Rural life novena ends on May 15 feast of St. Isidore, farmers' patron

Erin Roche and Steve Passmore of Stanfordville, N.Y., drive tractors on Sisters Hill Farm in this 2010 file photo. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, a virtual novena for farmers, farmworkers and small towns is scheduled for May 7-15, 2020. (CNS photo/courtesy Gregory A. Shemitz) 

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A rural life novena to St. Isidore, patron saint of farmers, begins May 7 and ends May 15, the saint's feast day.

Four bishops have agreed to participate in the novena, according to Jim Ennis, executive director of Catholic Rural Life, sponsor of the novena -- and for whom St. Isidore is also the patron.

"We at Catholic Rural Life were hearing from our chapter leaders about how the pandemic was impacting their respective dioceses and rural communities," Ennis told Catholic News Service in a May 4 phone interview. "Several of them had to cancel their rural life celebrations" tied to St. Isidore's feast. "I said, 'Let's do a virtual novena together, let's expand it for the whole country.'"

The novena is for farmers, farmworkers, and all in small rural communities throughout the United States.

Ennis described the situation in rural America.

"Rural is really getting hit by the combination of the coronavirus hitting meatpacking plants and impacting both jobs in rural communities -- but also the farmers who supply those meatpacking plants," he said. "Those are some challenges, and some farmers are really stuck between a rock and a hard place."

Ennis added, "The food processing facilities had to close down or suspend operations for a number of days. Some folks have lost jobs, Some are afraid to go back because they work so closely together."

Since the virtual novena was conceived in mid-April, "some dioceses are starting to open up, but not for large gatherings," Ennis told CNS. "We're suffering in solidarity with rural communities be they farmworkers, farmers, people who are dislocated, people who have lost work because of the pandemic.

"We're just asking the Lord to intervene and to pray that again communities can be protected and families healed and individuals healed if they are battling the virus. And helping them get back on their feet. That's going to be the long row to hoe coming back. It's going to take a lot of patience and charity to move forward together," he added.

"And that people would not fear. It doesn't mean to not be careful. It means to not be fearful."

Catholic Rural Life's chapters in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and the Dioceses of Davenport, Iowa, Owensboro, Kentucky, and Salina, Kansas, have been particularly active in promoting the novena, Ellis said. "We've got all of our networks, coordinating it," he added.

One component of the novena planning is asking Catholics to submit prayer intentions. "We're receiving prayer requests from all around the country now, too, to lift up during that nine-day novena," Ellis said.

Bishop Brandon J. Cahill of Victoria, Texas, the chairman of Catholic Rural Life's board of directors, will lead the novena's opening and closing days, the latter from a farm outside Victoria, according to Ennis. Other bishops slated to participate include Bishops Robert D. Gruse of Saginaw, Michigan, John T. Folda of Fargo, North Dakota, and W. Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, Missouri.

The novena can be accessed live on Catholic Rural Life's Facebook page. It will start at 9 a.m. EDT each day except for May 9-10, which have 11 a.m. EDT starts. Other details can be found at