Taking the Church to the farms: Blessings to begin the planting season

Barb Arland-Fye
Deacon Mike Linnenbrink blesses a tractor during “Catholic Cade” in southeast Iowa earlier this month.

By Barb Arland-Fye


WEST POINT – Deacon Mike Linnenbrink pulled into the driveway of the Pomberg farm on a sunny Saturday morning in mid-April to bless the first of 14 family farms on a 65-mile “Catholic Cade” to bring the Church to the people.


“You picked a day that’s pretty dry. A lot of ‘em (farmers) are probably going out in the field,” farmer John Pomberg said, as he greeted Deacon Mike and his wife, Liz. Much-needed rain had fallen, 4 to 5 inches in the last two months, John said, and finally the earth was dry enough for planting. “I’m thinking this afternoon we might try it.”


Other family members joined him for the blessing – his wife, Lisa, their son Logan, 15, and John Pomberg’s dad, Stan – outside the machine shed that houses their farm equipment. Stan, 96, has been farming since age 17, he said. Last year, “I still helped combine 700 acres of corn and beans and will do it this year, if I can.”



Deacon Mike, dressed in clerics and stole, blessed the water contained in a 5-gallon bucket before leading the gathering in a short prayer service. They recited the Litany of St. Isidore, taken from a Catholic Rural Life resource. St. Isidore is the patron saint of farmers and rural communities. Afterward, Deacon Mike dipped a twig from a cedar tree into the holy water and sprinkled the equipment and the people. “It was the farm-style ‘twig-and-5-gallon bucket’ blessing,” he told The Catholic Messenger, jokingly.


Farmers from the four parishes that Deacon Mike serves with pastor Father Dan Dorau – St. Boniface Parish-Farmington, St. James the Less Parish-St. Paul, St. John Parish-Houghton and St. Mary of the Assumption-West Point – participated in the Catholic Cade. The prayer service and blessing were a variation on the Catholic Rural Life Mass held previously on farms in the four-parish cluster. One more way to bring the Church to the people, Deacon Mike said.


Seeds of blessing

He blessed pallets of seeds on the farm of Dan and Chris Kempker in West Point. Dan sells seeds to other farmers in addition to farming with his wife. When Deacon Mike approached three pallets of Dan and Chris’ seeds, Dan teased, “Give it a little extra blessing.” Deacon Mike gestured as if he were going to douse the pallets with holy water.


Dan said he read an invitation in the parish bulletin (St. James-St. Paul) to participate in the farm blessing. He texted Deacon Mike, asking him to “put us on the schedule.” Their Century farm (established in 1900), was the home place of his grandfather. Three days after the Catholic Cade, severe weather struck Iowa. The farm did not sustain damage. “We’re very fortunate,” Dan said. “I’m glad I had the farm blessed.”


Angie Box signed up for the Catholic Cade to have her in-laws’ farm blessed. Norbert and Karen Box, now retired, participated, along with Angie, her husband Brad, and their three children and Norbert and Karen’s daughter and son-in-law, Trish and her husband Ryan Lake. Brad farms the land now with help from his children, and Trish and Ryan.


“Norbert was diagnosed with laryngeal cancer a year ago,” Angie said. “He is doing well now. Last fall was the first time he wasn’t able to combine. It was awesome to see his family carry on the tradition of faith and family farming!” She said it was also a privilege “to participate with those who joined along the way, many family farms; generations of family, faith and farming. This is core to our heritage; it was wonderful to have the opportunity to participate with a community of faithful farmers and gardeners.”


At the West Point farm of Deacon Mike’s cousin and wife, Brad and Julie Freesmeier, Brad quipped, “Do you want to put some soap in that bucket so you can start washing the tractors down?”  Later, Brad jokingly told The Catholic Messenger, “If we have a crop failure this year, I won’t let him forget it!” Joking aside, he appreciated the blessing and his cousin’s commitment to ministry. “Mike is a good deacon.”


God’s timing

“Catholic Cade was not only a lot of fun but a wonderful way to begin the spring planting season,” said Linda Pieper. Deacon Mike blessed the farm that she and her husband, Lee, own in Donnellson. “Everyone who participated felt the blessing of the Holy Spirit. We are all still talking about it!”


“Each farmer was prepared and ready when Deacon Mike pulled in even though they weren’t sure what the exact time would be. It was a reminder of the Scripture passage calling us to do the same,” said Joan Holtkamp, who works in the offices of St. James and St. John parishes.


Shannon Wellman’s 7-year-old son, Levi, had just purchased some baby chicks at the farm store with some of his birthday money and brought them to Hinterland Dairy, the farm his grandparents Ralph and Colleen Krogmeier own in Donnellson. Their farm was the last stop on the Catholic Cade. On the way there, Levi asked his mom, “Can I get my chicks blessed?” Shannon recalled. “I think he actually asked Mike if he could get them baptized!” Deacon Mike cheerfully blessed the six chicks — four belong to Levi and two to his younger sister, Evelyn, 3. “It was a really nice experience,” Shannon said, “and a beautiful morning for it.”


“Everyone was so appreciative of having their farms blessed,” Deacon Mike said. “We’re already talking about next year.” That includes Tina Blint, whose son Craig runs their farm, the second one blessed on the Catholic Cade. Next time, “Maybe I can get some of my neighbors to do it!” Tina said.

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