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Archbishop meets Highland County Catholics at farm Mass

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

By David Eck

ST. MARTIN DEANERY — Father Mike Paraniuk had faith that Archbishop of Cincinnati Dennis M. Schnurr’s first farm Mass in Highland County on June 12 wouldn’t be a washout. He wasn’t disappointed.

Despite heavy rain in the morning and a threatening, dark sky, the rain let up by mid-afternoon, and the outdoor event went on as planned.

“The Lord really held back the rain for us,” Father Paraniuk said. “Nobody got wet.”

Richard Blankenship
Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr presents a gift to Richard Blankenship, who hosted the farm Mass. (CT/E.L. Hubbard)

About 300 people from St. Mary Parish in Hillsboro and St. Benignus Parish in Greenfield attended the Mass on Richard Blankenship’s farm near Rocky Fork Lake. The Mass and a reception enabled Archbishop Schnurr to introduce himself to Catholics in Highland County.

“I couldn’t think of a better way for him to meet us than at a farm Mass, because that’s what we do around here,” said Father Paraniuk, who invited Archbishop Schnurr to visit the rural county. “He seemed to really enjoy himself. He was with his people out here and he connected with them very powerfully.”

The archbishop — who grew up in a small community in Iowa — compared one’s spiritual life to the growing season and brought a message of hope to parishioners who are struggling. Highland County has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state.

Parishioners were also appreciative of Archbishop Schnurr’s genuine demeanor.

“We were just thrilled to have him here. The archbishop made a really favorable impression on everyone,” Father Paraniuk said. “This really gave a spiritual boost to both St. Mary and St. Benignus churches.”

Farm Masses are typically held outdoors in a field. Regular events in the rural areas of the archdiocese, the Masses are often punctuated by the sounds of farm animals in the nearby barns.

“I think it’s unique in the sense that we normally worship in a building made by the hands of humans. At a farm Mass you’re worshipping in a place made by the hands of God himself, and there’s life all around,” Father Paraniuk said. “In the middle of it all we’re thanking God for . . . His beautiful creation. That’s what makes a farm Mass so unique. It really does.”

Blankenship has hosted more than a dozen Masses on his 47 acres outside of Hillsboro, but this was the first time an archbishop visited his farm.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime shot. It’s extremely important and exciting to me,” Blankenship said of hosting Archbishop Schnurr. “I feel very, very blessed, extremely blessed.”

In the late 1990s, Blankenship built a grotto in honor of the Blessed Virgin and his own mother on his farm, which served as a backdrop for the Mass.  He started hosting Masses after the grotto was finished.
“I’ll do this until I die,” he said.

David Eck can be reached at [email protected].

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