Historical Note/Scope and Content

Records of a membership organization (renamed Catholic Rural Life in 2013) that is engaged in "challenging and enabling rural people to participate in the Church’s evangelizing ministry and to live the faith that does justice," including administrative subject files, minutes and reports of board of directors and executive committee meetings, general correspondence, and periodicals and other publications issued by the Conference. Notable correspondents include Luigi G. Ligutti, Edward W. O'Rourke, and James L. Vizzard, S.J.

Related material is in the Monsignor Luigi G. Ligutti Papers in this repository and in the James L. Vizzard Papers in the Department of Special Collections and University Archives, Stanford University.

Donated by the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, 1978.

Processed by Phil Runkel, 2008-2010.


Historical Note

The National Catholic Rural Life Conference was founded in 1923 at the impetus of Father Edwin V. O'Hara, director of the National Catholic Welfare Conference's Rural Life Bureau, who was concerned that Church authorities were neglecting the needs of rural Catholics. In its early years the Conference concentrated its attention on religious education and addressing the perceived “Catholic rural problem” of keeping the faithful on the land. In the 1930s and early ‘40s, however, the NCRLC focused more and more on social and economic justice issues, such as farm tenancy, making its views known through publications (books, periodicals, and pamphlets), convention addresses, resolutions, and policy statements. It reached its peak in membership and asserted its independence from the Catholic bishop’s Rural Life Bureau, establishing its headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa, where it remained for 74 years. Under the strong leadership of Monsignor Luigi G. Ligutti (1940-1959), the Conference moved into the international field, supporting self-help programs and land reform in Latin America and other Third World countries, often working in concert with Protestant organizations, while developing liturgies, retreats, and devotional publications to meet the spiritual needs of Catholic farmers. A financial crisis toward the end of Ligutti’s tenure, owing in part to his preoccupation with international issues and his admitted limitations as an administrator, necessitated drastic cutbacks to preserve the Conference’s solvency. It rebounded, however, and with Monsignor Edward W. O’Rourke as executive director throughout the ‘60s became involved with a variety of anti-poverty programs in rural areas.

In subsequent decades the NCRLC developed programs around land stewardship and other environmental justice issues, and advocated for the preservation of family farms and against corporate farming practices. The Conference has remained an independent organization, except for a brief period (1968-1975) when it affiliated with the United States Catholic Conference in return for much-needed financial support. But a bishop has traditionally served as president, at times clashing with the executive director over various matters, including the radical views of speakers at the NCRLC’s Theology of Land conferences in the 1980s. Episcopal displeasure factored into the forced resignation of the Conference’s second lay director, Gregory Cusack, in 1987. Relations with the hierarchy improved under his successors, and the NCRLC enjoyed a period of growth and stability, lasting until the economic recession of 2008. The Conference shortened its name to Catholic Rural Life in November 2013, "to better and more concisely reflect its mission," and moved its headquarters to St. Paul, Minnesota, in July 2014.

See also:

Bovée, David S. The Church & the Land: The National Catholic Rural Life Conference and American Society, 1923-2007. Washington, D.C. : Catholic University of America Press, 2010
Catholic Rural Life website


Scope and Content


Series 1, Executive Directors Subject Files, 1933-, contains at present 5 subseries: Administrative Subject Files, primarily those of Msgr. Luigi G. Ligutti (1), and the subject files of Msgr. Edward W. O'Rourke (2), Rev. John J. McRaith (3), Rev. Gerald Foley (4), and Gregory Cusack (5). Included is documentation on the International Catholic Rural Life Congresses and the South Carolina Resettlement Project (1) and the NCRLC's relations with the National Catholic Welfare Conference (1) and the U.S. Catholic Conference (2, 3, 4).

Series 2 , Stephen E. Bossi Subject Files, 1970-1980, relates largely to the public policy issues of concern to the NCRLC's Washington representative in the early 1970s, who later served as director of research and development for the conference.

Series 3, Joyce Lemke Subject Files, 1977-1985. documents the NCRLC's role in initiating and promoting the midwestern Catholic bishops' pastoral letter on the land, "Strangers and Guests," which she oversaw as Heartland Coordinator. Included are correspondence files of John Hart, who directed the Heartland Project before responsibility for it was assumed by the NCRLC, and records of hearings on the draft letter held in 40 dioceses. There are also files on the successor Land Stewardship Project.

Series 4, General Correspondence, 1923-, contains letters to and from executive directors and other officials of the Conference, including Msgr. Luigi G. Ligutti, Msgr. Edward W. O'Rourke, and James L. Vizzard, S.J.

Series 5, Publications, 1930-, contains books, pamphlets, leaflets, and other non-serial publications issued by the Conference, arranged by type of publication and chronologically thereunder.

Series 6, Periodicals, 1922-, contains magazines and newsletters published by the Conference.

Series 7, Editor's Files, 1977-1988, pertains to various editorial and marketing policy issues, including the decision to change the magazine's name in 1988.

Series 8, Photographs, 1933-1977, undated., consists of photographs of NCRLC officials and activities, including several conventions. It is arranged alphabetically by name or topic.

Series 9, Meetings Files, 1923-, documents meetings of the board of directors and its committees, and conferences and workshops sponsored by the Conference. Records include minutes, papers, reports, and related correspondence. Audio recordings of meetings are in Series 13.

Series 10, Statements and Resolutions, 1926-, documents positions taken by the NCRLC on various issues. It is arranged alphabetically. Similar statements are grouped together by topic.

Series 11, Newspaper Clippings, 1933-1960,undated, consists of newspaper articles concerning the Conference.

Series 12, News Releases, 1940-, contains news accounts released by the Conference.

Series 13, Audio and Video Recordings, 1977-, consists largely of audiotape recordings of meetings of diocesan rural life directors and the NCRLC Board of Directors and the Theology of the Land conferences. Speakers include Dom Helder Camara, Rev. Matthew Fox, Rosemary Radford Ruether, and Sr. Marjorie Tuite.

Series 14, Financial Records, 1944-, contains audited financial statements and information on Bishop's contributions and investments. Financial information is also in the files of the Board of Directors and its committees in Series 8.1.

Series 15, Oral History Recordings and Transcripts, consists of audio recordings of interviews of 5 NCRLC officials by David Bovée in 1983. Two interviews are transcribed.

Series 16, Curated Website Captures, 2011-, provides access to versions of the NCRLC/CRL's website.