liked the most. That was really good stuff.”
Of farm work, he added, “you get a lot of time alone, when you’re plowing or that stuff, when you can really think. You realize that the earth is here, the sun is here — and I didn’t really bring much. I have to be sure to be here at the right time to reverence it. … It makes you grateful. Or it should.”
Both Rural Life Day events will include blessings of seeds, animals and farm equipment, prayers for a fruitful growing season and a noon dinner. Collections taken at Masses go toward scholarships for students pursuing studies in fields supporting rural life. This year, $300 scholarships were awarded to two high school seniors:
- Megan VerVoort, a member of St. John Parish in Seymour. She has been in FFA (Future Farmers of America) throughout high school and plans to attend college at UW-River Falls, majoring in agriculture education. At her home parish, Magan has been an usher and greeter at Mass and cooks at NEW Homeless Shelter in Green Bay several times a year.
- Lauren Vander Linden is a member of St. Clare Parish, Greenleaf site. She works on her family’s farm and, in the fall, will attend Fox Valley Technical College to study “Farm Management and Crop Application.” At St. Clare, she has been a Mass server since attending school there. Today, she helps teach in the faith formation program.
As the rural community gathers this year, they face a number of issues still related to the weather from last year: the late spring resulted in late planting and the early cold of November left a lot of corn unharvested in the fields. That corn will need to be plowed under before spring planting can begin. And since the cool summer hadn’t warmed Lake Michigan as much as usual, there is concern about a potentially later spring this year as well.
The extended cold also resulted in frozen ground for the last several months and, as long as the ground remains frozen, manure cannot be spread on the fields. With this past February being the seventh coldest on record in northeast Wisconsin, there is also a danger that some of the crops already in the ground, such as alfalfa and winter wheat, may have frozen or been choked off by ice.
While low gas prices over winter helped — as did higher milk prices — gas prices are inching up again and milk prices have turned.
“A big worry,” said Deb Wegner-Hohensee, who coordinates rural l life projects for the diocese, “is the fluctuation in the prices of milk. When the prices are up, it’s great, but when they’re down, the costs (of farming) remain the same.”
She noted how one member of the diocesan Rural Life Committee told her: “Farming is not an easy job — it’s a passion.”
Fr. Willie echoed that, remembering his own family’s farm.
“I think I am going to end my talk at Rural Life Day by saying, ‘You have to pass an attitude of life on to others. (It’s not about) passing on farming habits, they change in 60 years, but the attitude toward life is what you have to pass on, respect for life.’
“Everything depends on the rain and the sun,” he added. “And on the seeds being smart enough to die. Thank God seeds aren’t selfish. We’d be in a little trouble otherwise.”
Tickets for the Green Bay Diocese’s Rural Life Day dinners on March 24 and 26 must be purchased in advance and are $8 each. Dinner tickets will not be sold at the door. Call either parish directly to order:
St. Mary at (715) 854-2501; St. Isidore at (920) 776-1555. No tickets are needed to attend either Mass.