by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism
Dr Knight: The readers would like to know your background in Catholicism. Did you attend Catholic schools or religious education?
Andie Andrews Eisenberg: I attended public schools as a child as my mother was a middle-school Phys-Ed teacher and my father was a high-school principal. I did attend CCD classes and made all my sacraments (including matrimony) at The Church of the Little Flower in Berkeley Heights, NJ. St. Thérèse of Lemieux holds a special place in my heart! We also sent our daughter to a Catholic high school, which proved to be not just educationally rewarding but a tremendous blessing as well. While I was MIA from the pew for a few years in young adulthood, marriage and motherhood brought everything back into focus. My husband (a new convert from Judiasm) and I found a wonderful parish and parish family that helped our faith root, blossom, and bear fruit. I’ll always be grateful to the older women in that parish (think Altar Rosary Society, etc.) who took me under their wing and helped to form me into the Catholic woman and disciple I am today.
Dr Knight: Moving from suburbia to a farm was probably fascinating as well as scary. Tell us about the move.
Andie Andrews Eisenberg: Our segue from suburbia to farm life was literally led by a horse. My research for a screenplay that involved horseback riding required me to take riding lessons so that I could write about that with greater authenticity. I fell hard for (and off!) different horses for the next three years and eventually purchased an older lesson horse. After boarding him at barns for a few years and continuing to take lessons, my horse suffered a suspensory ligament injury. After much prayer, I decided to retire him and bring him home. The only problem was that we lived on a cliff overlooking the NYC skyline. We began our search for a house with suitable pasture and found a small, fallow farm in NJ’s horse county (Hunterdon County). At one time it had horses on it, but the two-stall barn was broken down and the pastures were riddled with brambles, grapevines, and underbrush. Broken water pipes to the barn and squirrelly electric wiring along with rusted and twisted barbed-wire fencing made the parcel look like one big tangled mess and yet we saw such promise in the land. We fought hard to reclaim it from the wildness that had overtaken it and to battle the floods and forces of nature, but a back-breaking year and many prayers later, it was transformed into our homestead and a place of sheer beauty. We had many bumps, bruises, blood, sweat and tears, but we never had a moment of regret.
Dr Knight: When you implored God to let you know what He wanted how did that change your direction?
Andie Andrews Eisenberg: This may sound simplistic but when you live on a farm, steeped in nature and in service to its needs (the care of livestock, pastures, gardens, etc.) you start to “notice things.” In fact, you notice everything. Eyes are trained on the level of water in the troughs and on the skies above. Will it rain? Do I need to drag out the hose? What needs to happen for things to grow, to thrive, to reach their fullness of being? When I started caring about these kinds of things more than the vanities of daily life (shopping, dining out, the non-farming lifestyle), I could feel the ground shifting and my ears opening to God’s call for me to embrace and promote the beauty of the land and all that it offers. The Catholic concepts of stewardship and sustainability bubbled to the surface. Up until our move to our first farm, my writing (blogs, Christian (women’s) fiction, poetry, screenplays) always had an undercurrent of Catholicity but none were explicitly Catholic projects. As an ardent and frequent adorer of the Blessed Sacrament, I often look to the altar for my marching/writing orders and inspiration. So, when I was before the Blessed Sacrament seeking direction for a women’s fiction project that was floundering, I had a flash of understanding that my writing wasn’t aligning with my life experiences anymore. The things I had been “noticing” on the farm were the very things that the Lord wanted me to write about. I wasn’t sure of the context for that, but God provides! Surrounded by stained glass portraits of various saints, in a little chapel on a hill, the Lord himself gave me the title to the book he wanted me to write. I originally balked (what do I know about that?). But as the saying goes: God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called.
Dr Knight: Your book "Farming and Homesteading with the Saints" led you to investigate the Saints. Tell us about the process.
