Mike and Sandy live their Scouting pledge
Our world is in dire need of care, kindness and clear models of selflessness. The family, the core and foundation of society, is where these qualities are fostered. “It is in the family that children learn their first and most important lessons of practical wisdom, to which the virtues are connected.” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, #210) In a sense, family life is a training ground for the virtues that can shine light into our broken world.
If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” – paraphrased from Mother St. Teresa’s Nobel Peace Prize transcript
The Brierton family of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Knowlton has always put a high priority on family time and fostering a commitment to service—to one another and the wider community. Tom and Bonnie have two children: Michael (18) and Sandy (17). They lived in the Stevens Point School District when their children became school age, but Bonnie worked in Weston and Tom traveled for his job. This distance complicated pick-up and drop-off arrangements, so the children were open-enrolled in Wausau schools, attending elementary school only five minutes from Bonnie’s workplace.
However, living a half an hour from friends and potential extracurricular activities at the school, the Briertons took advantage of this unique opportunity. They cherished the time they were able to spend as a family and made that a priority over school activities. The commute afforded Bonnie and the kids time to discuss their day and quiz one another on school subjects. Evenings and weekends found the family sharing in outdoor activities—fishing, boating and walking the dogs. Bonnie and Tom admit that their kids “most likely spent more time doing activities with their parents than most,” but all family members seemed to have thrived because of it.
One extracurricular that came on the Briertons’ radar was Scouting. Though neither Tom nor Bonnie had been involved with Scouts growing up, Michael wanted to join, then Sandy when she became old enough. The Boy Scouts of America and Girl Scouts upheld the family’s desire to give back to the community, and the associated events were something that the whole family could take part in together. “When the kids volunteered for community service events with the Scouts,” Tom and Bonnie explain, “we and their other siblings were encouraged to attend as well to help with the project.”
Additionally, the Briertons share, “We believe in lifelong learning and Scouting provides this through the various badges and activities they provide. We quickly learned the other important skills and lessons that Scouting could provide: It helps youth develop self-confidence, ethics, leadership skills and citizenship skills—all the important skills to help with their adult lives.” As a family, the Briertons have come to realize how Scouting and the Church complement one another. They have come to find that they have parallel morals and values of serving others, creating a sense of community, encouraging conservation and sustainability in being stewards of the land, a gift from our Creator. The oath for both Boy and Girl Scouts states their willingness to do their duty to God and their country, a point the Briertons take to heart. The family encourages this, saying, “Everyone has something to give back to the community, with time or talent. We need to look at what skills we have and find ways to use them to help our community.”
Julie Studinski, the youth minister at St. Francis Xavier Parish, was quick to notice the family when she first arrived. “Their commitment to service, devotion to their Faith and overall love for one another were evident. They are always asking how they can help the parish and community.” Sandy taught CCD last year and organizes the parish participation in HOPE foundation for new mothers. She and Michael were also altar servers. The family assists with many other programs, events and fundraisers at the parish and offers a hand in many quiet but essential ways.
Within Scouting, Sandy achieved her Marian religious award and Mike attended the Ad Altare Dei (to the altar of God) program, which helps Catholic youth develop a fully Christian way of life in their Faith community. The program is based on the seven sacraments and fosters spiritual growth and a deeper relationship with God and His Church.
Mike got to know two other Scouts from the council with whom he found a common connection in the Faith. The three continued their Boy Scout religious path by working on the Pope Pius XII program together, and their friendship continues today. Mike shares, “I have focused my Scouting years on following God’s commandment to ‘love one another’ and the Scout oath to ‘help other people at all times.’ My entire life I have been blessed to have mentors from family, school, church and Scouting to help and guide me in the right direction.”
Mike, who graduated from D.C. Everest High School last year, has attained the highest ranks of Scouting and many accolades along the way. He is an Eagle Scout in the Order of the Arrow and has earned all 139 possible badges within the Boy Scout organization, an achievement fewer than 500 have accomplished throughout the Scouts’ 100-year history. Bonnie and Tom reminisce, “When Mike suggested he wanted to earn all the merit badges, we discussed this at the dinner table one night. This would take hundreds of hours and involve commitment in locating badge clinics, merit badge counselors and traveling to locations for this. We realized the importance of this goal to Mike, the skills and knowledge he would develop, and we agreed this was a family goal we wanted to achieve.” Mike’s efforts, along with the great sacrifice and support of his family, paid off and he achieved his goal last year.
Sandy sits on the Girl Scouts’ Board of Directors as a youth member for her regional council and is currently working on her Gold Award—equivalent to the boys’ Eagle Scout rank. Mike and Sandy’s family supports their goals and accomplishments, be it in Scouting, academics, careers or their Faith. Their parents are helping these two become the best versions of themselves.
Some of the Brierton’s hobbies even involve acts of service. They enjoy family time and watersports at their cabin in Wautoma and, in the winter, Tom and Mike are avid snowmobilers. Mike completed his Eagle Scout project for their local club, the Junction City Sundowners, by replacing an aging bridge and updating signage on their trails. Whatever it is they are doing, you’ll usually find them together.
The unity and self-sacrifice modeled by the Briertons are what St. John the XXIII spoke of when he said, “The charity which burned in the household at Nazareth should be an inspiration for every family. All the Christian virtues should flourish in the family, unity should thrive, and the example of virtuous living should shine brightly.”
Story by Amy Eichsteadt
Published in the December 2022 issue of Catholic Life Magazine