Growing in faith, cultivating kindness are seeds Mary Peeters strives to sow

Each month, The Central Minnesota Catholic features a story about a modern-day “Good Samaritan” from the diocese, someone who exhibits the work of the Gospel through their life and service. This initiative is in part to reflect the teachings of Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti.” This month’s Good Samaritan is Mary Peeters, registered nurse, gardener and promoter of social justice in her parish, Holy Cross in Butler.

A Good Samaritan is someone who sees a need and stops to help, without measuring the cost. Father Tony Kroll noticed that character in Mary Peeters, a nurse and gardener, while he was serving at her parish, Holy Cross in Butler.

Mary and John Peeters enjoy working together at the Red Barn Greenhouse in Butler. (Dianne Towalski / The Central Minnesota Catholic)

“Mary is a vibrant woman who has vision and mission. She loves the Church [and] she wants her Church to be vibrant and welcoming. She wants her Church to speak to the heart and be in a bigger box. She wants her church to be the ‘Good Samaritan,’ reaching out to anyone that gets left behind. … She wants her Church to be a model to the next generation,” Father Kroll said.

Mary grew up just half a mile from the parish, along with her 10 siblings. Her mother had a huge garden, which all of the children helped to tend and harvest. Today, the land where she grew up is the site of her greenhouse business, the Red Barn Greenhouse, which she runs with her husband, John.

“I am glad she supports Pope Francis in trying to save Mama Earth for the next generation,” Father Kroll said. “Mary loves being a farmer and a nurse. Stewardship is important to her. She sees God in all of creation and, like the pope, sort of falls in love with all of the life the Creator keeps generating around us. As a farmer, she enjoys the land and its life and all it produces for people. At the same time, she sees how any kind of appropriate job is important in the eyes of God.”

In addition to the seasonal greenhouse, Mary works as a registered nurse at the Tri-County Health Care Hospital in Wadena as surgery manager. She owes the career choice, she said, to her mother, Betty Ann.

Besides running the Red Barn Greenhouse, Mary Peeters is also active in social ministry in her parish. (photo by Dianne Towalski / The Central Minnesota Catholic)

“I listened to my mother when I was in college, when I was having one of those what-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-life moments. She said she thought I would make a good nurse. I had never really thought about that at all, but it seemed like a good idea. So I applied and was accepted into St. Luke’s School of Nursing in Fargo. And I loved it,” Mary said .

Shortly after college, she married John, who was a neighbor, farmer and fellow parishioner. The couple raised seven children on a farm three miles from Mary’s childhood home. John, who has a degree in agronomy from the University of Minnesota, loves to work the land and side by side with Mary at the greenhouse.

“All we do is give the plants warmth and water and they take off on their own. It’s nothing magical,” Mary said.

Some might say that Mary’s greenhouse philosophy is also a metaphor for how she treats people — with warmth and nourishment.

“And always fairly and kindly,” said Father Kroll. “And she’s not afraid to give fraternal correction to teachers, priests, legislators, etc., to do the better thing for the common good,” he added.

These traits, Mary said, were instilled in her and her siblings from a young age.

“I really owe a lot of who I am to my mom. She raised 11 of us. She was very intuitive, very giving and very kind. She was a huge example to all of us. We were geared up to be good citizens, to be helpful. Her saying was always to ‘be kind.’ And that is something I hope that I carry forward,” Mary said.

In addition to her kindness, Mary has a heart for social concerns. She and two fellow parishioners participated in Catholic Charities’ Parish Social Ministry Certification Program. This program trains and empowers those interested in parish social ministry to bring their knowledge to the parish and surrounding communities.

Though Mary admits that the rural area in which she lives and works is a bit of a “utopia society” with not a lot of diversity, it is important to look beyond the confines of her community and to help others do the same.

“That’s the challenge for us here, how can we make a difference in social ministry? For me, it’s really about what difference we can make outside of this blessed place we get to call home,” she said.

Mary often prays while watering the flowers and plants. (photo by Dianne Towalski / The Central Minnesota Catholic)

When Mary learned that there were people from the Latino community in Perham being bullied and harassed, she was instrumental in establishing a crisis line through WhatsApp. This resource allowed people experiencing this type of distress to reach out through the app and alert Mary and others, who then came to their assistance.

“There were three times that the app had been activated. We went to the sites and offered our presence,”

Mary explained. “It was a scary time. It was eye opening to me what other people have to contend with. We are so insulated here. It was a good reminder to all of us that these things are happening right here in our communities.”

“Mary sees the Kingdom of God as a place where everyone is welcome, and everyone for her is everyone,” Father Kroll said.

He was especially impressed when Mary challenged her youth group to raise $1,000 and invest it in microfinance for those trying to overcome poverty in Central America.

“She helped them to think of the common good, and they did a great job and enjoyed it, too,” he said. Her Catholic faith is at the core of all that she does, whether with her family, caring for the earth, working with her nursing staff or volunteering at her church.

“Our faith is the beginning and the end of everything that we do, for the honor and glory of God,” Mary said. “My day starts like that, no matter where I am. At work, I pray for the staff and the families we work with. And I spend a lot of time praying when I’m just watering my plants. In both cases, I am reminded of the beauty of creation, and it brings it back to the simple piece of what we are asked to do, what my mom always said — to the simple message to just be kind.”


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Author: Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is the editor of The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

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