For the first time in its history, this summer’s annual diocesan Rural Life Celebration will be held at a parish — not a farm. And Father Matthew Kuhn is hoping that it will be an opportunity for the smallest of his three parishes — St. Nicholas Parish in Belle River — to shine.
As pastor of Come to the Water Area Catholic Community, which includes the parishes in Alexandria, Osakis and Belle River, Father Kuhn is excited to show off this little parish to people from all over the diocese.
“It’s such a unique thing to have a church without a town around it,” he said. “I think there’s something particularly unique about a church like St. Nick’s or St. Lawrence in Rush Lake or Holy Family in Belle Prairie. These little churches are the township, and there’s something really special about that.”
Gary and Veronica Haavig, chairs of the event committee, are also looking forward to sharing their love of rural life with others. They have been working hard planning for the Aug. 20 event, which got off to a little bit of a late start.
Part of the reason for the delay in planning is simply that it’s been a hard year for farmers around the diocese.
“With the very wet and long winter, many farmers got a later start with planting and were feeling pretty pressured or stressed about their summer season already,” said Kateri Mancini, director of social concerns for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud, the office that coordinates the Rural Life Celebration each year. “It didn’t feel fair to add stress on top of that reality by asking a farm to also ready their property to host this event.”
The Haavigs, who also are celebrating their 40th anniversary that weekend, said they are working across the whole ACC and getting lots of help with everything from fundraising to promoting the event.
“We’re working with people trying to find resources,” Veronica said. “By doing that, we’re learning who people are and forming relationships. So that’s kind of nice.”
Not everyone that lives in the rural areas of our diocese is a farmer, she said, so it’s fitting that the celebration this year is at their rural parish. The Haavigs live on a farm, but rent out their land. They enjoy the rural life, they said.
“The event is not just about farmers,” Mancini said. “It is about all the incredible gifts of being a rural diocese, including the rural businesses, rural landscape on top of farms and rural parish life. Having the event on the church grounds this year gives us the opportunity to still recognize the farmers of our diocese, as we’ll be doing again with the Catholic Century Farm Awards, but also to highlight some of those other gifts of rural life and community, including the rural parish.”
Veronica said she wants people from across the diocese to come and get a taste of how they live every day.
“People can experience rural life,” she said. “A lot of people just don’t know where their food comes from, how things are grown and what it looks like when it comes out of the field. So, it’s good for them to just come and see.”
Hosting this event is a huge undertaking, but the parish community is stepping up and the Haavigs want to show the diocese that small parishes can survive, they said.
“We can do big things,” Veronica said. “Small parishes can do big things.”
“They have been incredible to work with and definitely exemplify pride in one’s parish,” Mancini said. “We’re excited for others in the diocese to see that at the event.”
Veronica says what she’s most looking forward to is seeing the tent overflowing with people for the outdoor Mass. “We’re hoping to have
a big circle of people around the outside.”
In addition to the outdoor Mass with Bishop Patrick Neary, C.S.C., Catholic Charities will present the Catholic Century Farm Awards and the Catholic Rural Business Awards. Following the awards, there will be a free pulled pork sandwich meal and entertainment.
The Dairy Association will be on hand with ice cream and a local brewery will provide fresh-brewed root beer.
“These events bring us together and help grow a sense of community,” Gary said. “We’re growing community across boundaries and this, being a diocesan event, will form relationships across our two other parishes and throughout the diocese.”
If you go:
The Rural Life Celebration begins at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 20, on the grounds of St. Nicholas Church, Belle River (9473 County Rd 3 NE, Carlos, Minnesota 56319). The day includes an outdoor Mass with Bishop Neary, with presentation of the Catholic Century Farm Awards and the Rural Business Awards. It will be followed by a catered meal and family-friendly entertainment. The event is free and open to all. Money collected during the Mass that is not in a parish envelope will benefit the Rural Life Fund.