Before the end of the month, Fr. Mike Hutchins will be digging into his new job in southern Iowa. Though his term will not officially end until May 31, the longest serving president in DWC history will be shifting gears from administrator to agriculture as he becomes acclimated to the agrarian life at Divine Word Farms—Weldon, located 45 miles south of Des Moines, near Weldon, Iowa.
"I feel very good about this move," Fr. Mike said. "In one sense, it’s a time for some personal renewal, and a chance to engage people outside of my administrative role at the college."
The approximately 240 acre farm is one of 14 Divine Word Farms in Iowa whose operations support SVD missions overseas. Profits from produce and products help street children in the Congo, offer health clinics and occupational training to children in India, comfort AIDS victims in Thailand and bolster missionary efforts among the poorest of the poor in the Amazon.
"Those SVD missions are not sustainable on their own. They do what they can, but they can’t do it entirely on their own," Fr. Mike said. "The income from our farms goes to them annually. It’s income that they can count on."
He joins the staff of the SVD Mission Office, based in Techny, Ill., officially on June 1. Bro. Dennis Newton, SVD, director of the Mission Office, said that he is excited about Fr. Mike joining his office and welcomes the opportunity to have a Divine Word missionary present in South-Central Iowa where their farms are located.
"Fr. Mike will be an excellent ambassador to our farming partners and benefactors there," Bro. Dennis said.
Divine Word Farms—Weldon is to be a focal point to make people aware of what SVDs are doing in the overseas missions. The farm will be a showcase to make people aware of issues related to sustainability, environmental concerns and world hunger. The use of the land in this fashion creates a tangible connection to the work of the worldwide SVD. The hope is that some individuals and groups will want to be involved in this effort by offering their prayers, encouragement and financial assistance.
"For Midwestern people, they know the land and they like to see it properly utilized for the benefit of other people," Fr. Mike said. "This is a new way for people to say, ‘I’d like to be part of that.’"
Fr. Mike will have a varied list of duties, but not as the farm’s manager or in the day-to-day operations of the farm. He will, however, live on-site in a two-bedroom mobile home—complete with a nearby storm shelter to protect against tornados.
"I’m not in administration at the farm," he said. "Mine will be more of a public relations role, putting an SVD face on the farms."
He plans to be involved in outreach efforts, inviting people to see the various farming operations and their connection to the overseas missions. Sometimes his work will involve speaking to area groups and he’ll also be writing articles that further explore the operations.
As for his priestly life, Fr. Mike has received permission from the Bishop of Des Moines, the Most Reverend Richard E. Pates, to celebrate Mass in the diocese and administer sacraments.
"The bishop was very happy to have another priest to help out with sacramental ministry," Fr. Mike said.
All-in-all the change will be significant for the man who was born in Maquoketa, grew up in Dubuque, attended DWC in the late 1960s and early 70s, and later served the SVD in Los Angeles, the Philippines and—for the last 18 years—at Divine Word College. Life for Fr. Mike Hutchins appears poised to become much simpler.
"Attractive to me is there will be space for reading and writing," Fr. Mike said. "There won’t be the administrative concerns there. It certainly will be a different environment."