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Living the rural life

The Fischer family shares their farm and faith for Rural Life Day

St. Florian Parish in Hatley

For Mike and Sue Fischer of St. Florian’s Parish in Hatley, life is about faith, family and farming. Married in 1971, the couple bought their dairy farm in 1972. What began with two people has now grown into an enterprise that includes their five children, seven grandchildren and a dozen immigrant Mexican families.

“The Catholic faith is our foundation,” Mike says. “That’s where it all starts. Our life revolves around our faith.”

Mike and Sue will share their farm and faith on Rural Life Day, Sept. 14, with the Diocese of La Crosse. The yearly celebration of the Catholic faithful who live outside of the urban areas in the diocese was first held in rural parishes beginning in 1980, but in 2014 moved to a selected farm for a special celebration of those who provide food for so many.

“Rural life is different than life in town,” Mike says. “We think it’s special.”

“The bishop granted special permission for a farmer who had a great vision for it to be held at a farm,” says Dan Kitzhaber, organizer of the yearly celebration. “The celebration is much more inclusive than farming. Our focus is rural life, because rural life affects all of us.” During the celebration, the Diocese of La Crosse will recognize a farm family of great faith who cares for God’s land with the Strangers and Guests Award. Also recognized with the Friend of Rural Life Award will be a person or persons providing a special agricultural service outside of farming, as well as living the Catholic faith. A family in the host deanery with active ownership in the same farm for 100 years or more will be awarded the Century Farm Recognition.

The Fischers have a few years to go before being eligible for the Century Farm Recognition, but their dairy farm is almost halfway there, with its 45 years in the community. As with many farm families, there have been struggles, but Mike and Sue have their Catholic faith to sustain them, guide them and give them hope.

The biggest obstacle happened 20 years ago after they formed a corporation with Mike’s sister and brother-in-law to expand the dairy to 90 cows. Shortly after forming the corporation, Mike’s brother-in-law was diagnosed with bile duct cancer, which soon ended his life.

“I was in a bad way because we had expanded the farm and I needed help,” says Mike.

Unsure of how he could care for the dairy herd, Mike was offered assistance of immigrant Mexican workers from a nearby farm. It was a perfect fit. The farm added a dozen full-time workers, in addition to the original three men and the Fischer children.

In fact, the Fischers now employ the second generation of Mexican families. Working with the same families over the past 20 years isn’t always the norm on a farm. Mike and Sue prefer the interaction with their families over working 
with a transitory group 
of workers.

The immigrant employees take care of the cows and mix the feed. The dairy farm requires year-round employees, so Mike and Sue have purchased homes for 
the laborers in the area.

“They each have their own 
house or apartment,” Mike says. “They want full-time labor, but they want to go back once a year to see their families, and we accommodate them.”

The Fischers and their workers share a strong Catholic faith. They may not worship in the same parish or use the same language at Mass, but they speak the same Catholic language. Mike and Sue also share in family celebrations with their employees.

“We always try to go and attend quinceaneras. They have them at the church in Wausau,” says Mike.

“They are quite religious. They don’t go to our church a lot because they don’t understand English,” Sue says.

Working with Mexican immigrants has been a positive experience for the Fischer family. Mike’s advice about appreciating immigrant workers is direct. “It’s simple,” he says. “Get to know them.”

The Diocese of La Crosse also recognizes the contributions of Mexican immigrants in dairy farming. The Rural Life Committee created a new area of recognition for this year’s Rural Life Day celebration.Mike and Sue have felt the guidance of the Holy Spirit in their lives in large and small ways. Mike teaches in the CCD program at St. Florian Parish, and says he is still surprised God called him to a ministry that has become a perfect fit.

“You can never tell what the Holy Spirit will do.”

By Mary Kay McPartlin
Photography By Robert Rogers

Rural Life Day will be celebrated on Sept. 14, 2017, at the Fischers’ farm in Hatley. For more information please call 715-600-0521 or email yministry@frontier.com.

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