An unapologetically agrarian rendition of the Lourdes Hymn rang out from a space usually reserved for livestock.
About 80 Catholics were gathered for Mass in the Youth Building Sales Arena on the Missouri State Fairgrounds in Sedalia.
It was the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the 117th annual Missouri State Fair was in full swing.
“You’ll have to forgive me if I get confused. With the sound of cattle lowing in the background, I might think it’s Christmas instead of the Assumption!” said the presider, Father David Veit, pastor in solidum of Sacred Heart and St. Patrick parishes in Sedalia and the St. John the Evangelist mission in Bahner.
Joining him at the altar was Father Joseph Corel, who serves with Fr. Veit as pastor in solidum.
Assisting them was Deacon Turf Martin, who proclaimed the Gospel, and seminarian Christopher Hoffmann, who served as sacristan, both from Sedalia.
Fr. Veit said the Church rightfully takes time out “even here at the State Fair, to realize and celebrate that we have such a powerful example and intercessor — Christ’s own mother — in heaven.”
Having been spared from the stain of Original Sin from the moment of her conception and having followed Christ perfectly, she was taken up body and soul into heaven at the end of her earthly life, preserving her from decay.
Fr. Veit pointed to the Gospel reading from Luke, Chapter 2. Mary, having been told that she will be the mother of the Promised One and that her cousin is also with child, goes to visit and assist her cousin.
They are both filled with the Holy Spirit when they meet, and they give praise to God.
“Mary was living the Christian life before Christ was even born!” said Fr. Veit. “Her first thought was, ‘How can I serve?’ — not because it was her obligation, not because of some commandment, but because service was written on her heart.”
As the first disciple, her continued to burn with love for her Son and to act accordingly.
Her Assumption into heaven is meant to be an inspiration for all people.
“To be like her, you and I must love authentically and pour ourselves out for others,” Fr. Veit stated. “We look to Christ as an example, while receiving the grace and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.”
Fr. Veit noted that in honoring Mary and striving to imitate her, God’s people give Him glory.
The priest emphasized that Mary and all the saints and angels are present at every Mass, joining all the faithful in prayer and worship.
“Mary is in fact with us, praying with us and for us in this Eucharist,” he said. “Let us reconnect ourselves, so that our souls, our lives, all that we think, all that we do, all that we say, might give glory to God as we pour ourselves out, like her, as a gift to others.”
With tambourine and dancing
A liturgical ensemble known as the Sunshine Minstrels began leading the singing at Masses at the State Fair in 1973.
The group offers harmonic renditions of such songs as “Lord of the Dance” and “Lord of Glory” in the folk tradition, complete with guitar, banjo, mandolin, violin, trumpet and tambourine.
Deacon Jerry and Jayne Connery heard a rendition of “Lord of the Dance” many years ago while visiting their home parish in Niagara Falls, New York.
“We found a record of it, learned to play it and have been playing it ever since,” said Deacon Connery.
The Sunshine Minstrels lead the singing at the 9 a.m. Mass each Sunday in St. Patrick Church, having previously done so for 30 years at Sacred Heart.
This year, the Youth Sales Arena was swept clean. That was not always so back in the ’70s.
“You didn’t want to set you guitar down, that’s for sure!” said Deacon Connery. “You got a real feel for how it would have been playing for Jesus in Bethlehem.”
When the group first started going to the Fair for Mass, the members were mostly young families with children.
Many of the concessionaries were Catholic and came to Mass.
“They would have us stop by their booths and the kids got free corn dogs and cotton candy and stuff because we played at Mass,” said Deacon Connery.
For a few years, Mass was celebrated outside in a tent. Deacon Connery remembers hearing passers-by ask what kind of church service this was.
“When they’d hear we were Catholic, their jaws would just hit the ground,” he said. “This was not what they were expecting.”
One year, the Youth Arena was locked, and no one had a key.
It was time for Mass, so the Connerys lifted one of their children up through an open window, and he unlocked the door.
Another year, the ensemble members parked their cars and trucks near the Youth Building. All of the vehicles got towed during Mass. A couple of the members used diplomacy to ransom their cars without a fine.
Mrs. Connery noted that the ensemble has played in many other churches throughout Sedalia, especially in the 1970s and ’80s.
They played at the annual Lake Creek Campmeeting in Smithton a few years ago, and Deacon Connery got to preach.
“A guy there said he’d never heard a Catholic preach before,” he recalled. “And they’ve been having it for way over 150 years.”
After Mass, Fr. Corel headed across the Fairgrounds to the Varied Industries Building, where volunteers from Missouri Right to Life were staffing a booth right inside the entrance.
He found John and Donita Shipman, members of the Bahner mission, handing out materials and answering questions.
“I believe in the children and I believe in life,” said Mrs. Shipman. “Children are a gift from God! They’re very precious. We have to take care of them.”
