The Church and the Land

The Church and the Land: the National Catholic Rural Life Conference and American society, 1923-2007

David S. Bovée
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 416
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  • Book Info
    The Church and the Land
    Book Description:

    The Church and the Land is the first scholarly history of the Catholic rural life movement in the United States from its beginning in the 1920s to the present day. It tells the story of the men and women of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference (NCRLC) who labored to bring Catholic principles into effect to benefit the farm families, agricultural laborers, and others who lived in the American countrysid

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-1759-8
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  6. Chapter 1 Catholic Rural America to 1920
    (pp. 1-31)

    The Catholic rural life movement in the United States was a response to the weakness of the Catholic Church in the American countryside. In 1920, when the movement began, only about one-fifth of American Catholics lived in the country, whereas the United States as a whole was about evenly divided between urban and rural dwellers.¹ The initial motive behind the Catholic rural life movement was the desire to redress this imbalance of Catholic residence. How did the numerical weakness of the Catholic Church in America’s countryside come about?

    At the time of American independence, most of the thirty-five thousand Catholics...

  7. Chapter 2 O’Hara and the Formation of the Conference
    (pp. 32-57)

    Edwin Vincent O’Hara, the founder of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference (NCRLC) and eventual bishop of Kansas City, was born on a farm near Lanesboro, Minnesota, on September 6, 1881.¹ His background prepared him well for his leadership of the Catholic rural life movement. O’Hara’s parents, Owen and Margaret, ran a model Catholic farm. The family was to a large extent self-sufficient; they ate food grown in their own fields and garden and meat cured in their own smokehouse and wore clothes sewn by Mrs. O’Hara. The family said their prayers together every evening, and the few books in...

  8. Chapter 3 The Catholic Rural Population Problem
    (pp. 58-84)

    The main preoccupation of the Rural Life Bureau and the National Catholic Rural Life Conference during the 1920s was the relative weakness of the small rural sector of the Church and its implications for the overall American Catholic population. Since he began his work, Father O’Hara had warned that, because rural families had a higher birthrate than urban families, the heavily urbanized Catholic Church in the United States would inevitably decline in numbers relative to Protestants and other faiths unless it strengthened itself in the countryside. Throughout the 1920s, this theory provided the rationale behind all of the endeavors of...

  9. Chapter 4 The Great Depression
    (pp. 85-101)

    In the 1930s, America’s Great Depression propelled the National Catholic Rural Life Conference into a new era in its development. The severity of the Depression’s impact upon Catholic farmers made it imperative that the Conference address economic issues in a serious and consistent way. In doing so, the Conference participated in the effort by the entire American Catholic Church to define its positions on the economic issues posed by the crisis of the day. As the Conference did this and as the economic crisis continued through the decade, the rural economy began to replace the rural population problem as the...

  10. Chapter 5 Programs to Meet the Crisis
    (pp. 102-128)

    Catholic rural leaders saw that the crisis of the Great Depression could also be a great opportunity, particularly for Catholic rural life. As Edgar Schmiedeler put it, when the heavy migration from farm to city took place during the 1920s, “Bishop O’Hara and his valiant and faithful crew kept rowing against the tide.” But about 1930, “there came a change, a change that, by and large, has proved favorable to the Catholic rural life movement.” For by means of the Depression, God, “in His Divine Providence . . . smote the city. He thereby stopped the drift of our population...

  11. Chapter 6 Inside the NCRLC
    (pp. 129-151)

    While the NCRLC grappled with the economic problems of the Great Depression in the 1930s, it suffered from a series of organizational difficulties and personal squabbles that interacted in a complex manner throughout the decade. These problems can be looked at from three major perspectives. First was the conflict between autonomy and higher direction of the Conference. The NCRLC and its “grass roots” of rural pastors were constantly involved in a struggle for control of the Catholic rural life movement with the bishops and “social action” priests of the NCWC. By the 1940s, when Luigi Ligutti became executive secretary, the...

  12. Chapter 7 Ligutti Takes the Helm
    (pp. 152-175)

    In 1940, Monsignor Luigi G. Ligutti became executive secretary of the NCRLC. Remarkably, given the pervasive conflicts and multiplicity of leadership within the movement in the 1930s, Ligutti soon was able to centralize the movement under his own direction.

    He had already begun to make contributions to the process in the years before he became executive secretary. First, as a member of the Conference’s executive committee, he acquiesced in the election of James Byrnes as executive secretary in 1934—making the Conference independent of Edgar Schmiedeler and the NCWC. Then, as chairman of the diocesan directors section and president of...

