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 | By Danielle McGrew Tenbusch

Thumb Catholics Celebrate Faith in Annual Rural Life Mass

Thumb Catholics had the opportunity to grow in faith and fellowship at the annual Rural Life Mass at the Thumb Octagon Barn near Gagetown. Bishop Robert Gruss celebrated the Mass and blessed seeds representing a variety of crops grown in the region.

“The Mass on May 21 at the Octagon Barn was a beautiful, visible expression of the faith of Catholics living in the Thumb gathered in unity around their principal shepherd, the Bishop, giving thanks to God for his many gifts, and in humble supplication for those blessings to continue,” said Father Stephen Blaxton, pastor of Holy Family Parish, Sandusky/Marlette/Peck.

Holy Family Parish serves as the Thumb Vicariate (geographic region, also known as Vicariate 1) chapter of Catholic Rural Life, a national organization with chapters across the country. The Rural Life Mass is the centerpiece of the chapter’s celebration of Catholic rural culture. While the hope is that CRL chapters will eventually exist in each vicariate throughout the Diocese, the Thumb Vicariate is the first.

“Bishop Gruss is on the board of Catholic Rural Life and has created this new ministry in our diocese. He has a passion for rural life and for the families that are stewards of the earth that belongs to God,” said Lori Becker, coordinator of diocesan outreach. 

During the Mass, Bishop Gruss prayed over the collection of seeds and sprinkled holy water over them.

“The Blessings of the Seeds is a tradition in which farmers break from their daily routine to gather with the community to praise God for His creation. They bring a small amount of the seeds to be planted with the prayer that they may sprout and be nurtured with water until harvest time,” Lori explained.

The Mass’s venue, the Thumb Octagon Barn, brought the liturgy into a new space, which helped encourage some to return to Mass, Father Stephen said.

“I think it's difficult for many Catholics to get out of the ‘COVID routine’ of watching a live-streamed Mass from home. For whatever reason, events like the Rural Life Mass are often a catalyst in getting people back to church. There was one couple at the Mass who hadn't been to church since before COVID. There was another gentleman who struggled to walk into a Catholic church because of difficulties he'd had with the Church in the past. Having Mass in a barn somehow met him where he was at, and God used it in a powerful way. He was moved to tears during the Mass and has been coming to Mass on Sundays more consistently,” he said.

The Mass also gave the faithful an opportunity to celebrate Mass with the Bishop close to home.

“Bishop [Gruss] believes in meeting people where they are and celebrating Mass in their environment,” Lori said.

Father Stephen said the Mass was a truly special occasion.

“I think what it meant for people who attended is that God is with them, the Bishop is with them, and they have each other,” he said. “Others said there was something special happening that they couldn't quite figure out, but that it was manifest in the beauty of the congregation united in song in such a cathedral-like barn with beautiful acoustics.”

Following the Mass, those gathered shared a luncheon and listened to a presentation from Catholic Rural Life staff member Tim Streif— who noted that of all the Rural Life Masses he had attended around the country, that one was the largest. 

Holy Family Parish's Rural Life Mass included help from Good Shepherd Parish, Ubly/Argyle/Sheridan Corners; Our Lady Consolata Parish, Cass City/Gagetown/Sebewaing; Ave Maria Parish, Lexington/Port Sanilac and St. Christopher Parish, Caro/Mayville. The Caro Knights of Columbus headed up organizing and cooking the lunch and the effort was financially supported by several other Knights of Columbus councils from around the Thumb. This team effort is part of what the Rural Life Mass is all about.

“The vision of the Rural Life Masses… is that they be a grassroots event, uniting Catholics living in relative proximity to each other in rural communities, to foster ‘thriving families, farms, and parishes -- centered on faith, community, and care for the environment,’” said Father Stephen, quoting the Catholic Rural Life vision statement.

To learn more about Catholic Rural Life, visit or contact Lori Becker, Coordinator of Diocesan Outreach at 989.797.6652 or