She was amazed at how many children and pre-teens were stopping by, asking questions and picking up bumper stickers, fliers and pro-life literature.
“I hope they read the information and share it with their family and friends,” she said.
One visitor, who Mrs. Shipman estimated was about 6-foot-7, stopped by with his wife and child.
His wife picked up the model of a 26-month-old pre-born baby and said, “Forty-four years ago, he was born at this age. His parents didn’t think he was going to live.”
The wife took the man’s picture holding the model. Their child wanted to hold it, too.
“Back then, he was considered a miracle baby,” Mrs. Shipman noted. “Now, they take care of babies like that all the time.”
One young girl — Mr. Shipman estimated she was in her early teens — stopped by with a group of friends. The girl said she believes abortion is okay if the baby is not yet fully developed.
Mr. Shipman smiled and said, “How old are you? You’re not fully developed, either!”
The conversation ended.
“But we could see her around the corner,” said Mrs. Shipman. “I think we really got her thinking.”
“Hold us together”
That night at the Grandstand, many of the people who were at Mass attended the Fair’s annual contemporary Christian concert.
Matt Maher, one of the performers, who has been featured at many national and regional Catholic youth events, performed the first half of the concert.
He is known for such songs as “Lord, I Need You” and “Your Grace Is Enough.”
As was the case throughout the Fair, local families worked the Grandstand concessions.
In exchange, concessionaries Jorge and Megan Guevara, Sacred Heart parishioners who first met each other at a Grandstand concert at the Fair, make a significant contribution to Sacred Heart School.
This helps pay for scholarships and tuition assistance to help local families afford a Catholic education.
Ted and Liz Kehl, who have three children at Sacred Heart School and are looking forward to their fourth going there in two years, worked a total of 11 nights between them.
“It is a sacrifice,” said Mrs. Kehl. “Working fast food and concessions is not easy. But all of those sacrifices are very fruitful for our school.”
Volunteers ranged from parents to alumni to faculty to students and friends and supporters.
Katy Hodges, who graduated from Sacred Heart in 1987, has worked all three of the years that volunteers from the school been staffing the Grandstand concession stand. This year, she worked every day of the Fair. Her parents are Rosie (Sedlak) and Bill Hodges, members of the SHS Classes of '53 and '52.
Other volunteers included Fathers Corel and Veit and Sacred Heart School Administrator Dr. Mark Register.
“Some worked a night, some worked a whole weekend, some worked a lot of nights,” said Mrs. Kehl. “But every single shift, every person made a difference.”
Mrs. Kehl enjoyed staying busy while meeting new people and spending time with old friends.
“This is one way we come together as a school community and make it work,” she said.
The Kehls believe a faith-based education is foundational to forming a Christian conscience.
“And as a parent and primary teacher of my children, I know that Sacred Heart can do that better than we can alone!” said Mrs. Kehl. “And I know that forming them in the ways of God is an important part of passing the faith on to them. That’s why we choose Sacred Heart.”
She stepped away from the concession stand long enough to hear Mr. Maher play the last song of his set.
Having heard the nine-time Grammy nominee serve as the lead performer at a Steubenville Conference in Springfield over 10 years ago, she recognized many of his songs.
Enough not to leave without buying a couple of his CDs.
“I have them in the van, and sing along with them,” she said.
Summer’s last hurrah
Held in the heart of this diocese, the 10-day Fair drew exhibitors, competitors, concessionaires and visitors from throughout these 38 counties and the rest of the state.
Produce, livestock and the handiwork of people from all over the state were on display in tents and century-old brick buildings throughout the grounds.
Rebecca Bentley, a member of St. Joseph parish at Hurricane Branch, attended the Fair for five days this year, serving as the 4-H youth program associate for Chariton County and as a building ambassador in the 4-H Building.
Her happiest day at the Fair came when one of her first-year 4-H members got to sell two prize-winning pens of market chickens in the Sale of Champions.
The boy’s mother had moved to Chariton County when she married a local farmer.
That farmer died in an accident last year.
“The mother said she knew her husband wanted his kids raised on a farm, so she’s trying to stay,” said Mrs. Bentley.
Mrs. Kehl, who teaches violin, took part in the annual fiddling contest at the Fair.
“We played a hoedown, a waltz and a tune of our choice,” she said.
She got to play her favorite piece, “Blackberry Blossom.”
Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, a member of Cathedral of St. Joseph parish in Jefferson City, addressed the crowd at the Fair’s opening ceremony on Aug. 8.
He said the annual event has been bringing Missourians together since 1901, “showcasing agriculture as the foundation of Missouri’s character and cornerstone of our economy.”
“The core values of hard-work, respect and courtesy that the State Fair cultivates are evident in the young men and women whose agriculture projects bring them here,” he said.