Let’s continue our tour with a short drive up the hill to St. Benedict’s Acres, the Madonna House farm. The farm is the primary source of food for the community and features cows, sheep, chickens and vegetables. Catherine claims she desired to have a farm for apostolic reasons as early as her Friendship House Harlem years, from 1938-42.
Her thinking about farming and the restoration of people to Christ through rural living goes back far in her history and deep into her soul. It was clearly influenced by memories of her parent’s estates and the household and farming skills her mother taught her (see her My Russian Yesterdays) along with the thinking of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. These, in turn, were influenced by Fr. Vincent McNabb, perhaps the leading “Back to the Land” spokesmen in the early part of the 20th century:
“When one thinks about it, Jesus was born in the countryside and he lived in the countryside most of his life. He wasn’t a farmer, but his Gospel is filled with examples and parables taken from farming and the earth. He talked about vineyards, crops, grain and seeds. He talked about plowing and sowing and harvesting.
Why do we farm? Our first reason is because we have to eat. The simplest way is to work for it, by the sweat of our brows as we are supposed to do. So we farm for a reason seemingly utilitarian. Yet, it embodies the very essence of apostolicity: it brings us face to face with the fact that we are poor; that we have to work for the things we need, or do without them.
Nothing apostolic is ever beneath anyone. There was a time when so many people thought that farming was ‘beneath’ them, but that is impossible because every apostolic action has an eternal value. Tossing manure around has the same value as writing a thesis or working at any other occupation that appears to be cleaner. There is nothing dirty about farming. Everything the farmer deals with is clean and everything has a purpose. The manure is going to give us food for next year. The hog will be eaten. The cow will produce calves and give milk and meat. Everything on the farm leads to the feeding of mankind. How can it be dirty when it feeds the Temple of God and allows Christ to come and dwell in it?
The apostolic farmer is reverent with himself and with growing things, for he deals with the mystery of life. He touches God all the time in the mystery of nature and so can easily give God to others — for he is familiar with him. There are in the world two people who really touch God. The priest touches God in his very essence. The farmer touches God in his creation as it comes from his hands.”
Catherine has written a book, Apostolic Farming: Healing the Earth which we recommend if you would like to know more about the spirituality surrounding our farming at St. Benedict’s.