Once an altar boy, now a “farm boy”

Originally from the District of India, Fr. Praveen Kumar Richard, SCJ, was assigned to ministry at St. Joseph’s Indian School last year. He taught, he celebrated liturgies and other prayer services, and he helped with parish ministry on the nearby reservations. But that all changed in March with COVID-19. Students could not return to school after spring break and most of Fr. Richard’s day-to-day activities came to a halt. What did he do instead?

“I became a farm boy!” he said. Fr. Richard shares his story below:

Fr. Praveen Richard

During this period of uncertainty, many have felt a sense of “heaviness,” even sadness and depression in the midst of lock-downs. Normal routines have been upended. We rely on social media to take the place of in-person encounters. Many struggle with the enormity of the situation; there is fear and anxiety. I have to admit that, like many, I too have gone through difficult days. I miss daily interactions; I miss working with others.

The slowdown of our lives because of the pandemic brought free time for prayer, reading, learning, creating art, and catching up on movies. While I was grateful for this, it did not take away my feelings of isolation. I became bored, and often irritated.

I realized that I needed to do something, so I got out of my room and spent some time with nature. Up on a hill close to St. Joseph’s Indian School I meditated, did some yoga and received a well-needed dose of Vitamin D from the sun.

And then I found work on a farm. Terri Powell, our community’s cook, lives on a nearby farm with her husband, Greg. I told her that I would like to help at the farm if they could use me. I thought that I would not only be helping a neighbor, but the physical labor would be good for my mind. I was grateful that Greg and Terri welcomed me.

After celebrating Mass on Sunday I put on my “farm boy” clothes and drove 20 miles east to the Powells’ beautiful home and farm. There, I was put to work helping to put up and repair fencing around a 40-acre field.

The Powells have a large property so Greg taught me how to drive the four-wheeler to make it easier to get around with the equipment. The morning was spent on the fence and then we took a break for lunch. In the afternoon we cleaned and tuned up the machinery that is used for cultivating and harvesting crops.

For me, the day was like a sweet dessert. It felt so good to be working, to be with others (at an appropriate distance, of course!). Whenever we met someone, Greg would tell the person “I’ve got a priest working with me!”

Greg insisted on paying me for my work as a “farm boy.” I donated the funds to a charitable cause; my greater payment was being outside, refreshing my mind, body and spirit spending time with the Powell family.

When I was a child, I was an altar boy. As an adult, it is good to know the joy of becoming a farm boy.

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