Loree Nauertz, hired this summer as the associate director of the Office of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship, also acquired the new role of mother-in-law in August. She and husband Al are pictured with their son, Mark, and his bride, Rachel, accompanied by their other sons John, Andrew, James, Luke and Joseph. (Photo credit: Joey Trcka, Joey Trcka Photography)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

The newly formed Office of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship – introduced in early spring 2021 under the direction of Chris Hurtubise – has also brought a new employee to the diocesan staff.

Although Loree Nauertz is a familiar name and face in youth and family ministry around the diocese, she discerned prayerfully before accepting the role of associate director.

“I’m a wife and mom first,” Nauertz acknowledged.

Even knowing her gifts and talents are God-given, she confessed “pointedly asking God in prayer” if the job was how he was calling her to use them.

Having discerned other opportunities throughout the years she has raised and homeschooled her six children – while volunteering in numerous capacities at her Spooner parish of St. Francis de Sales – she knew what it felt like to not have peace through discernment.

“This time there was,” Nauertz added, and she took that experience to her spiritual director.

Loree married her husband, Al, a high school science teacher, after graduating with a teaching degree from UW-Stout 25 years ago. Once their first son was born, she redirected her educating towards the family’s growing family of boys. Nauertz home-schooled their six sons throughout most of their elementary school years, connecting also with a virtual charter school in Hayward (HACIL). All six of her sons attended St. Francis de Sales School for middle school and went on to Spooner High School.

“I am very grateful for these opportunities, for they have allowed me to meet a variety of people and have given me a unique perspective on education and family life,” she said.

“God has blessed my time here in the diocese allowing me to be involved in youth ministry, religious education for adults and teens, Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, theology of the body, and Natural Family Planning,” Nauertz continued. “I have learned so much from people’s willingness to share with me the joys and struggles of life.

“Family life can be so rewarding and so challenging all at the same time! St. Pope John Paul II, a hero of mine, once said, ‘The future of humanity passes by way of the family.’”

Even with her strong conviction of the necessity of family and youth ministry, Nauertz admits the answer God seemed to be giving her to step into the new role wasn’t necessarily what she wanted to hear.

The Nauertzs’ oldest son, Mark, was married this August, bringing their first daughter-in-law into the family. With Mark finishing his degree at Bismark’s University of Mary and second-oldest son John studying at the same university, there are still four boys at home. Andrew is a senior at Spooner High School and involved in many things, from acting a lead role in the fall senior play to filling key positions on the football team. James is a high school freshman; middle-schooler Luke continues to homeschool, and the youngest, Joseph, just started fourth grade at the parish school.

“Things are going really well and I’m comfortable,” she had told God in her prayer. She assured God it wasn’t that she didn’t trust him – rather, “I don’t know that I trust myself.”

Taking this all to her spiritual director, Nauertz’s “clear, direct answer” from God was confirmed, accompanied by the reminder that he “doesn’t call you for comfort.” She moved forward as a willing vessel, but also with a clear sense of not wanting to lose sight of her primary vocation while she’s trying to evangelize others.

“With this in mind, I am looking forward to working with the faithful people of our diocese to support marriages and families,” she said.

Nauertz was a little overwhelmed at the “mile-long” job description for the associate director of Evangelization & Missionary Discipleship.

The primary function is summarized as follows: “To implement evangelization and missionary discipleship in the areas of marriage preparation and family life through support to parishes as well as direct ministry to the faithful of the diocese through events and programs.”

Nauertz’s primary responsibilities will be threefold: First, moving marriage preparation from maintenance to mission. This includes assessing what is taking place, researching mission-oriented models of marriage prep, offering training and working with Dcn. Greg and Elaine Ricci to offer FOCCUS training.

Second, she will be coordinating Natural Family Planning awareness and education, which includes gauging current offerings in parishes, providing resources to pastors and working with other diocesan offices to broaden scope of implementation in marriage preparation and married couples.

Third, she will coordinate diocesan-level planning for adult evangelization and missionary discipleship. Under this falls organizing the annual men’s and women’s retreats and a diocesan family camp, as well as creating and maintaining a database of family ministry contacts and gathering and sharing information for ministries to family crisis situations – divorce, addictions, etc.

After the surprise, excitement and discernment process of accepting the role, Nauertz shared that her reaction was, “O.M.Goodness – this is exciting! To be able to work with couples and connect with so many people around the diocese that are trying to help marriages, and help couples and help families. This is what I’ve been talking about since I came to this diocese!”

Much has changed since she arrived to Spooner more than two decades ago, but Nauertz – raised in the Diocese of La Crosse – believes that parallel to the cultural chaos is the importance of family as the foundation of society.

Having personally experienced the divorce of her parents, the tragic loss of a sibling, the highs and lows of family and friends’ health and relationship-related challenges, Nauertz affirms how much of the brokenness and confusion within families can stem from so many adults not dealing with their own life wounds and childhood hurts.

“If we don’t deal with them, they’re going to come out at some point,” Nauertz said. “It can be incredibly difficult, but at least less complicated if you can do it while you’re young.”

