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Catholic Rural Life (CRL)


Catholic Rural Life (CRL) (www.CatholicRuralLife.org) is a national membership-based organization working on behalf of rural communities and American farmers. CRL aims to empower rural communities, support small farms and local businesses, promote responsible land stewardship, and provide hope, healing, and reconciliation. CRL does so through educational and advocacy efforts pertaining to the ethical and moral dimensions of agricultural, food & environmental policies, and to social justice concerns of rural life issues. This faith-based organization promotes sustainability and stewardship through its publications, advocacy campaigns, conferences, partnerships, liturgical celebrations, and outreach programs.

CRL has three general program areas: Ethical Food & Agriculture, Stewardship of Creation, and Rural Ministry & Outreach. More specifically, CRL promotes a campaign called "Eating is a Moral Act" which educates consumers about the sources of their food, how these foods are produced, who labors to produce & process major food commodities, and the impact these production practices have on local farmers, farm workers, the environment, and rural communities. In regard to agricultural policies, CRL collaborates with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition: this coalition supports initiatives on fair and sustainable farm policy, including commodity reforms, conservation improvements, food security, farm labor & immigration protections, and greater social diversity among farmers & producers. Through annual events, such as Rural Life Days and Catholic social ministry gatherings, CRL encourages individuals and church groups to attend to the plight of family farmers, rural communities, and the integrity of creation (land, water, air). Faith, Food & the Environment, a project initiated in 2014, is a collaborative effort with state-level Farmers Unions to provide a forum for discussion, education, and strategizing about food security issues related to the global food trade and the industrialization of agriculture. (www.faithfoodenvironment.org)

CRL’s publications include a quarterly magazine, Catholic Rural Life, and faith-based study guides, notably Food Security & Economic Justice and Global Climate Change. The CRL website (www.CatholicRuralLife.org) is an informative source for grassroots stories, federal policy perspectives on agriculture, and spiritual resources (such as the Rural Life Prayerbook).
Religion Christianity
(Roman Catholic)
Geographic Location United States of America
Duration of Project 1923–Present

Initially called the National Catholic Rural Life Conference (NCRLC), the organization was founded in 1923 under the leadership of Father Edwin O’Hara, who mobilized the Catholic Church to address the problem of under-served Catholic communities in rural areas. During its first decade, NCRLC focused its energy on rural outreach, providing rural Catholics with religious education and helping them stay viably connected to the land. In the 1930s, NCRLC attended to the economic plight of farmers who faced low farm prices and required assistance to stay on the land. In 1932, the Conference formed a network of rural life diocesan directors as an effective way to expand its rural outreach efforts. In the 1940s and 1950s, under the leadership of Monsignor Luigi Ligutti, NCRLC reached out to rural laity through agricultural liturgies, devotions, and retreats. It was at this time that the Conference published Rural Roads to Security (1940); this 400+page book presented a critique of the industrial consequences of American agriculture and laid out a strategy for workers and farmers to reclaim a secure life on the land. It was also at this time that NCRLC adopted St. Isidore the Farmer as its patron saint. (Along with his wife Maria, this 12th-century Spanish couple became sainted for their piety and generosity despite their humble lives as farmworkers.)

After the Second World War, NCRLC promoted a back-to-the-land movement and developed programs to provide relief and agricultural jobs for the urban unemployed and displaced. The Conference continued to emphasize the need for land reform throughout the 1960s; the organization also increased its efforts to promote sustainable agriculture and responsible stewardship in response to environmental problems caused by the intensification and industrialization of agriculture.

During the 1970s, the Conference concentrated on bringing the Christian message to rural people though pastor and parish support programs and by articulating Catholic positions on public policy issues related to agriculture and rural life. The Board of Directors wrote policy statements on land use and played a leading role in the drafting and publishing the pastoral letter, Strangers and Guests: Toward Community in the Heartland (1980), which was signed by bishops representing 44 dioceses.

During the farm crisis of the 1980s, when small farmers faced falling prices for their crops and huge debts, NCRLC poured its energy into advocating on behalf of family farmers about to lose their farms. Throughout the 1990s and into the new century, NCRLC has continued its work in support of rural communities and sustainable agriculture through political advocacy campaigns, publications, outreach, conferences, programs, and partnerships. In addition, NCRLC had begun a greater visibility at the international level with official NGO status at the various ministerial meetings of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Food Summit in Rome, and the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. In these arenas, NCRLC brought a faith-based vision of sustainable development, economic democracy, environmental justice, and social peace.

In the current period since 2009, NCRLC shortened its official name to Catholic Rural Life (CRL) and refocused its organizational efforts back to domestic concerns (the economic downturn of 2008 also led to this retrenchment). However, the 2015 encyclical by Pope Francis, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, has inspired CRL members to pledge themselves once again to global concerns and to address the needs of vulnerable communities facing the consequences of human-caused environmental degradation.
Mission Statement Catholic Rural Life seeks a living community in which people and the natural world are given the respect deserving of their creation by a loving God. In such a society, every person is valued, the Earth is carefully stewarded, the poor are fed, and community life is nourished by public and private deeds. CRL serves the mission of the Church by communicating a Catholic perspective and urging public action on rural life and environmental issues. Since its inception in 1923, CRL has been committed to challenging and enabling rural people to participate in the Church’s evangelizing ministry and to live the faith that does justice. CRL is a membership organization and depends on the commitment of its members to carry out its mission based on precepts of social justice and the integrity of creation.
Partner Organizations

International Catholic Rural Association
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
Catholic Climate Covenant
Global Catholic Climate Movement
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

Long-Term Goals None Listed
Bibliography None Listed
Additional Research Resources View the records of Catholic Rural Life, held by the Marquette University Archives 
Contact Information

University of St. Thomas Mail Number 4080
2115 Summit Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55105-1078
Ph: 651-962-5955
Email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)