Bishop Tylka takes to the air to bless fields, farmers as planting season begins

Bishop Louis Tylka is strapped in and ready to bless farm fields of the Diocese of Peoria from the air, thanks to the use of a helicopter provided by OSF Aviation on April 21. At right, the bishop looks out at the farm of Helen Gillen in rural Monmouth. He would stop to bless the fields and family there and then continue to fly in all directions to offer a blessing "that keeps going" for the rest of the diocese. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems and For The Catholic Post/ Phillip Lee)

MONMOUTH — Bishop Louis Tylka took to the air by helicopter April 21 to bless farm fields in the Diocese of Peoria as planting season was about to begin. His trip, made possible by OSF Aviation, included a stop at the farm of Helen Gillen and her son, Dave, longtime members of Immaculate Conception Parish in Monmouth.

After blessing the land and the extended Gillen family and their neighbors, Bishop Tylka handed out bottles of holy water so they could bless their own farms in remembrance of the day.

Bishop Tylka offers a blessing on the extended Gillen family and their neighbors — most of them members of Immaculate Conception Parish in Monmouth — as well as area fields that will soon be planted. Standing with him during the April 21 visit is Sister Judith Ann Duvall, OSF, chairperson of the boards at OSF HealthCare. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

“It was his idea. He really wanted to do it,” said Msgr. Thomas Mack, episcopal vicar for rural life of the Diocese of Peoria. “It speaks real highly of his shepherd’s heart that he wanted to do this.”

Msgr. Mack said it was Bishop Tylka’s visits to St. Patrick in Raritan for a Harvest Mass in October 2020 and to the Sullivan family farm in McDonough County last October that helped him see how much of the diocese is involved in agriculture.

“I think he wanted to do something for them,” Msgr. Mack said.

The original thought was for the helicopter to make three stops, but only one was possible. Making the trip with Bishop Tylka were Sister Judith Ann Duvall, OSF, chairperson of the boards for OSF HealthCare; Kathy Devine, vice president of OSF Aviation, and Phillip Lee, the bishop’s master of ceremonies and director of the Office of Divine Worship.

The pilot was J.D. Pearson, director of operations for OSF Aviation.


Bishop Tylka explained that Sister Judith Ann had offered the use of the helicopter and he thought the blessing of farm families and their fields as they were preparing to plant their crops was the best way to accept OSF’s generosity.

“There’s more corn and soybeans in the diocese than there are people,” he told those gathered for the blessing in rural Monmouth. “I’ve learned that driving around. It will be even better flying around.”

Bishop Tylka continued by telling them of a saying that when the pope stands at St. Peter’s in Rome and offers a blessing, “it just keeps going down the block.”

Msgr. Thomas Mack, episcopal vicar for rural life, introduces Bishop Louis Tylka to Helen Gillen, whose farm he blessed on April 21. A longtime member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Monmouth, she said it was “quite a thrill” to have the bishop visit. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

“When we stand here in the western part (of the diocese) the blessing keeps going west and from the air it will keep going south and east and north when we say the prayer up in the air, as well,” he said.

“We give thanks for this beautiful day, almighty God,” he prayed. “We give thanks for the gift of the earth and those who farm it. We give thanks for the crops that come to feed the world and provide the energy and all that we need so that we can be about giving our life to share the Gospel that you send us out to preach, to proclaim, to give witness to.”

The bishop also asked God’s blessings so the crops would not just yield 20- or 30-fold, but 60- and 100-fold.

In addition to sprinkling holy water on the field closest to him, Bishop Tylka blessed a bucket of soil from Duane and Cindy Ricketts’ farm and a bag of treated seed corn brought by Rick Elliott.

After the blessing, Bishop Tylka invoked the protection of St. Isidore, patron saint of farmers, whose feast day is May 15.


“It means quite a bit,” Dave Gillen said about having Bishop Tylka there to bless the family and their fields.

“The Catholic faith is a big part of my existence and it’s been good to me,” he told The Catholic Post. “This is a pretty strong Catholic family in this area.”

Gillen said those who had come out of the fields for Bishop Tylka’s visit are “the cream of the bunch” that help out at Immaculate Conception School and Church.

For his part, he is a former parish trustee and served on the school board. He has also been a lector and extraordinary minister of Holy Communion.

Sister Judith Ann Duvall, OSF, chairperson of the boards at OSF HealthCare, can be seen smiling as a helicopter provided by OSF Aviation touches down at the farm of Helen Gillen of rural Monmouth. Waving from the window behind her is Bishop Louis Tylka, who blessed the farm while on the ground “and all our farms” from the air on April 21. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

His wife, Geneen, and mother, Helen, have also been active in the school over the years and Helen was involved in the Altar Society and loved spending time in front of the Blessed Sacrament in adoration.

Now everyone is waiting for some drier conditions and warmer temperatures so they can get in the fields.

“I don’t worry about the weather — I can’t change it,” Gillen said, with a smile.

“I’m not nervous yet,” he said. “I think the weather forecast has improved for next week. If we can get in the fields the middle of next week and have a stretch of dry period we can catch up pretty fast.”

“The unique thing about farming is you’re part of a divine partnership,” Msgr. Mack said. “You’ve just got to put your trust in the Lord that it will all work out.”

He said the first commandment the Lord gave the first man and first woman was to be stewards of the land and take care of it.

“People involved in agriculture, that’s what they still do. They’re following that ancient, ancient scriptural command of the Lord — being good stewards of the land,” Msgr. Mack said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: More photos from Bishop Tylka’s day of blessing farm fields and farmers via helicopter have been posted to The Catholic Post’s site on Facebook.

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