Seminarians gain pastoral vision at Belle Plaine farm

| August 19, 2015 | 0 Comments
Jim Glisczinski, right, a farmer in Belle Plaine, shows his robust corn crop to seminarians at the St. Paul Seminary Aug. 12 during a tour of his farm. Glisczinski, who belongs to Our Lady of the Prairie in Belle Plaine, talked about faith and farming to the men. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Jim Glisczinski, right, a farmer in Belle Plaine, shows his robust corn crop to seminarians at the St. Paul Seminary Aug. 12 during a tour of his farm. Glisczinski, who belongs to Our Lady of the Prairie in Belle Plaine, talked about faith and farming to the men. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

On a casual tour of Jim Glisczinski’s Scott County farm Aug. 12, a group of seminarians peppered the farmer with a range of questions. How many acres does he plant? What does he think of GMOs? How old was he when he started farming?

To that last question, Glisczinski answered “5,” the age he first remembers carrying water to the calves on his father’s farm. He’s farmed ever since, taking over the land his dad bought in 1962. It was 200 acres then, and has since expanded to 1,500, most planted with corn and soybeans.

With their queries, the seminarians followed Glisczinski around the farmyard, peering in the grain bin, admiring farm machinery and getting close to a few of the beef cows he raises for meat.

One question got to the heart of their visit: What would farmers want the next generation of parish pastors to know about their work?

Mike Glisczinski, Jim’s 86-year-old father, paused for a long time. “It’s really important,” he answered.

“We can put the seed in the ground and work the fields, but the rest is up to Jesus Christ,” said Jim, 57, a parishioner of Our Lady of the Prairie in Belle Plaine who also runs Glisczinski Trucking, a grain-hauling business.

“He [God] is providing this year,” he added, referring to the bumper crop of corn.

The seminarians’ visit to the Glisczinski farm was one stop of a weeklong practicum on the Church and rural life led by Christopher Thompson, academic dean of the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity, and Jim Ennis, Catholic Rural Life executive director. Their aim was to introduce seminarians in their third year of theology to the Church’s teachings on rural issues and stewardship of creation, as well as rural communities’ pastoral needs.

The course married the seminary’s aim to form future priests — many of whom are likely to serve rural parishes — and Catholic Rural Life’s focus on renewing the Catholic faith in rural communities, Ennis said. A basic understanding of crop cycles, agribusiness and farming challenges is important for rural pastors, he said.

Each year, seminarians spend half the week in the classroom reading documents and listening to presenters, and the other half in a rural area. This year, they stayed at the Franciscan Retreats and Spirituality Center in Prior Lake, visited a pumpkin farm near New Prague and attended Mass at St. Michael in Prior Lake, in addition to their afternoon on the Glisczinski farm. The 16 seminarians in the course were from six dioceses and one religious order. Only one, Derek Wiechmann from the Diocese of St. Cloud, grew up on a farm.

For Thompson, the course aims to restore agriculture’s place in his students’ understanding of culture.

“If there was a bias in our intellectual formation, it’s that we understood culture to be fabrication,” he said, pointing to widespread academic emphasis on art and architecture over nature and ecology. “Agriculture is equally central to a people’s culture.”

The course is unique among American seminaries, Thompson said, but the June publication of Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home” underscored its importance.

“’Laudato Si’’ is a game changer,” he said. “I really think it’s the charter for the third millennium . . . [and] the new evangelization. The new evangelization can’t just be a concept or a program. It has to translate into a new and radical form of life, and in that sense, ‘Laudato Si’’ is calling for the same thing. Every epochal change has been a change in our attitude toward nature.”

Matthew Quail, a seminarian from Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul, said the practicum impressed upon him the importance of caring for the land and being connected to it. He called the life Glisczinski demonstrated “lived humility to God’s providence.”

“Farmers have a lot of wisdom to share,” said Quail, 28. “They’re not just in the office like a lot of people. They’re connected with life.”

Mike Glisczinski said he remembered a time when the parish priest would visit farms and bless the fields and garden. His mother planted pieces of Palm Sunday fronds at the four corners of her garden.

At the end of their visit, the seminarians revived part of that tradition, gathering in the center of the yard where one read a blessing from the Rural Life Prayerbook.

“Almighty and eternal God, you are Lord of the harvest,” he read. “Bless this crop of ours, Lord; make it plentiful and rich.”

SPS has offered the course for years, but added the on-site component about seven years ago. Glisczinski said he enjoys going beyond explaining the farm as a business to seminarians, as he tries to impress on them the happiness it brings him.

That worked for Brandon Theisen, a 26-year-old from Epiphany in Coon Rapids, who had visited one other working farm before visiting the Glisczinskis, he said. He said Glisczinski’s passion and dedication inspired his newfound respect for farmers. “We need to give them more credit,” he said. “Adam tilling creation — that gets overshadowed, but that’s the first command to man, to till and keep the soil.”

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