Catholic Herald staff
Leading lives consistent with Catholic teaching is the mission of one Merrill family.
As they navigate life together, Kevin and Sandy Rell try to keep Christ at the center of all they read, watch, hear and do.
Parishioners at St. Francis Xavier, the Rells have six children: Rachel, 14; Rebecca, 11; Isaiah, 10; Sarah, 7; Hannah, 5; and Abigail, 3.
In and out of church, music is a key ministry for the family. Rebecca, Rachel and Isaiah play piano, drums and recorder. Kevin sings and plays guitar, and Sarah will begin singing soon.
“The kids have always been involved in choir,” added Kevin, who is also a lector.
Sandy is a member of the liturgy committee and treasurer of St. Francis’ Home and School Association. She’s also a Eucharistic minister.
For all of their 17 years of marriage, the couple has been living in Merrill. Kevin grew up in the area; Sandy is from Wisconsin Rapids, but her parents have since moved to Merrill. Unlike many children, the Rell siblings have grown up with both sets of grandparents nearby, and their family life is truly intergenerational.
“The grandparents have been a big help,” Kevin said. “The kids probably take it for granted because they’ve always been there.”
Kevin and Sandy are also grateful for the support, which allows them “couple time” and helps them achieve their number one goal – maintaining a strong marriage.
Day to day
Kevin works in the information technology department at a window manufacturing company, and Sandy is a stay-at-home mom.
“We’re very blessed to be able to do that,” he commented. “We’ve found a nice separation or definition of roles. We’ve been very blessed to have Sandy be our rock at home.”
Her position, in Kevin’s words, is “director of household operations,” Sandy said, laughing.
Rachel, a high school student, is a graduate of St. Francis Xavier Catholic School, and the Rells’ other school-age children are students at St. Francis.
In their free time, the Rells spend time together in the backyard – swimming, hiking trails and sitting around a campfire. In the winter, they enjoy cross-country skiing and sledding.
“We kind of just hang out at home a lot,” Sandy added.
All the years of pregnancies and babies anchored the family at home, but the kids have reached the age where they can travel more easily. The Rells recently took their first big family vacation to Branson, Missouri, and they often go on day trips. Lifest, a Christian music festival in Oshkosh, is an annual favorite.
Their other hobbies include watching football games and “just hanging out.”
“A lot of it just does revolve around us being home together,” Kevin said. “We very much treasure our time together as a family.”
That includes communal dining, Sandy added. “That’s what we tell people our extracurricular activity is – eating dinner.”
A big family
Of necessity, life in the Rell household is more focused on the collective good than individual preferences, the parents said.
“Saying yes to one is saying no to the rest,” Kevin explained. “That’s part of being in a big family … compromise … and they’ve learned that. It has to be good for the family overall.”
“Making faith the center” is their governing philosophy, according to Sandy.
“When it comes to making decisions, it’s God’s will, not ours,” Kevin agreed. “We try to infuse our faith into everything.”
Secular messages in the media have made these challenging times for Christian parents, and the Rells habitually check television show, movie and book reviews before watching or reading. They navigate to several online sites, including dove.org, movieguide.org, usccb.org and catholicnews.org, for reviews from Catholic and Christian perspectives. Rachel logs the information on a spreadsheet for future use.
“Fighting the world” is how Sandy describes their mission to provide wholesome entertainment and solid role models for their children, and they hold themselves to the same standards. Kevin and Sandy don’t watch R-rated movies, and they avoid most PG-13 movies.
“What we expect our kids to do, we do as well,” Sandy added.
The consistency of the couple’s approach – what is good for the kids is good for the parents – exemplifies their overall parenting philosophy. Kevin and Sandy strive to model teamwork and compromise in their marriage, and they approach their children as one unit, even in situations when they privately disagree.
“We try to be united as much as possible,” said Sandy.
They are also careful to follow through in disciplinary matters.
“What we say goes, and what we say we’re going to do, we do,” added Kevin.
As they get older, the children are beginning to feel like cultural outsiders because they don’t consume the same media as their peers. Their parents’ response is, “We don’t fit in either.”
But, if they are going to be good Catholics – or even godly people – they must be somewhat counter-cultural, their mother says. Kevin emphasizes that being different isn’t bad.
“You’re also special,” he tells them.
As they raise their children, the couple strives to demonstrate a faith-filled life. They pray together, attend adoration and hold Sunday night catechism “classes” for the kids.
“He leads our family in faith,” Sandy said of her husband.
“We’re working hard to teach the children their faith,” Kevin added. “It’s not a one-time thing; it’s a process.”
The family listens to Lighthouse Media CDs together and studies the Bible; while Sandy discusses chastity, purity and modesty with the girls, Kevin reads with Isaiah and teaches him the duties of manhood.
“The role of the father, the role of the mother and the behavior of the children is very important,” Kevin explained.
Exposing their children to the wider church, supporting their local Catholic school and talking about vocations are also priorities for Kevin and Sandy. Their pastor, Fr. Mike McLain, Totus Tuus teams and seminarians have shared their dinner table, and they’ve taken the children to an ordination Mass at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Superior, to witness the gathering of priests from throughout the diocese.
But, it isn’t all seriousness in the Rell household.
“We like to have fun, too,” Kevin said. “We have a lot of fun.”
“We’re not perfect by any means,” he added. “We just have some core things we believe in. ‘Faith and family’ is one of our mottos.”