When Al and Mary Laylan of Tomah started dating just before their 1983 high school graduation, their future was unknown. They just liked being together. Now, after 33 years of marriage, they look back and see nothing but blessings in their life together. “You can never imagine the joys that God has for you,” Al says.
From the beginning, their focus was on love and family. At first, family was Al and Mary, but when their oldest son Ryan was born, they purposely added Jesus and the Church to their family. “In your young years, you kind of get away from the Church,” says Mary. “When we had Ryan, we made a conscious decision to go to church. Looking back, that decision swirled us into this life. We see all the graces our family has been blessed with.”
In 1991, Al and Mary moved to Tomah with sons Ryan and Daniel. Mary was also pregnant with identical twins, Christopher and Kyle. The couple knew no one, but quickly found a family in St. Mary Parish, now Queen of the Apostles. “The parish really opened its arms to us, making us welcome,” Al says.
Parishioner Pat LaSavage gathered support from the parish, sharing there was a new family with four boys under the age of 3. “They started this meal train,” Mary says. “They brought us a meal every week.”
The parish family gave strength to Al and Mary. Feeling overwhelmed by the help, Mary remembers being in her kitchen with Pat. Mary told Pat, “You are doing so much for me and I can’t pay you back. She said, ‘One day, Mary, you will be able to pay it forward.’ It was very meaningful to me.”
The couple’s Faith blossomed, and they became active members. Al joined the Knights of Columbus. “I became quite active. Sometimes I wonder how I found the time for it,” he says. “What spare time I had I tried to use wisely.”
Mary and Al didn’t limit themselves when it came to the parish. They immersed themselves. Their sons, Ryan, Daniel, Christopher, Kyle and Eric, learned from a young age the joy found in a parish family. “It felt like home, because people made us feel welcome and became our friends,” says Al. “We made a decision early on to be faithful to Mass on the weekend and to the parish. We made it a point to give what we could to the parish, not just our treasure but our talent.”
They served on the Parish Council and the Finance Council. Mary was active in PTA while the boys were in school. For years, Mary and Al put on a Mardi Gras dance before Lent. They would bring in polka bands to make an evening to remember. “We were pretty busy back then,” Mary says.
We made a decision early on to be faithful to Mass on the weekend and to the parish.”
The door to the Laylan house was always open to the parish shepherds. The priest wasn’t a stranger. “We made a point that the priests were part of our life and to invite them for dinner,” Al says. “We would bring them in so they would sit at the table with us. The kids early on came to realize priests were part of the family.”
“It was important to know you could speak to the priest,” says Mary. “It was neat to watch the boys. Father (Joseph) Hirsch would just come over and play guitar for them. He got them involved in the Dare to Follow Days. The twins went to anything the diocese offered. They liked to do it because they enjoyed the priests.”
“We lost our fathers at an early age,” Al says. “The kids never really had grandfathers. There were a lot of people in the parish who served as grandfatherly figures to the boys. We have a lot of really good role models. Not just for the kids, but for me. I learned a lot of how to lead my life by watching those men.”
Faith and family were the center of the Laylan home. Sundays were special and just for family, with only a few exceptions over the years. The boys were always active in sports, but if a sport had games on Sundays, the Laylans did not participate.
“We had family dinner every Sunday,” says Al. “It was the norm.” “No cell phones and no interruptions,” Mary says.
In their work as franchise owners for Culver’s Restaurants, Al, Mary and their son Ryan bring Faith and family to customers and staff. “The business is always seen as much more than a business,” says Al. “It’s an opportunity to care for people through the business. We do that with charitable donations.”
Employees come to Mary and Al with prayer requests because the couple doesn’t hesitate to talk about Faith. “St. Anthony has come through for us on a couple of occasions and we share those stories,” Mary says.
The five boys carry the parents’ Faith, too. “The twins, Chris and Kyle, both had the connection,” says Mary. “The ladies would point to them and say, ‘One of you will be a priest.’”
“I was talking to Monsignor Steven Kachel and I said I thought Chris might be a priest,” Al says. “He looked at me and said, ‘No, it’s going to be Kyle.’ Kyle kept the connection with Monsignor Kachel. He has been a wonderful example of how to live your Faith and be joyful. Nothing stops the guy. Kyle is really close to him.”
Monsignor Kachel’s prediction about Kyle was correct, while Chris found himself called to medicine. “We have a doctor of the soul and a doctor of the body,” says Mary.
The experience of having a son in seminary and ordained to the priesthood has been a joy for Al and Mary. It has been two years since Father Laylan’s ordination. “That weekend was just the ultimate,” Mary says. “We, as a family, could just feel the graces. What greater glory than to see your son give up his life for God? I couldn’t be more proud of him.” “It was such a joy-filled weekend,” says Al.
The celebration, not surprisingly, included the parish family. Father Laylan’s reception was attended by 275 people and 27 priests participated in his first Mass at Queen of the Apostles Parish. “We were just so taken aback by the parish and what the parish did for his first Mass,” Mary says. “It is something we will never forget.”
The message to all five boys as they were growing up was to listen to God. “We always encouraged the boys to try and discern what God wants for them in their lives,” says Al. “If you discern what God wants for you, you will be happy. We told them not to be afraid to ask God what he wants of you.”
The heart of the Laylan family will always be the Church.
Story by Mary Kay McPartlin
Published September/October 2020 Catholic Life issue