Interested in My People: A Reflection on Monsignor Ligutti’s Life and Legacy

During the Advent season, we often take time to recall personal and Universal traditions. CRL has many traditions and a rich history, so this Advent we decided to look into our roots and reflect on one of the founding leaders of the Catholic Rural Life community.

It’s hard to point to any successful aspect of Catholic Rural Life without somehow tying it back to Monsignor Ligutti’s legacy. As the President from 1937-1939 and Executive Director from 1940-1959, Ligutti brought passion, drive and mission to Catholic Rural Life (then the National Catholic Rural Life Conference). More fascinating than all of his accomplishments, however, is Ligutti the man. Who was he? What made him so successful? And why did he care so much about rural life? By looking at his life, the answer is clear: Monsignor Ligutti loved God and His people.

Ligutti was passionate about rural ministry from the beginning of his priesthood. He grew up, first in Italy and then in Iowa, in a rural environment which fueled his love for the agricultural life. But his drive to help rural America didn’t stem exclusively from personal interest or familiarity. When asked in an interview how he became interested in rural life, Ligutti responded: “My people were farmers and I was interested in my people.” This simple and clear awareness of his pastoral role was the steadfast motivation for all Ligutti would go on to accomplish.

Though Ligutti was eager to serve the people of rural America, saying “yes” to leadership with the National Catholic Rural Life Conference (NCRLC) was not easy. Before accepting a position with the Conference, Msgr. Ligutti was the pastor of Assumption Parish in Granger, Iowa. Beginning the journey with NCRLC would mean giving up his mission at Assumption. He understood that his work in that small parish was as good and valuable as work that would bring him much more attention and success. In fact, he once said:

No parish is too small; no assignment is too insignificant. No matter where a priest is, he can always find the way and the means to serve the Church. I have a feeling that many young priests today are looking for “where the action is.” I always found the action is where you make it.

Considering well the sacrifice, Ligutti accepted God’s invitation for him to become the leader of the rural life movement in America.

After realizing his new role, Msgr. Ligutti gave all of his energy to building the Church in rural America. Ligutti was a gifted speaker and missionary, inspiring many to care more and better for rural land and people. Often using humor alongside theology and philosophy, Ligutti captivated audiences with his message which he summed up in the simple phrase: “Christ to the Country—the Country to Christ.”

But his mission was rooted far deeper than speeches and events. The source of Ligutti’s conviction came from his own life experience. He told an interviewer a story of how when hunting with his beloved dogs one night, one of them fell into a gully. After climbing in to rescue the dog, Ligutti realized that the gully had appeared recently and deduced that it was caused by soil erosion. This discovery prompted him to address the problem of soil erosion in the area. Ligutti continued to use this method, starting from the real problems that he and other farmers experienced day-to-day in order to address issues large and small.

At the end of his life, Ligutti chose fittingly the words that are now displayed on his headstone: “At peace with the people I love.” Msgr. Ligutti not only left us the legacy of Catholic Rural Life as a necessary organization, he taught us what it means to live life for the people. Ligutti understood that the only way to solve any problem is to pay attention to and address the needs of those around us. Most importantly, his life reminds us that the secret to understanding the needs of others is to grow in love for them. This meditation by Msgr. Ligutti from the Rural Life Prayer Book expresses well his intimate connection with the Catholic farmer:

I am a farmer. I am at Mass. My work in the field is but the prelude to the
Offertory of the Mass. Each season brings the wheat and the grapes closer
to the sacrificial altar. I am a simple but proud partner in God’s ever new
creation. How can I, a farmer, forget how noble is my calling? Can I
consider my work not dignified? It is not merely clods of inert soil I work
with, but millions of God’s invisible creatures. It is not just a wheat
stalk or a kernel I behold, but God’s rain, sunshine, blue sky, captured
therein and held prisoner, that on the altar it may again become a prisoner
of love, a Sacrificial Victim. Ite Missa Est!

-Jennifer Andersen is the Communication Intern for Catholic Rural Life.