The Church and rural life: resilient and inspiring

By Jenny Kraska on December 9, 2013

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For many of us, December is a month filled with busy excitement. We spend much of the month attending seasonal gatherings, shopping and preparing to celebrate Christmas. In the midst of everything going on during the month it is easy to forget that December also marks the closing of another year. The older I get the more I am astounded by how fast twelve months fly by — and 2013 has been no different in that regard.

One of the highlights of this past year has been my work as a board member of Catholic Rural Life (CRL). I have been both inspired and motivated by the work of CRL. Last month marked the 90th anniversary of CRL: an organization that can survive 90 years is surely an inspiration for many! While CRL has experienced the highs and lows that any entity would over the course of 90 years, the future is filled with great promise. The need to foster and maintain the unique identity of rural America is needed now more than ever.

In 1908 President Theodore Roosevelt established the Commission on Country Life; one of the main purposes of the Commission was to find ways to make country life more attractive. President Roosevelt believed that rural America was “the backbone of our nation’s efficiency” and for that reason as a nation he believed we should do everything in our power to make sure that rural life was not left behind for the generations yet to come.

The Catholic Church, through the work and actions of Archbishop Edwin V. O’Hara, echoed the sentiments of President Roosevelt and in 1923 O’Hara formed the National Catholic Rural Life Conference. [Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, has written a book about the life of Edwin V. O’Hara titled Some Seed Fell on Good Ground which includes his work in forming and maintaining the National Catholic Rural Life Conference.]

With the formation of the NCRLC, O’Hara wanted Catholics, and all people of good will, to recognize what he already knew: the Church in rural America was a precious and robust segment of Catholic life. Theologian Rosemary Haughton once wrote that rural Catholicism “stresses preference for the enduring values of local identity and community, the importance of family stability, love of the land, the celebration of yearly rituals, and local cultural tradition.”

This description of the rural Church is a beautiful one that describes the great gifts that Catholicism in rural America still has to offer each one of us today if we are willing to discover them.

The work and efforts of CRL help bring awareness to the gifts of rural Catholicism and also strives to help Catholics in rural America recognize the importance of their contributions to the life of the Church. As we prepare a slate of resolutions for the new year I would encourage everyone to make one of those resolutions to learn more about Catholic Rural Life.

I hope that no one reading this post will allow 2014 to pass without finding out more about the good work of Catholic Rural Life and ways in which you can get involved in your own parish or diocese!

Jenny Kraska is executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference.

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