Andie Andrews Eisenberg: After adoration that day, I decided I’d do some high-level googling just to see if the idea on farming and homesteading with the saints could even produce enough material to be a book (as God laughed in the background). Yes, I’ve always had a devotion to the saints and a few “pocket” saints whom I affectionately carried with me wherever I went (St. Thérèse, for example). However, the preliminary research for FHS revealed a deep, nearly inexhaustible well of material: history, legends, miracles and more of “farming” saints that quickly overwhelmed me! As I frantically scribbled away in my spiral notebook for the next few weeks, I found myself thinking I’d bit off more than I could chew. This wasn’t a cupcake assignment. It was going to be grueling work that was already making me buggy-eyed and disoriented as I went down one rabbit hole after another, trying to discover the sometimes very tenuous connection between a given saint and this-or-that cause. I remember spending over a week investigating why St. Ann is the patron saint of equestrians, running Italian text through online translators, querying shrines, flipping though the archives of ancient books that are part of Project Gutenburg, and praying for help from St. Ann herself! I admit I had a moment when I wanted to walk away and “get my life back.” Fortunately, I had recently gone on a weekend retreat at the Loyola JesuitCenter in Morristown, NJ. A gifted spiritual director, Marie Santana, agreed to meet with me and asked me if I thought of this as a “God Project.” I did then and I do now. When I truly understood that this wasn’t simply another “writing project” but a divine assignment, I felt able to move forward with confidence. Even if the book didn’t get published, my spiritual life (and farming life!) would still be immeasurably and eternally enriched by the newfound knowledge of and relationships with a treasury of saints I’d never even heard of before. It took over a year to complete the research. I was so pleased when Loyola Press offered to publish it.
Dr Knight: What saints stood out for you in regard to this topic?
Andie Andrews Eisenberg: There are dozens of saints who resonated with me for one reason or another. Some were obvious “matches” based on the animals we keep here. Shepherd-saints, patron saints of horses and poultry, and the patron saints of haymakers and farriers for sure. Decent hay in Tennessee is really hard to find and a good farrier is even harder. Then, there are the backstories of the saints themselves, separate from their associations, which I try to summarize in a few sentences. There are saints whose family lives were difficult or who were born with infirmities or other hardships that I can relate to. And in most cases, these are saints who were martyred for their faith in Christ. As fascinated as I am with the patronages, the ultimate takeaway for me is always their heroic love of God and the sacrifices they made to discern and follow His divine will.
Dr Knight: What saints did you turn to in helping you with the work on the farm?
Andie Andrews Eisenberg: Given that St. Isidore is the patron saint of farmers in general, he is invoked daily for our needs. This is also true for St. Joseph, to whom our farm is dedicated. I do consider him an ad-hoc patron saint of equines (even though he’s not formally so) because as I work with my horses, I think of how handy he had to be with horses/donkeys to get that ass to carry Jesus and Mary all the way to Egypt and back again (can I say that?). I ask for St. Barbara’s and St. Scholastica’s protection quite a lot, as strong thunderstorms that spawn tornadoes are frequent in these parts. Our sheep are all named for saints (allsaintsvalaisblacknosesheep.com), so if one of them is experiencing difficulties of any kind (health, giving birth, etc.), I will always invoke their namesakes along with traditional shepherd saints. St. Mawes is the patron saint against parasites. Livestock farmers know how devastating they can be to a flock so he is top of mind as well. My flower garden is given over to our Blessed Mother and St. Thérèse, and the prayers of St. Friard are our defense against these gigantic, pesky red wasps that I’ve never seen before moving here to Tennessee. One of the saints I discovered when writing this book who has stolen my heart is St. Melangell. I suppose it’s because her story resonates with the romance writer in me. I’m also deeply moved by the story of the shepherdess, St. Solange. I could go on, but as conditions change on the farm day-to-day, so do our prayers!
Dr Knight: Tell us about the blessings and prayers for animals and weather as people understand the importance of those issues.
