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For Catholic Rural Life, it’s a very happy birthday

By Jim Ennis
Executive Director, Catholic Rural Life

Birthdays and funerals are opportunities to reflect on our lives, to take stock of the things that truly matter, and to celebrate life. In November 2013, Catholic Rural Life celebrated its 90th anniversary, a milestone that provided the organization an opportunity for significant reflection on where we’ve come from.
CRL’s founder, Archbishop Edwin V. O’Hara was both a visionary and a penultimate organizer.
“Few people in his generation have made such a great contribution to the important social movements of his time,” claimed the Reverend John O’Grady, a leader of the National Conference of Catholic Charities, in describing O’Hara. Archbishop O’Hara was a gifted leader, and when he saw a problem he applied both himself and others to try and solve it.
That was the reason he founded Catholic Rural Life. Archbishop O’Hara was serving as a chaplain in France in World War I. He saw many young US service men from rural communities facing death and not well formed in their faith. He made a commitment to address this problem when he returned to the U.S., and immediately developed a survey to assess rural needs and sent it out to more than 1,000 priests serving rural communities throughout the country. He then organized a national meeting at St. Louis University in Missouri in November 1923. On Nov. 11, the group voted to form National Catholic Rural Life Conference, an organization devoted to serving the rural Church and educating Catholics in their faith in rural communities. Edwin V. O’Hara then gave nearly 15 years of his life to Catholic Rural Life to help advance its mission.
I had another opportunity for somber reflection this January, when I attended the funeral of John Kinsman. John was a long-time CRL board member and an advocate for social justice in rural communities, and many who came to his internment had been inspired by his energy and passion, even into his eighties. He cared deeply for protecting family farmers and the rights of farm workers. John was also one who was full of joy and was quick with a smile.
On my drive back to Minnesota, I thought of the many lives he touched and the rich fruit of his life. He used his gifts to the fullest, all the way to the end of his life.
The examples of Archbishop O’Hara and John Kinsman called to my mind one of my favorite quotes from J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic novel, The Lord of the Rings, during a short dialogue between the wise wizard Gandalf and the young hobbit Frodo.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
Each of us has been given a certain amount of time to live, in a particular moment in history. Not 2000 years ago, not 200 years ago; but 90 years ago, or 50 years ago or 25 years ago.
We have a particular calling, a vocation, which God has given to each one of us. Each of us has particular gifts to be used in our particular time.
But we do need to decide what to do with the gifts—time, talent, or treasure—God has given us. Pray we decide to use whatever gifts we have to make our world a better place to the glory of God.

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