Nauertz affirmed that healing can be found in later decades, but that the variables of marriage and family life can complicate the process.

She hopes to help parishes enter into people’s lives and bring Christ into their personal situations, so they can give that experience to their own children.

What excites her most about making disciples is, “The focus on being a disciple of Christ and following him so that we can lead others to him. You have to learn how to follow Christ first; then we can lead others to him.”

Recounting some challenges in her own marriage, Nauertz clarified two co-existing realities: It doesn’t take major issues or addictions to shake a couple and family – but the shaking doesn’t always lead to breaking.

“Just the daily grind of life” can be like a pressure cooker, especially taking a destructive toll when carrying heavy loads alone.

During a time of particular struggle, Nauertz revealed her troubles to a close friend. She described how it “made all the difference in the world.”

Once the couple had gotten through their rough patch, she began opening up about it with others.

That was when “the floodgates poured open as far as people sharing with me all of their struggles,” she said. It was through this experience that she learned the most valuable advice was simply reassurance and support.

“You are not alone. The struggles are very, very normal. Nothing is really wrong, and it’s going to be okay.”

The reality of taking two perfectly imperfect people and sticking them together for life took on new perspective in conversations during her son’s engagement.

While wanting to be honest and prepare him for the inevitability of hard times, she also wanted to reassure him and celebrate the rightness of his excitement and anticipation for marriage. As a visual description, Nauertz explained it as the trajectory of a roller coaster with the expected ups and downs but always ascending higher, provided that both spouses are open and cooperating with each other and God.

Over and above all, she focused on their ability as a couple, with God’s grace in the sacrament, to get through and grow in each stage of marriage and family life.

Nauertz shared the experience that has most impacted her sense of peace.

It happened during a trip to Italy over New Year’s leading into 2013. Nauertz was accompanying Sr. Dominica Effertz, OSM, during a period of formation the family was in, along with two other St. Francis de Sales parish families, to become part of the founding American group of Diakonia families associated with the Servants of Mary congregation.

Asking, “Lord, why are you sending me to Italy? What lesson do you want me to learn?” Nauertz couldn’t wait to get to Rome for a big “aha” moment.

As expected, it came – but unexpectedly, it came before she ever got to Rome.

On the eve of the feast of Mary, the Mother of God – at Mount Senario near Florence, in the Tuscany region of Italy – Nauertz was praying in the monastery chapel. She was where the seven holy founders of the Servite order had their vision of the Blessed Virgin and an angel, in which their received their mission, name and habit.

In Nauertz’s own vision-like moment, she saw herself, “in my own house, changing a poopy diaper, the entire house a complete disaster. There is screaming and fighting. Then, I open my eyes, coming back to the present moment in the chapel, and I see this beautiful crucifix surrounded by angels. This is all very, very beautiful.”

She continued, “But it’s not nearly as beautiful as my chaos back home … if, Lord, I let you in it.”

Nauertz iterated her realization that yes, her life was chaos, but that was okay.

“As long as I let God into it, it’s actually beautiful,” she revealed and said she could have gone home right then and there without ever getting to Rome.

She summarized her own experience and that of so many she has listened to – that effort to keep the peace, the wish for kids to get along; the desire for no one to fight and all to treat each other in a “Christ-like” way. That “if we just …” do one thing or another, everything will be wonderful.

“But we are broken,” Nauertz added. “And if we don’t recognize our own brokenness and our sinfulness, then we don’t recognize our need for a Savior. Then we don’t run to him – in prayer, confession, in Scripture.”

“If I’m not trying to nurture my relationship with Christ, I can’t lead my kids to do that,” Nauertz said, echoing Fr. Andrew Ricci’s assertion, “You can’t give what you don’t have.”

She said many Catholics have been catechized – they intellectually know the answers – but they haven’t been evangelized. They haven’t experienced Jesus as someone real, present not just generically but personally.

“Then when times come that I don’t feel his presence, we have an experience to go back to,” she continued. “Not an emotional high, it’s that sense of peace that he is real, and I can trust him and cling to him.”

After a few months on the job, Nauertz said she has enjoyed getting to know others who are also passionate about ministering to families. She has also learned a lot about the primary words in her job description – evangelization and discipleship.

“Many of us, me included, take for granted what we think those terms mean,” she commented. “Jesus gave this mission to the church, and it is our responsibility as baptized Christians to carry this mission out. It isn’t just for priests, religious and those who are hired to do it.

First and foremost, Nauertz sees the importance of taking the time to pray, to consistently read Scripture and receive the sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation.

Secondly, she is learning about marriage preparation and enrichment resources and connecting with people. Witnesstolove.org and catholicmarriageprep.org are two resources she recommends.

Nauertz sees the necessity of using these sources while continuing to shift the focus from programs to pastoral accompaniment.

Programs should lead to relationship, she said, acknowledging that well-prepared mentors are necessary for both.

She revisits the job description one more time, noting that reading over it, she didn’t feel at all qualified.

“Given that, I would have never applied,” she noted, “but God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called.”