Andie Andrews Eisenberg: I think the blessings and prayers in this book are “heirloom quality” in their usefulness. They are traditional yet timeless as we discover new ways and reasons to sustain our land, pray and care for our farming and homesteading endeavors, and uplift our farm families and farmers-at-heart. In the mid-20th century and earlier, rural priests had to cover a lot of ground ministering to the faithful. With the dwindling of vocations, there’s a similar experience of relying on the “head of the household,” whoever he or she may be, to speak a blessing over the animals and the land. Weather events in particular can be fierce or unpredictable, and the prayers in the book address the immediacy or urgency of the trial or threat at hand. I’ve prayed many of these prayers in the confines of our tornado shelter and amidst the drought that struck Middle Tennessee last year. I’ve also seen firsthand the efficacy of such blessings and prayers. I’ve seen severe storms and tornado threats suddenly disappear and just this past lambing season, when a ewe in labor was struggling and in real trouble (the vet was on the way but still 30 minutes out), my prayers to St. Solange and to the ewe’s namesake, St. Joseph, changed the course of Josie’s labor and she safely delivered her twin lambs. In the midst of an earnest invocation, things changed and all was well. The saints are near, willing and eager to help. We need only call on them to intercede!
Dr Knight: Tell us your own story about living on a farm and the importance of your prayer life.
Andie Andrews Eisenberg: I can’t imagine getting through a single day on this farm or in life in general without grounding myself in prayer. Part of farming is accepting the hard losses. The horses who succumb to colic or other illnesses. The chickens taken out by a fox. The sheep who doesn’t thrive. The frost that bites the flowers and the heat or drought that kill the crops. A homesteader or farmer never really knows what the day ahead will bring so I know I have to be prepared to do my best, and then trust and surrender the results to God. A short story to illustrate the point: when our foal, Dora, was born on our farm in April of 2021, she was the most spectacular creature I had ever seen. A few months later, I had a farrier out to tend to her hooves and give her a light trim to get her used to having her feet handled. The farrier’s knife slipped and gouged Dora’s foot, causing her to be lame for months. Dora was a master at taking off her bandages. I had the equine vet out every third day to bind her up with ever-increasing layers of gauze and a protective boot. Dora was smart, sassy, and a laugh-a-minute, winning the hearts of everyone who met her. She could zip and unzip jackets with her lips and exuded a joy that was greater than her injury. It was no surprise that she won the heart of the equine vet treating her. He had become like family by that point and having fallen for Dora, he decided to purchase her, giving her the surgery she needed to both realign and heal her hoof. But that’s not the happy ending. The happy ending is that we had a farm sitter who also knew Dora. When our equine vet posted a photo of Dora on social media, our farm sitter recognized Dora and commented. They bonded over Dora and just recently announced their engagement. I find that a beautiful example of praying and trusting in God to bring good out of every situation on our farm, no matter how dire it seems at the time. For me, prayer is the foundation of such trust. If God allows something here on the farm, be it “good” or “bad” in my estimation, I know that truly “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
Dr Knight: Since there are so many single people living alone. How can your book help the balcony gardener?
Andie Andrews Eisenberg: Oh, I really can’t state this ANY better than my tireless and amazing editor at Loyola Press, Maura Poston, who said when she wrote the text for the back of the book: “Whether you are a traditional or next-gen farmer, a weekend gardener, or someone who embraces the revival of the back-to-the-land movement, Farming and Homesteading with the Saints is a timeless resource and a stirring reminder that farming with faith means that you are never, ever alone in your work.” (emphasis mine).
Dr Knight: It is wonderful to see how the importance of the presence of God is to your work on the farm and really in all of your life. Tell us about it.
Andie Andrews Eisenberg: Honestly, I don’t know what else to add except to paraphrase and say: Unless the LORD build the farm, they labor in vain who build. (Ps. 127:1) The Lord has given us a great cloud of not just witnesses but a band of holy and experienced “farmhands” to help us tend, sustain, bring forth from, and cherish the earth. As I do my part, I trust in God to do his. This work, after all, is his. St. (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta claimed to be a “pencil” in his hands. In a similar way, maybe all of us farmers and homesteaders are rakes or spades or shovels in his hands, doing our able best, in the company and with the encouragement of the saints, to feed the world or simply our families, and more importantly, to bring forth fruit that will last.