Local stories, events, and Catholic inspiration in northeast Wisconsin

Bishop Ricken offers blessings at Rural Life Day in School Hill

Bishop David Ricken blesses local products during Rural Life Day 2024 on April 11 at Holy Trinity Parish in School Hill, southern Manitowoc County. (Suzanne Weiss | For On Mission)

‘We can dig deeper into our faith through the simple joys of rural life’

By Suzanne Weiss | For On Mission

SCHOOL HILL — Rural Life Day 2024 at Holy Trinity Parish in southern Manitowoc County had a different twist this year.

Instead of blessing farm animals and equipment, as in the past, Bishop David Ricken asked God to favor local bounty in the form of such products as maple syrup, eggs, soybeans, honey and lavender.

“Our parish doesn’t have a lot of working farms,” explained Lou Ann Herzog, chairperson of the event at the School Hill parish. “The young people are getting into homesteading, homeschooling, trying to live off the land, community gardening, … like in the old days when you rely on your neighbors. There are so many interesting things that people are doing: preserving foods, planting orchards, recycling metal, woodworking, growing mushrooms.”

Following Mass and blessings with Bishop Ricken, the April 11 celebration of rural life included a luncheon and speakers Danielle Faust and Alecia Koenig, Herzog’s daughter. 

Alecia Koenig, left, and Danielle Faust shared their perspectives on country living during Rural Life Day 2024 on April 11 at Holy Trinity Parish in School Hill, southern Manitowoc County. (Suzanne Weiss | For On Mission)

Local products and area history displays were also available for viewing by the 150-plus people who attended.

“Since 1955, one parish in our diocese is asked to host Rural Life Day,” Herzog told the attendees. “So let us be grateful today and every day for the many blessings God has provided in our rural life.”

The event has roots as far back as 1923, when the realization that rural churches were being underserved gave birth to the national Catholic Rural Life group, Bishop Ricken said during his homily.

Recognizing the significance of rural life is important because “a lot of people today have no idea where their food comes from,” he said.

Speakers Faust and Koenig grew up in the area and now live just down the road from one another, about a mile from the church, where they are members.

The two women, along with their husbands and children, are stewards of their homesteads, where they raise animals, tend gardens, preserve foods and butcher meat.

Faust, mother of seven children, soon-to-be eight, calls her family’s way of life “liturgical farming.”

Catholic missionary Eugene Hettich (of New Jersey, now in West Allis, Wis.), right, presented Bishop David Ricken with a gift basket of foods during Rural Life Day 2024 on April 11 at Holy Trinity Parish in School Hill, southern Manitowoc County. (Suzanne Weiss | For On Mission)

“Living liturgically involves finding ways to tie our normal homesteading activities to the life of the church,” she said.

Faust said homesteading created a deeper appreciation of the seasons for her, and she began to see how deeply the liturgical year is reflected in the natural cycles of the seasons..

“As we’ve grown into our Catholic faith over the years, we’ve come to recognize the importance of incorporating our faith into all aspects of our lives. We want our children to have a deeper grasp of our faith and heritage, and tying the liturgy to our homestead is an excellent way to do that,” she said.

“Our children were a major factor in pursuing this lifestyle because in it we saw something healthy for the body and soul and, like all parents, desired to give our children good things,” she said.

Koenig, mother to four children, told the group that living in the country has felt like an “immense blessing” and said she loves discussing and learning about anything related to country living.

“Folks look out for one another, help each other and share resources in both times of need and times of prosperity,” she said.

“To live in the country and complete the work required of rural life gives us the privilege of having more opportunities to fulfill and experience connections humans were designed to have with creation and the Creator,” she said.

Koenig continued, “The complexity and beauty of the natural world reflects the complexity and beauty of the Church, the Mass, the Eucharist.”

“There are so many wonderful ways we can dig deeper into our faith through the simple joys of rural life,” she said.

For many attending Rural Life Day, it has become an important tradition of spring.

Gary Vondrachek showed some of the honey he makes at Von Dra Acres of Kiel during Rural Life Day 2024 on April 11 at Holy Trinity Parish in School Hill in southern Manitowoc County. (Suzanne Weiss | For On Mission)

Kathy Hanke of Charlesburg said she has been attending Rural Life Day since 1966.. “Farming is important,” she said. “It’s a wonderful way of life to raise kids.”

Evelyn Van Deurzen of De Pere, who is from a five-generation farm family, said she never misses attending the celebration. “If we don’t get our seeds blessed, they aren’t going to do very well,” she said.

Van Deurzen said she appreciated that Bishop Ricken “relates to us as farmers and sits down at the table with us.”

“I think that this (event) is important … because all the glory goes to God and not ourselves,” said attendee Tiffany Lindemann of rural Valders.

Rural Life Day was partially funded by the Bishop’s Appeal. 

Fr. Bill Brunner, administrator at Holy Trinity Parish, School Hill, and St. Gregory Parish, St. Nazianz, and Fr. Matthew Colle, parochial vicar at St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Manitowoc, were concelebrants of the Mass.

Collections from the event will fund a scholarship for a senior high school student planning to pursue a career in the agricultural field.

While Holy Trinity Church is located in School Hill, an unincorporated community in the Town of Meeme, its address is 11928 Marken Road, Kiel.

Scroll to Top