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National Catholic Rural Life Conference changes, shortens name
Catholic News Service photo
Fruit and vegetables grown by parishioners are displayed at a farmer's market at a Catholic church in Tennessee. The National Catholic Rural Life Conference has called for
Catholic News Service photo
Fruit and vegetables grown by parishioners are displayed at a farmer's market at a Catholic church in Tennessee. The National Catholic Rural Life Conference has called for "a new agricultural ethic" based on sustainability, diversification and support of small farmers. 
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The National Catholic Rural Life Conference hasn't trimmed any of its mission or functions, but it has shortened its name to Catholic Rural Life.

The organization's board of directors met in early November. When the name change came up for a vote, "it was unanimous. That tells you something," said Jim Ennis, Catholic Rural Life's executive director. "There was no discussion."

The change was announced Nov. 11 in Baltimore during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' fall general assembly there.

When it was founded in 1923 as the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, the name "was very much in sync with other organizational names at the time," Ennis said. The USCCB's name at that time, for example, was the National Catholic Welfare Conference.

Ennis spoke to Catholic News Service in a telephone interview from St.  Paul, Minn., where he is based. Catholic Rural Life has its headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa.

Ennis, who's been executive director for the last five-and-a-half years at Catholic Rural Life, said that in his travels to rural communities, "they stumble over the five words, and I just found it very challenging  in our day in this age of communicating quickly and succinctly that Catholic Rural Life was much easier for people to understand. We are  Catholic, we serve rural communities, and we address rural concerns."

So what's in a name? "'National' is implicit in the name, and 'conference' is kind of a misnomer for us at the moment. We're much more than that. 'Catholic Rural Life' makes sense."

Initial feedback on the name change, "at least in the initial emails and  responses back, is great," Ennis told CNS. "It's subtle in some ways, but in others it's significant. People don't have to figure out what 'conference' means."

One name that won't have to change is the organization's quarterly magazine. It was already named Catholic Rural Life. When it underwent a redesign a few years ago, Ennis said the intent was to highlight the title. "That was an easy term, and people understand it," Ennis said.

How long had the name change been percolating? "Five-and-a-half years. I'm serious! I'm serious!" Ennis replied. "I have a marketing background. I stumble over this, people stumble over it all the time. But I needed to do some strategic planning, I needed to do some market research. ... I thought that the (organization's) 90th anniversary was a good time to pivot. It provided us with that opportunity to make the change.

"But we're still who we are. Our focus is still the same -- on rural life and rural communities."

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