Catholic Herald staff
It’s Monday night, and the Nauertz family is crowded around the table. After a prayer and a blessing, the family digs into tortilla soup and bread.
Dinner is a lively affair, full of laughter, interruptions and each child’s recounting the high and low points of the day. The younger boys are wrestling in the living room before the meal ends, and their father herds them back into the kitchen for a closing prayer and cleanup.
Dinner as usual, said parents Al and Loree Nauertz. Just keeping everyone at the table can be challenging.
Loree and Al have six boys: Mark, 15; John, 13; Andrew, 11; James, 7; Luke, 5; and Joseph, 3. Parishioners of St. Francis de Sales, Spooner, the family is involved in many facets of parish life – youth groups, confirmation classes, the men’s prayer group and Knights of Columbus, adult education, natural family planning and fundraising.
Over the last 10 years, they’ve made almost 2,000 pies to help send teens to the Steubenville Conference, said Loree, 41, who enjoys working with youths and teaching couples about NFP.
They also help out with other church ministries – reading, adoration, and serving as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist.
“You see a need, you try to meet it,” Al, 42, said.
“Adoration is essential,” added Loree. “Fortunately, we have an adoration chapel.”
Growing up, Al and Loree were neighbors in the Clark County city of Neillsville.
“I’ve known him since I was 6,” she said.
The two played spud and kick-the-can in elementary school before going their separate ways in middle school. Loree was into sports; Al liked hunting, fishing and sports.
They reconnected in high school at a youth group roller skating party, the start of a five-year period of being “just friends.”
Al was frustrated. But, in retrospect, he said it gave them time to develop a friendship.
“You look back, and you see how God kinda knew,” he added.
They parted ways in college, going “from three houses to three hours apart,” in Al’s words. Then, one day, he issued an ultimatum, and Loree had to decide whether their friendship would ever be more.
“Six months later, I knew I was going to marry him,” she said.
Choosing a vocation
Although she didn’t know any nuns, Loree had briefly considered religious life. She wanted to get to heaven, and she figured being a nun was the surest way.
When she talked to her parish priest about a possible vocation, he told her most orders wanted postulants to have college degrees. So, off she went to the university, where she earned a teaching degree.
Three weeks later, she and Al were married.
The couple may have chosen marriage and family as their vocation, but they did not forgo the fruits of religious profession. In September 2012, the Nauertzes and two other Spooner families made their Promise of Evangelical Life as Lay Diakonia in the Servants of Mary order.
Essentially, the families promised to make little churches of their homes, modeled on Joseph and Mary’s household, and to open their homes and hearts to those in need in a spirit of fraternity and community.
After the wedding, Al and Loree moved to Barron to begin their life together. He was teaching middle school and high school science and coaching at Shell Lake; she was a first-grade teacher and coach in Menomonie.
Between the work hours and the travel, they hardly saw one another the first three years of their marriage, she said. Then, Mark was born, and Loree quit her job to care for him. They started searching for a new house.
It was the St. Joseph statue in the yard that convinced them to buy a small home in Spooner.
“It was a very tiny house, but we’ve since expanded,” she said.
The family, too, has grown. Four miscarriages and six boys later, the Nauertzes still aren’t sure whether they’ll have another. They aren’t worrying about it.
“It all works out. God knows what he’s doing,” Loree said.
After the second boy, people started asking, “Are you going to try for that girl?”
Loree’s response is something like, “No, we’re going to have a baby.”
She’s had a few odd looks for their big family, but Loree said most people don’t make rude comments.
“For the most part, people are pretty good,” she added.
Loree describes Nauertz family life as “loud.”
Fr. Andrew Ricci, now rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King, was the pastor of St. Francis de Sales for 10 years before moving to Superior.
“It’s your chance to grow in holiness,” he told Loree when she confessed the challenges of motherhood.
She hasn’t forgotten that wisdom.
“We know that children are a gift from God, and they are a huge blessing, and they help us grow in holiness,” she recited with a twinkle in her eye.
On a more serious note, she acknowledged, “Families bring out the worst in us.”
She perceives the tests of family life – 48 pieces of dirty laundry per day, a sometimes chaotic household, tantrums and sibling squabbles – as opportunities to grow in patience, kindness and forgiveness.
“You don’t have to work on patience so much as perseverance,” Fr. Ed Anderson, pastor of St. Francis, told Loree.
She’s keeping that in mind as well.
Overall, “We are pretty joyful,” she said. “We get along, for the most part.”
“Confession is a good thing,” she added.
Currently, the Nauertzes have one son in high school and two at St. Francis de Sales Catholic School; Loree is homeschooling two more through a charter school, which they attend in-person one day a week. All the kids (minus Joseph) have been homeschooled at one point or another; Loree said she makes a one-year homeschooling commitment at a time, and “if there is peace, we continue doing it.”
In their free time, the Nauertzes play cards – Euchre and Dirty Clubs – and games, and occasionally kickball with the other Diakonia families. They don’t watch much television, Loree said, and finding a movie that interests the whole family isn’t as easy as it used to be. They have Friday family fun night in the winter; everyone likes to eat.
“I’d like to create a culture of cutting and splitting wood,” Al commented.
So far, no luck with that.
Part of being Lay Diakonia is extending hospitality to others, and the Nauertzes have an open-door policy, Loree said.
The house may be “a pigsty,” the fridge empty and the children energetic, she added with a laugh, but all are welcome.