Bishop Robert Gruss has been asked to serve on the Board of Directors for Catholic Rural Life. He will begin serving a three-year term in November. The 94-year-old organization is headquartered in St. Paul, Minn.
Executive Director Jim Ennis said he met Bishop Gruss last year when they served together on a rural ministry panel. He recommended the bishop to the organization’s board.
The organization was founded in 1923, in St. Louis, Mo., by Fr. Edwin V. Ohara, who at that time was serving as the director of the National Catholic Welfare Conference’s Rural Life Bureau. He believed rural Catholics were underserved by Catholic priests, schools and hospitals. His primary interest was in religious education.
During the Great Depression the organization sought to help the economic plight of farmers by bringing attention to produce prices. In the 1940s the headquarters were moved to Des Moines, Iowa. Msgr. Luigi G. Ligutti became a spokesman for rural life issues. During the next two decades National Catholic Rural Life also focused on the spiritual needs of rural Catholics. It developed its own “Rural Life Prayerbook,” stressed blessing animals and fields and chose St. Isidore as the official patron saint for farmers. Between 1960 and 1980, the organization stressed farm-aid policies that did not change with political parties and responsible soil, energy and water stewardship.
Under the leadership of Bishop Maurice Dingman, with the help of Dr. John Hart, in 1980 a pastoral letter was developed: “Strangers and Guests: Toward Community in the Heartland,” and it was signed by 44 Midwestern bishops. In the 1980s, when many farmers and ranchers faced foreclosures, the organization began working to impact national food and agriculture policies.
In 2008, Ennis became executive director. In 2013 the name was changed to Catholic Rural Life and in 2014 the office was moved to St. Paul. Today the organization focuses on the environment, developing leaders in the agriculture community, and training priests and lay leaders who serve in rural areas. More can be learned about Catholic Rural Life from the Website, https://catholicrurallife.org/. In the Diocese of Rapid City, Fr. Tyler Dennis, Martin, is the Rural Life Director. (History condensed from CRL materials by Laurie Hallstrom)