Catholic families nurture faith and farms for decades
By Eileen Connelly, OSU
The Catholic Telegraph
Imagine living on the same land for more than 175 years, land passed down from generation to generation, providing your family’s livelihood and a place to call home in what is truly God’s country.
Such is the case with Urban and Mary Louise (Ennecking) Seger of Auglaize County and Tom and Marie (Bruns) Moorman of Mercer County. They were two of the 24 families who received Catholic Century Farm Awards presented by Auxiliary Bishop Joseph R. Binzer at the Rural-Urban Farm Mass in June. The award recognizes Catholic families who have continuously farmed the same land for 100 years or more. The families applied for admission to the Catholic Century Farm Registry for the Sidney and St. Marys deaneries earlier this year.
Although the official records say her family’s farm was established in 1835 by Mary Louise’s great great-grandfather, Johann Enneking, some documents indicate he may have acquired the property just outside Minster as early as 1833. Her parents settled there a century later, and Mary Louise has fond childhood memories of farm life — milking a cow for the first time at the age of six, driving horses in front of a hay sling when she was in the seventh or eighth grade, and growing up amid all the wide open space with plenty of room to run and play. As an adult, she said, sitting on a tractor under a clear blue sky, surrounded by acres of corn, she has never felt closer to God and more compelled to “get in a few prayers.”
She and Urban, married for 63 years, members of St. Augustine Parish in Minster, and the parents of three sons, are “sort of retired” now, but for 40 years, milked cows, along with raising hogs and chickens. On their current 250 acres, the Segers still grow corn, wheat and soy beans, aided by their middle son, Vernon, who has largely taken over farm operations. “He was always the one, from an early age, who was the most interested in farming,” Mary Louise said. “He would ask over and over, ‘Can I drive the tractor? Can I drive the tractor?’”
There have been challenges over the years, Urban admitted — long days and unpredictable weather that has damaged crops, but they’ve kept the farm going because “it’s something we enjoy doing,” he said. “We do it because it’s ours.”
And, through it all, good and bad, they have relied on their faith. “When there’s storms and stuff, I pray pretty quick,” Urban said. “I say, ‘Lord, let us keep what we’ve worked so hard for.’”
The Catholic Century Farm Award represents what they and their family members who came before them have achieved, said Mary Louise.
“I’m proud of my ancestors, that they kept improving things, she said. All this was swamp when they first came here. They cleared a lot of land and worked hard. I feel honored to have received the award and humbled by all that they did.”
It is humility and dedication to hard work that has also kept the Moorman family farm near St. Henry running since 1837. What started as 40 acres, purchased by Maria Moorman, has since grown to 198. Tom Moorman grew up on the farm and bought the property from his mother in 1967. He recalls having a strong interest in farming from an early age.
“I was always the one that wanted to jump in and help,” he said. “I always wanted to be outside.”
Tom also remembers the days before their home had running water or electricity. “Dad would carry the lantern to the old barn to do chores. It’s a wonder more buildings didn’t burn down.”
For many years, the Moormans raised and sold livestock, primarily hogs and cattle. They continue to grow corn and soybeans. Both Tom and Marie are still known to take to the tractor themselves, with their grandson, Dale Barga, who studied agriculture in college, now sharing in the labor and its fruits.
Farming has definitely changed over the years, said Tom. “The chemicals for fertilizing and weed kill have improved. The genetics of the crops are better, the equipment is better. It’s amazing that you can grow soybeans now with no tilling. That was unheard of years ago. Our ancestors had to work the ground with a team of mules and do the best they could.”
Tom acknowledges that farming is often a “complete gamble,” depending on the weather, noting the 1947 tornado that leveled the family’s crops that year. “If there’s no rain, you’re done,” he said, “but that’s why we carry insurance.”
And, added Marie, “You’ve got to pray. Our Catholic faith definitely has a role in our lives,” she said. “Morning and evening, we pray for our family and the farm and other intentions. We’d be at a loss without our faith.”
Married for 57 years, the Moormans, members of St. Henry Parish, plan on remaining on their land for as long as God wills it. “Neither of us has ever been afraid of hard work,” said Tom. “And, besides, what else would be do? We love it here.”
This story originally appeared in the August 2014 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.