Home » Religion » Christianity » Engaged Projects » Here

National Catholic Rural Life Conference (NCRLC)


The Catholic National Rural Life Conference (NCRLC) has been working on behalf of rural communities, American farmers, and the natural environment for eighty years. NCRLC aims to empower rural communities, support small farms and local businesses, promote responsible land stewardship, and provide hope, healing, and reconciliation. The Conference emphasizes the ethical and moral dimensions of food, development, agricultural policies, and rural life issues. It brings Catholic social teachings to bear on socio-economic and environmental justice issues related to farming. NCRLC promotes sustainability and stewardship through its publications, advocacy campaigns, conferences, partnerships, liturgical celebrations, and outreach programs. Among its main program areas are Grassroots Rural Ministry and Rural Faith and Justice, which facilitate the efforts of grassroots social and environmental justice efforts, connect Catholic teachings and liturgical practices with rural life and agriculture, provide support for rural ministry, and promote networking and communication around rural and agricultural issues. The Rural Community Support Program brings mental health support resources and community development facilitation to local communities. NCRLC's "Eating is a Moral Act" campaign educates eaters to think about the sources of their food and the impact their food practices have on local farmers, farm workers, the environment, and communities. This has been a theme that universities—Catholic (e.g., St. Thomas University in Miami, Florida) and secular (e.g., Cornell University in Ithaca, New York) as well as local civic organizations—have found compelling. Working with other organizations and coalitions around the country, NCRLC supports a number of initiatives on fair and sustainable farm policy, agricultural trade, and food security. In addition to providing resources and materials for events such as Soil and Water Stewardship Week, the Conference participates in an ecumenical "Green Ribbon Campaign," which encourages individuals and churches to attend to the plight of family farmers, rural communities, and the land. The Agribusiness Accountability Initiative is a recent effort to provide a forum for discussion, education, and strategizing about food security issues related to the global food trade and the industrialization of agriculture.

Rural Advocacy 2003 is an effort to connect a variety of grassroots organizations in Iowa, including religious, environmental, health, animal welfare, and community groups, around issues of sustainability. NCRLC’s publications include the award winning magazine, Catholic Rural Life, and Theology of the Land, a collection of essays based on the Theology of Land Conference Series of 1985–1987. In addition to its informative website, NCRLC’s on-line database of Sustainable Communities on the Land includes brief descriptions and contact information for approximately sixty religious communities and centers dedicated to social and environmental sustainability.

Religion Christianity
(Roman Catholic)
Geographic Location United States of America
Duration of Project 1923–Present

The National Catholic Rural Life Conference was founded in 1923 under the leadership of Father Edwin O’Hara, who mobilized the Catholic Church to address the problem of underserved Catholic communities in rural areas. During the first decade of its existence, NCRLC focused its energy on rural outreach, providing rural Catholics with religious education and connecting them more firmly to the land. In the 1930s, NCRLC attended to the economic plight of farmers, promoted the Catholic agrarian back-to-the-land movement, and made its first contact with an American President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who commended the organization for its work on agricultural issues. In 1932, the Conference formed a network of rural life diocesan directors 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 and adopted St. Isadore as the patron saint of farmers. The Conference promoted another back-to-the-land movement after the Second World War and worked to provide relief and agricultural jobs for the unemployed and displaced. NCRLC continued to emphasize the need for land reform throughout the 1960s and 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. During this time, the Board of Directors wrote policy statements on land and resource use and played a leading role in the drafting and publishing the pastoral letter, Strangers and Guests: Toward Community in the Heartland, which was signed by bishops representing fourty-four dioceses in 1980. With the farm crisis of the 1980s, when small farmers faced huge debts and falling prices for their crops, NCRLC poured its energy into advocating on behalf of family farmers by promoting just and sustainable agriculture policies on both state and national levels. Throughout the 1990s and at present, 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 has developed a greater visibility on the international level with official delegate status at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle, the World Food Summit in Rome, The World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, and II Encuentro in Mexico City, a hemisphere-wide convention of Catholics from the institutional church. In these arenas NCRLC has brought a vision of sustainable development, environmental justice, economic democracy, and social peace.

Mission Statement "The National Catholic Rural Life Conference 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. . . . [NCRLC] 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, the Conference 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. . . . [NCRLC] is a membership organization and depends on the commitment of its members to carry out its mission. The conference welcomes all people who share its social justice and respect of Creation mission to join as active members."
Partner Organizations Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society
The Heifer Project
Christian Rural Overseas Program
National Association of Conservation Districts
Rural Sociological Society
National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture
National Family Farm Coalition
The Center of Concern
The Midwest Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
The Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
The Catholic Coalition for Children's Health and the Environment
Long-Term Goals None Listed
Bibliography None Listed
Additional Research Resources None Listed
Contact Information National Catholic Rural Life Conference
4625 Beaver Avenue
Des Moines, IA 50310
Ph:       515.270.2634
Fax:     515.270.9447
Email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)