Faith, farming and family
Pregnant cows, inclement weather and tractor deliveries can’t keep the Maille family from attending Mass.
Jim, his wife Sylvia, and two sons, Benjamin and Nick, operate a soon-to-be 103-year-old dairy farm in Shelburne. Between milking 50 cows daily, haying fields and taking care of the barn cats that roam the property, the farmers keep busy.
However, despite all the responsibilities, the family says that making it to Mass is their first priority.
“Church is more important than making a hundred extra pounds of milk,” Sylvia said.
The Mailles are parishioners of St. Catherine of Siena Church in Shelburne. It’s where Jim and Benjamin, Nick and their sister, Elizabeth, received all their sacraments. Sylvia converted to Catholicism while attending St. Michael’s College in Colchester in 1983.
Growing up, Jim’s grandparents and parents set a prayerful example for him. Sundays were always a day of rest, and haying was only done when necessary. In times of difficulty, they would turn to their faith.
“When they were having trouble with the farm and were going to lose it, my grandmother would have novenas and put her intentions right in front of Mary,” Jim said.
His uncle, the late Father Philip LaMothe, was a priest of the Diocese of Burlington who served as the pastor of St. Catherine of Siena from 1998-2003.
“I think it’s neat that growing up our great uncle was a priest here. I started altar serving [for] him,” said Nick.
Father LaMothe encouraged members of the family to be more involved at Mass.
“I think there was one weekend where Mom read, me, my brother and sister were serving, and Father Phil was the priest. It was a family affair,” he added.
In the same fashion, the faith that was passed down to Jim from his parents and relatives, he passed down to his own children.
“Even when the kids were younger, Jim prayed with them at night. They prayed a decade of the rosary,” Sylvia said.
And when times got tough, he prayed.
“Whenever something happened or there was a problem that we couldn’t solve or figure out, I remember Dad just asking, ‘Oh Lord you’ve got to help me out’ and he would just immediately start praying,” Nick said.
But not every prayer was answered the way he wanted it to be. “I was praying one day that the Lord would stop the rain so I could finish baling, but it rained heavier,” Jim said with a laugh.
However, being faced with the unexpected comes with farming. “I’ve farmed long enough to know that life happens,” he added.
That’s why the family is prepared for anything in case something comes up on a Sunday.
This includes putting extra food out for the cows Saturday night, topping off the water and getting up early Sunday morning so that things run smoothly and everything is done before Mass.
In the event they can’t make their usual Mass time due to something happening on the farm, they split up and one person goes to early Mass, and another goes to a later one.
“We do what has to be done,” Sylvia said. If they are traveling, they look ahead at the Mass times and schedule around it.
For the family, faith and farming go hand in hand. “When you put that seed in the ground, you’re relying solely on God to provide the right rain, the right sun, the right conditions for those seeds to flourish,” Benjamin said.
—Originally published in the Summer 2022 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.