Editor's Notebook (Oct. 2023)

by Vince Dragone

Growing up in Pittsburgh, opportunities to explore rural life were rare, other than cherished visits to my late uncle's farm in Mercer County. Family reunions, Halloween parties, Thanksgiving and Christmas were spent there, forming lasting memories. I remember exploring the century-old barn with my brother and cousins, climbing onto his vintage Ford tractor and taking family hayrides along dirt roads. Leisurely as it was, these experiences ignited a yearning for more of farm life.

After college, I found myself caring for nearly 20 Friesian horses, learning the gritty details of farm labor — baling and stacking hay, mucking stalls, spreading manure and all the other not-so-glorious tasks that come with tending to such magnificent creatures.


But the hard labor of rural life has its rewards. Being on a farm connects you with God's creation in a unique way. You're on nature's schedule, witnessing life's cycles up close, your work dictated by weather and seasons.

So, when the chance to tell a rural story came along, I jumped on it. Mark and Bern Beichner, third-generation farmers, brothers and co-owners of Sandy Ridge Farms in Shippenville, work alongside their three sons to maintain the family legacy. Watching them work was like a mirror to my time in manufacturing; a harmonious system where everyone knows what is expected and accomplishes tasks with efficiency. Their dedication to keeping the family farm going for future generations was genuinely inspiring, especially as small dairy farms across the commonwealth struggle to stay afloat. I hope you enjoy this cover story as much as I enjoyed putting it together.

Also in this edition, Father Justin Pino, archivist for the Diocese of Erie, penned an enlightening piece on pastoral planning — a topic that strikes a chord in our diocese as we undergo parish mergers. This process, however, is not new; it's ingrained in our very foundation.

Father Justin's article reminds us that parishes were created to address the specific needs of their time. As those needs evolved, the church adapted by closing, merging or relocating. Just like a thriving farm must adapt to the seasons and changing circumstances, so, too, does the church continually respond to the spiritual needs of its community.

This historical perspective on pastoral planning offers valuable insights, allowing us to understand the current changes not as unique to our time but as part of an ongoing process that adapts to the spiritual and communal needs of the faithful.

Father Justin possesses a treasure trove of knowledge about the history of our diocese. I often find myself nudging him to start a podcast or discover another way to broadcast our rich history to a wider audience. Looking ahead, I’d like to showcase his insights in upcoming editions of our magazine, sharing his wisdom with our readers and beyond.