Bringing the joy of the Gospel to the county fair – Muscatine County parishes step out to welcome fairgoers

Barb Arland-Fye
Father Isaac Doucette, right, and Deacon Dan Freeman, bless Muscatine County Fair participants and animals July 20 in West Liberty.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

WEST LIBERTY — Hogs named Abra Ham and Sarah slumbered in their pens at the Muscatine County Fair, oblivious to the blessing and sprinkling with holy water they received from Father Isaac Doucette and Deacon Dan Freeman. Two young cousins, standing by the pens — Ruby Wertzbaugher and Lola Niebur, both Catholic — listened prayerfully to the blessing but couldn’t resist giggling when Father Doucette sprinkled them with holy water. Missy Lenz, whose daughter Alyssa was showing Abra Ham and Sarah, enjoyed the unexpected blessing and sprinkling as well. Missy Lenz is a member of St. Joseph Parish in West Liberty.

Father Doucette and Deacon Freeman were among the priests, deacons and lay volunteers from Muscatine County parishes who shared the joy of the Gospel last week (July 19-23) with fairgoers. They offered conversation, literature, rosary rings and prayer cards from a 10-foot by 10-foot booth covered with a canopy tent and colorful banner in the shade of trees in the southeast corner of the fairgrounds.

“We’re in a Catholic booth reaching out and evangelizing people where they’re at,” said Deacon Freeman, who proposed the idea to the county’s parishes. “On the fair’s first day, one person said: ‘Finally, the Catholic Church is out here where they need to be,’” added Deacon Freeman, who serves as parish life coordinator for St. Mary Parish-Wilton and interim parish life coordinator for St. Andrew Parish in Blue Grass.


“I think it was a great idea,” said Father Chris Weber, pastor of Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine, who volunteered for a shift with Father Doucette, the parish’s parochial vicar. Father Weber enjoyed conversations with fairgoers, praying with them and blessing them. “Other folks from our parish will be (volunteering) just to be out here and visible,” he said.

“Having the Muscatine County parishes at the fair is a way to both meet people where they’re at and walk with them to Jesus Christ,” Father Doucette said. “This twofold movement is our call to holiness and is lifelong.”

The booth’s banner featured photos of the county parishes (Ss. Mary & Mathias-Muscatine, St. Mary-Nichols, St. Joseph-West Liberty and St. Mary-Wilton) and a whimsical circus tent/church, all of which enhanced the Church’s presence at the fair. “I sometimes think the Church gets a bad rap for being stuffy. This is fun,” said Erin McLeod, communications coordinator for the Muscatine parish. She helped design the banner.

Barb Arland-Fye
Deacon Dan Freeman blesses the King family of St. Joseph Parish in Columbus Junction at the Muscatine County Fair in West Liberty July 20.

A parishioner from St. Andrew-Blue Grass built a portable confessional, a partition painted in white with the word “CONFESSIONS” painted in gold above the small latticed window screen and a black cross painted below it. It served as prop, but priests were ready to administer the sacrament of reconciliation to anyone seeking it.

Whenever people walked by, Deacon Freeman invited them into the booth space. Maria King and her daughter, Celia King, and grandson, Xavier King, 8, of St. Joseph Parish in Columbus Junction, gratefully received the deacon’s blessings of their family and the rosary rings he offered them.

Later, when Deacon Freeman walked through the livestock barns to offer blessings, a boy of about 11 looked up from cleaning a stall and responded with a puzzled but polite look on his face. The youth wasn’t sure how to respond. But with the approval of a nearby adult, the youth and several other children received a blessing, along with the calves they were tending to.

“County fairs have a special place in Iowa. How fun that the parishes in our county can be visible amidst the celebration!” said Deacon Kent Ferris, who volunteered on Saturday. He serves St. Joseph parishes in Columbus Junction and West Liberty.

“It’s a wonderful thing that the Church is here at the fair, present here and to get a blessing,” said Jerry Anderson of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Iowa City. He and his wife, Robyn, and Beth Miner attended the Muscatine County Fair together. The Andersons are longtime farmers and also are involved in supporting youths in 4-H, Deacon Ferris said.

Carol Kaalberg, pastoral associate for St. Mary Parish in Nichols, knows many people in the community and thought it was important to have the “presence of the Catholic community at this community event.” During her volunteer shift on Sunday, one man who stopped by the Catholic booth told her, “I didn’t know there was a Catholic church in Muscatine.” She provided him with information about the church. “I’ll see you there,” the visitor told her. For Kaalberg, “That was my ‘This-is-worth-it moment.’”

All of the volunteers represented “God’s presence in the midst of all of this activity,” Deacon Freeman said. “It’s great to be out here in the wide open space where we’re meeting the body of Christ.”

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