  13. Chapter 8 The Conference Becomes International
    (pp. 176-191)

    During the 1920s, the newborn NCRLC was most concerned with the Catholic rural population problem. Later, in response to the Great Depression, the Conference turned its attention to the economic aspects of rural life as well. During the 1940s, the NCRLC further expanded the scope of its activities by entering international affairs.

    Before World War II, the NCRLC had little involvement with rural life outside of the United States. In the 1920s and 1930s, Father O’Hara and others in the Conference had studied rural life in Europe and exchanged information with people outside of the United States on how to...

  14. Chapter 9 Helping Developing Countries
    (pp. 192-223)

    The NCRLC’s involvement in international rural life started in response to World War II, but the Conference’s primary foreign concern soon became developing countries. As Christians looking at the international arena, the Conference saw these countries as being the most in need of charity. The NCRLC helped them deal with the issues of hunger, self-help projects, land reform, and the overall structure of international economics. The Conference’s help for developing countries started during the Ligutti years and continued through the end of the twentieth century.

    The NCRLC’s efforts to relieve hunger in the world started during World War II with...

  15. Chapter 10 The End of the Ligutti Era
    (pp. 224-230)

    Along with Monsignor Ligutti’s many accomplishments in bringing the NCRLC into international rural life came new tensions within the organization. Ligutti’s biographer, Vincent A. Yzermans, called the 1950s the “time of trouble” for his subject. “No decade in his life caused Monsignor Ligutti as many headaches and heartaches as the 1950s,” Yzermans wrote. At the crux of the trouble was the conflict between the expanding NCRLC’s need for new leaders to share the increasing duties with Ligutti and the latter’s personal style of leadership. As Yzermans put it:

    One of Ligutti’s problems was his inability to manage a national office...

  16. Chapter 11 Organizing for Social Involvement
    (pp. 231-270)

    In the latest phase of its history, from 1960 through the beginning of the twenty-first century, the NCRLC focused on new issues of the times, most prominently social justice and the environment. At the same time, the Conference’s organization opened up in harmony with the era of Vatican II in the Church and modernized in response to the emerging computer age in American society. The executives of the NCRLC set the tone for these changes.

    When the NCRLC board of directors began their search for the successor to Luigi G. Ligutti as executive director in 1959, it looked upon the...

  17. Chapter 12 For the Family Farm in the Age of Agribusiness
    (pp. 271-312)

    From World War II to the end of the century, the NCRLC continued to hold up the family farm as an ideal and to promote policies that supported it, despite an increasingly unfavorable economic and social environment. American society as a whole tended more and more to accept large-scale agribusiness rather than the family farm as the nation’s primary agricultural institution. This evolution began during the agriculturally prosperous World War II years.

    During World War II, with food production a high national priority, American farmers demanded, and were able to receive, very favorable supporting legislation. Because of the efforts of...

  18. Chapter 13 Fighting Poverty
    (pp. 313-335)

    Besides trying to save the family farm, the NCRLC made efforts to aid the least fortunate of those living on the land. The United States had pockets of rural poverty in areas such as Appalachia as well as poor farmers who did not own land—the migrant farm workers. Rural minorities such as African Americans and Native Americans were also suffering. The Conference began to focus on these problems in the 1960s under Father O’Rourke. It continued its concern for alleviating poverty through the end of the century, following the American bishops who in the economic pastoral Economic Justice for...

  19. Chapter 14 Stewardship of the Planet
    (pp. 336-357)

    In the late twentieth century, the meaning of rural life in the United States changed significantly. As the number of family farms decreased greatly, the rural area was seen less as connected to the family farming lifestyle than as an environment that affected urban and rural people alike. The NCRLC adapted its priorities to address the new issues arising out of this altered view of late twentieth-century rural life.

    As early as the 1930s, the NCRLC perceived that many of the psychosocial problems of modern life were connected to the transition from a predominantly rural to a mainly urban lifestyle....

  20. Chapter 15 Catholic and American: The NCRLC over Eight Decades
    (pp. 358-366)

    It remains to assess the important effects of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference—both intended and unintended—and the main themes of its development. Three important areas of the Conference’s effects were the Catholic rural population problem, the NCRLC’s role in the Catholic social action movement, and the Conference as an “identity group” for rural Catholics. The effects in all three areas involved the “Catholic” in the NCRLC assimilating itself to the “American.”

    The original purpose behind the founding of the NCRLC was to strengthen the American Catholic Church numerically in the countryside. Although this was hardly mentioned as...

  21. Bibliography
    (pp. 367-382)
  22. Index
    (pp. 383-399)
  23. Back Matter
    (pp. 400-400)