Annual Rural Life Sunday Mass celebrates farming, creation, community

| Clare Kolars | June 17, 2016 | 0 Comments
Ron and Kay Keller, parishioners of St. Michael in Kenyon, are hosting Archdiocesan Rural Life Sunday at their farm June 26. Clare Kolars/For The Catholic Spirit

Ron and Kay Keller, parishioners of St. Michael in Kenyon, are hosting Archdiocesan Rural Life Sunday at their farm June 26. Clare Kolars/For The Catholic Spirit

Sitting along Highway 60 in Kenyon — population 1,815 — is St. Michael Church, a thriving parish chosen to host Rural Life Sunday June 26. As in years past, the Mass and festivities won’t be held at the church, but at a parishioner’s farm. This year’s event is planned for the Keller farm, located 7 miles west of St. Michael and about 8 miles east of Faribault.

Ron Keller and his wife, Kay, have been members of St. Michael for 24 years, and look forward to this event as a way to celebrate rural life with the broader Catholic community.

Enjoying the view of the farm from the front porch with iced tea in hand, the Kellers recounted the numerous joys and strengths of rural life in both the parish and the farm.

“St. Michael’s rural character consists of a close-knit community where people are willing to help each other and celebrate together,” said Ron, 56.

He said Rural Life Sunday is a way for people from urban communities to show appreciation for rural communities.

“An assumption about rural parishes is everyone’s farmers,” said Kay, 55. “A rural setting just means we live in a small community. There are 120 registered families at St. Michael’s, but only 50 of those are active [parishioners].”

She noted that less than 10 percent of parishioners are full-time farmers.

“Some small parishes struggle with declining enrollment, but we don’t,” Ron said. “We’ve always had an equal number transition in and out.”

He added: “We’re financially strong, but we always get a little nervous when there’s talk of downsizing.”

St. Michael, Kenyon, is the host parish for the 2016 Archdiocesan Rural Life Sunday Mass and celebration. Clare Kolars/For The Catholic Spirit

St. Michael, Kenyon, is the host parish for the 2016 Archdiocesan Rural Life Sunday Mass and celebration. Clare Kolars/For The Catholic Spirit

Numerous joys and strengths override the challenges of the small parish community. One challenge has been starting a program for the youth, Ron said.

“Our youth connect with programs at Divine Mercy in Faribault because there aren’t enough kids around here to start our own program,” he said.

St. Michael is clustered with Divine Mercy, with Father Kevin Kenney as pastor.

Popular at the parish are its biannual bingo nights, Fall Bingo and Mardi Gras Bingo. Parishioners of all ages gather together for lunch and prizes, Ron said. People love it, and it’s a good fundraiser for the parish, he added.

Family farm

Ron is the fifth generation of the Kellers to run the farm, with his seven children helping out, along with Kay.

“People might be surprised at how big our farm is and that it’s family operated,” Ron said.

With 154 acres, the Kellers raise hogs, corn and soybeans, and keep horses and chickens, too.

During a break in his chores, Ron watched his wife drive by in a truck full of kids, with a trailer carrying horses in tow.

“Kay leads a horse camp with our nieces and granddaughters,” Ron explained.  “We also host tours for third-graders from Faribault a few times a year.

“The kids love to see the horses and play in nature.”

When it comes to hosting Rural Life Sunday, the Kellers are excited to share their farm with guests for a day.

Ron pointed out that Catholics often sing songs that talk about harvest and creation during Mass.

“Anyone attending will see where songs like that come from,” he said. “They’ll be able to experience the beauty and joy that comes from this work.”

Kay hopes one takeaway will be a realization that Catholics, both rural and urban, should care about each other as a family.

“It’s a way to help city folks remember rural life still exists and to give them an opportunity to come and see a farm,” she said. “Mass is a bonus.”

St. Michael trustee Karen Kahnke said people in the parish hope that, through this event, small country churches will be appreciated and valued. She has been a parishioner since 1976 and likes the small parish because it’s easy to be involved.

Presiding at the Mass will be Father Donald DeGrood, the archdiocesan vicar for clergy, who grew up on a farm just west of Faribault.

“Celebrating the Eucharist on a farm enables us to reflect upon the gift of our spiritual food at Mass and physical food produced by farmers,” DeGrood said. “Rural Life Sunday provides the context for city and rural people to pray and share fraternity together.”

He added: “It’s important we all stay closely connected to each other as true brothers and sisters in the Lord.”

Archdiocesan Rural Life Sunday

When: Sunday, June 26, 1:30 p.m. Mass

Where: Ron and Kay Keller Family Farm, 9320 Kenyon Blvd., Faribault

Of note: In case of rain, Mass will be held at St. Michael,108 Bullis St., Kenyon. Lunch, kids activities and animal visits to follow Mass. Bring lawn chairs. Freewill donations accepted.

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