Editor’s note: “Love is the heart of marriage and family” is an ongoing series about families in the Diocese of Superior whose practice of their Catholicism is a public witness of their faith. To suggest a feature family please contact Anita Draper at 715-394-0213, ext. 0213.
Catholic Herald Staff
Humility, said Bill Pierre, is a saving grace in family life.
“If you are not, your kids will make you humble,” he added.
Bill and his wife, Diane, are members of Nativity of Our Lord Parish, Rhinelander, and cradle Catholics who have tried to instill a strong sense of faith in their four children.
Empty-nesters for three years, the couple wants their Rhinelander home to be a place of guidance, encouragement and respite for the younger Pierres.
“That’s what we have to do at this stage,” he said.
“We love that,” Diane added.
Sam, 27, finished medical school last year and is doing his residency in Omaha, Aaron, 25, is in formation to become a Jesuit and is teaching at Brebeuf Jesuit, a prep school in Indianapolis. Becca, 23, is in graduate school studying physical therapy and will be married this fall; and Isaac, 21, is a student at Marquette University, Milwaukee.
Building a solid foundation
The Pierres moved from Green Bay to Rhinelander 12 years ago. Bill and Diane homeschooled their children throughout elementary and middle school, a decision they say built a solid foundation for their family.
“We had a great Catholic elementary school in Green Bay,” Diane said. It wasn’t the lack of options, but rather a desire to spend more time with their children and shape their education, that prompted the decision.
“We thought we would try it one year,” she said. “It lasted 18 years. It really worked well for us.”
Now a teacher at Nativity of Our Lord Catholic School, Diane taught the children while they were growing up, and Bill, an optometrist, supported the family financially. They lived frugally and still found money to travel.
“We were really blessed that we were able to do that. It resulted in making our family really close,” he said.
Time over money
Whenever he negotiated benefits at work, Bill chose time over money, a decision he says helped strengthen familial bonds. With his extra vacation time, the Pierres could pile into the family van twice a year for a road trip. Spring and fall are cheaper seasons for travel; they often camped or slept in the van, staying at hotels every few nights to clean up.
“That’s how we saw the whole country,” said Bill.
Traveling was educational as well, Diane added. The kids researched sites, met locals all over the States and learned people are the same everywhere.
Service begins at home
In their own community, the family connected with others through service projects. Every year they dedicated themselves to one charitable cause, a tradition that started with a Lenten Rice Bowl, a child’s questioning where all the poor people were, and a call to the local homeless shelter.
Service was one expression of their faith, and Diane and Bill were united in their effort to hand down Catholicism to the next generation.
In their home, faith was “not just a mom thing,” she said. “It was a dad thing as well.” Frequent praying, nightly devotions and weekly Mass were sewn into the fabric of their family life. Even after they left for college, the Pierre children continued to serve the church and their communities – they attended Catholic colleges, joined local faith groups, went on mission trips and volunteered their time.
A Jesuit in formation
After earning his bachelor’s degree at the University of Notre Dame, Aaron volunteered in Ecuador for a year. Bilingual, he lived in a poor community, worked at a medical clinic and translated for an Irish priest who didn’t speak Spanish.
He started attending a Jesuit discernment group after his return, and that’s when he shared the news of his calling.
The Pierres are deeply proud of Aaron, deeply honored that God has called their son to serve him. Still, they grieved his decision at first.
Diane envisions a home filled with grandchildren. At 23, Becca is the first to be engaged – she will be married to fiancé Matt Campbell in October – but Aaron had a girlfriend and had been accepted into Creighton University’s medical school. His parents thought his path was mapped, and they were stunned when he made the announcement.
Unlike Sam, who had discerned the priesthood in a very vocal way, Aaron didn’t talk about religious life, Bill said. For a time, everyone thought Sam would be the priest.
“We’ve come to understand that it’s really a calling,” he added.
If Diane felt the loss of future grandchildren, Bill struggled with losing a son’s obedience – once due him, now transferred to a Jesuit superior – and the family’s freedom to get together anytime, anywhere. Aaron can no longer accept personal gifts or travel at will, and those changes took some adjustment.
Forming the whole person
When the kids were growing up, Bill showed them the whole person wheel. He taught them about dividing their time wisely and leading well-balanced lives.
Contentment is something they wish for all their children, and when Bill and Diane see Aaron, they feel peace in knowing he is content. Diane prays all her children will always trust in God, “keep going back to God.”
Aaron is scheduled to profess his first vows in August.