Catholic Rural Life Head Jim Ennis — and a Recipe for BBQ Spare Ribs

Catholic Rural Life (CRL) has as its underlying goal to promote Catholic life in rural America.

Jim Ennis of Catholic Rural Life
Jim Ennis of Catholic Rural Life (photo: Public Domain)

Catholic farmers in America’s rural farmlands can thank an active, dedicated organization for advocating on behalf of their lands, crops and farming lives — and their Catholic faith. That organization is Catholic Rural Life. And the executive director behind the organization is Jim (James) Ennis.

Catholic Rural Life, a nonprofit organization, is located at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. Under Ennis’ leadership, the organization, created in 1923, has established local chapters around the country and supports its numerous ministries such as the Thriving in Rural Ministry Retreats for priests, the Native American Outreach for local native American leaders, the Life in Christ Lay Leadership program, and the Rural Ministry Practicum for seminarians. It’s obvious that Catholic Rural Life (or CRL) has as its underlying goal to promote Catholic life in rural America.

The inspired leader, Ennis, admits that he was never born into the farming life but he was born and raised Catholic. A native Californian raised in an Irish Catholic family, Ennis’ pathway to his present calling was circuitous. He drifted away from his faith in high school but had a real awakening in college after attending a Bible study group.

But his path to food, and then his Catholic faith, began after graduate school, when he worked in marketing for many different food corporations, such as Pillsbury, the Clorox Company and finally Cooperative Development Services with ties to farmers and sustainability nationwide. Then in 2006 at a dinner party hosted by a Catholic family, Ennis met a Catholic theologian who confirmed that “the Catholic Church had much to say about stewarding the environment.” Ennis began to meet regularly with the Catholic theologian to discuss the intersections of faith, food and the environment.

In 2008, Ennis applied for the executive director position at Catholic Rural Life (formerly National Catholic Rural Life Conference) and was hired. Since then, Ennis’s energetic leadership has helped the organization to pursue its threefold vision of advocating for a more sustainable food supply, rejuvenating the spiritual and economic well-being of America’s rural communities and inspiring a sense of wonder about the natural world.

Ennis’s goal is to help strengthen Catholic faith in rural America and that has meant to work with rural priests and pastors elsewhere. “It has been challenging to priests to cover multiple rural parishes,” he said, “so what we are doing is hosting retreats around the country, sharing best practices of evangelization and discipleship and how to reach new communities.” He added that CRL has been working with priests for many years, conducting workshops and conferences to equip both clergy and laity in rural leadership.

As he noted, one of the beauties of the organization is that Catholic Rural Life works throughout the country. At the retreats, priests share their experiences and challenges in rural America and the priests soon realize they are not alone. “We are supporting their fraternity,” he said, “so priests have someone with whom to share ideas, best practices and prayer.”

After two years of hosting these retreats, Ennis said that priests are going back to their home parishes feeling rejuvenated and spiritually refreshed. They have new ideas on how to reach out to young people. “They are excited about their ministry,” he said, “and realize the Lord wants to do amazing things through them.”


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Dry Rub Pork Spare Ribs Over a Gas Grill

Take the following ingredients and mix into a bowl (Rub From Smoke & Spice: Wild Willy’s Number One-derful Rub)

  • 3/4 cup paprika
  • 1/4 cup freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup coarse salt, either kosher or sea salt
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons of onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

Mix the spices thoroughly in a bowl. Store covered until ready for use.


  1. Take two racks of pork spare-ribs.
  2. Wash them down real good coming out of the air-sealed packaging.
  3. Trim the membrane off of the ribs and set them in a cake pan that the racks can fit in.
  4. Liberally coat the racks of ribs with the dry rub and let the dry rub bind into the ribs (30-60 minutes)
  5. Heat the gas grill to 425 degrees. Make sure that only the two outer burners are on, not the inside burner(s). 
  6. Set the ribs on one side of the grill within the two burners. Do not set the rack of ribs directly over a flame.
  7. Turn the ribs every 5 minutes, changing sides. Make sure to cook the ribs on each of the four sides. Keep turning the ribs every 5 minutes.
  8. After 30 minutes, wrap each rack of ribs in aluminum foil and let sit on the kitchen counter for 10 minutes. Unwrap each rack and cut the ribs. The ribs should be juicy and medium rare.
  9. Enjoy the ribs.