NEWCASTLE, Neb. — For the past five years each spring and fall, Father Andrew Sohm has traveled the highways, two-lane and dirt roads to farms near the parishes he pastors, St. Peter in Newcastle and St. Joseph in Ponca.
He is busy blessing farmers, seeds and the harvest.
“It’s a chance to get to know my parishioners well,” said Father Sohm, who grew up on a farm near Danbury, Iowa. “Lots of priests have gotten away from blessing the seed, gotten away from the harvest.”
He visits about a half-dozen farms each season, stepping into the barns, fields and farmhouses, praying and visiting. Coffee and cookies, maybe a noon dinner, are part of the invitation.
Some of the farmers, such as Marlan and Sherry Rolfes, give part of their annual harvest to their parish. In addition to St. Peter Parish in Newcastle, part of the Rolfes’ harvest goes to Cedar Catholic Junior-Senior High School in Hartington.
Father Sohm blessed the Rolfes’ properties last month. Marlan Rolfes said he appreciates the visits, and the extra prayers.
“It feels good,” he said. “It’s a risky business, farming. We got hailed out in 2009 and 2011. Before that, we’d never been hailed in 50-some years.
“Needless to say, we bought hail insurance. … We trust in the Lord, but we also buy hail insurance,” Rolfes said, laughing.
The Rolfes’ family has been farming in the area since his late father, Alfred, purchased land near Wynot in 1947, Rolfes said. The family is grateful for the prayers, Rolfes said.
“Father comes out and gets the Lord involved,” he said. “He’s good at bringing that part of your life into the faith. I think it’s a good practice.”
ST. PAUL, Minn. — A three-day conference in St. Paul, Minn., in March looked at the link between agriculture and vocation. Titled “A Noble Vocation: Integrating Faith, Food and the Environment,” the event was organized by St. Paul-based Catholic Rural Life.
Some of the conference’s sessions focused on U.S. agriculture history, environmental challenges and climate change, and included international and indigenous perspectives.
The 110 participants from 18 states were drawn together through concerns about “what’s happening around agriculture and family farms, what’s happening in our rural communities and our rural life, concerns about food security and how we’re going to feed the world in the future, while caring at the same time for our environment,” Catholic Rural Life executive director James Ennis said.
In his keynote address, Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis acknowledged the difficulties many farmers face, as well as the complexities of agricultural production and its environmental impact, but he said that challenges should be faced with hope. He encouraged deeper reflection on agriculture as a vocation.
“To refer to the vocation of an agricultural leader means someone who is called and then also listens... The commitment to agriculture is a vocation given by God, a unique and privileged way of life. Indeed, of all the occupations undertaken by men and women, the task of ‘tilling and keeping the earth’ reaches to the depths of our relationships with God the Creator, with creation and with all of humanity,” Archbishop Hebda said.