Mother was a devout person who prayed for rain in drought and sunshine to end a rainy spell. Our rural church, constructed by Swiss, German and Irish immigrants in the 1850s and blessed with fine stained glass windows, was the centerpiece of our faith lives.
My older brothers, who often burned the midnight oil repairing tractors in the garage they had constructed in part from wood reused from an abandoned farmhouse, were not easily roused from bed to finish chores before church. It fell to their younger siblings to milk, clean the gutters and feed the hogs.
Mother, through repeated shouts, managed to awaken the others in the nick of time so that we would not be late. Dad’s habit was to buy second- and third-hand cars, which served dual purposes. A sedan’s back seat could easily be removed so that purchased calves could be transported. The back seat’s return to its proper place did nothing to reduce the lingering smell.
Father Dudley, who was our priest for more than 20 years and who lived in the parish house a short walk away from the church and cemetery, kept Masses remarkably short. Most were conducted without music and with short sermons, thus making it possible for services to be over in 20 minutes or less.
Mother would have liked songs and a longer Mass, but many others were happy that Father Dudley moved things along quickly. She had hopes that her youngest son, the last of 12 children, might honor the family by entering the priesthood. To that end, the radio was tuned to the Rosary program each weekday night at 6:30 p.m. while he fumbled with homework on the kitchen table. He was a reluctant and poor student, a reality reinforced at every parent-teacher conference.
He meant it when promising to do better, but other priorities — the livestock, chickens and other things — got in the way. Mother stubbornly refused to give up on her lost cause. With great excitement she announced at supper table that Father Dudley needed altar boys (girls were not allowed to serve back then) and would train volunteers. I loved Father Dudley and tried my best.
However, I failed to make the cut.
“Your son is just too nervous,’’ explained Father Dudley, who added that I could try again a couple years later. I never made it as an altar boy, but Mother never gave up. It pleased her when I became a lector and continued to take her to church after my Dad died and the other siblings married and moved on.
Mother, like so many others in that generation, supported the church by whatever means necessary. There were funeral Masses, recipes to contribute to the church’s fundraising book, and doughnuts, salads and pies for social events. Her raised doughnuts — fried in lard and glazed — were legendary.
She is buried alongside my father; their resting place is not far from the church. The church remains the bedrock in the community. It is an hour away from where I live, but it is where I attend as often as I can. Many of those who I knew are at rest; most of the people in the pews are unknown to me.
However, the church itself has a soul that is eternal. I am grateful for that and for the opportunity to reflect in the same pew where Mother and I often sat. There are times when I can see her sitting there in her finest blue dress, her hair neat in bun and a Rosary clasped in her hand.
There are many other rural churches that have endured through tough times and good through the decades. They are physical reminders of rural people’s great faith in a God who is at their side in good times and bad.
Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.