I was thrilled when Canada’s preeminent missionary family asked me to edit their new tell-all book Brick by Brick — Building a strong family that won’t lose their faith in a secular culture.
I came back to my Catholic faith through Catholic Christian Outreach, the university student movement dedicated to evangelization that Andre and Angele Regnier founded 30 years ago.
I am one of the hundreds, if not thousands of CCO alumni now raising families and Brick by Brick is the long answer to our collective question: how do we do, what you did?
While bringing other people’s children back into the fold, Andre and Angele successfully raised five of their own faith-filled children. The three eldest along with their spouses now work as CCO missionaries, while the two youngest are still in school.
In fact, Caleb and his wife Alana Regnier serve as missionaries right here in the Diocese of Calgary at Mount Royal University.
Recently, I jumped onto a video-call with Andre, Angele, Caleb and Alana to discuss the book they co-wrote with the other immediate members of their family. It felt like a dinner table conversation, poking jokes and all, similar to the dynamic and collaborative approach they took writing the book together. The book highlights seven overarching principles while also giving lots of practical tips, so when asked to distill it down to a single word or thought, here is what they said:
Andre: Methods are many, principles are few. The method of how you raise your children, the style, can vary, but what cannot be compromised is holiness and mission. It is not something that we do in the future, we are missionary disciples from baptism. That’s the disposition we took, that’s the environment we raised (our children) in.
The fundamental principle is relationship. We raised our children to know God wants to be in a relationship with us. But we also have to believe that God wants others to be in relationship with Him. So it’s not just us, as a good Catholic, but everyone needs to be in this relationship. A heart for God and a heart for the lost.
Angele: The word that comes to mind for me is intentional accompaniment. The premise of the book is much more than how to raise a Catholic family. We are taking a particular thesis, which is if you raise your child to have a personal relationship with Christ, and to learn from the earliest stages how to share your faith, these children will grow up to have a living and active faith because it’s been fostered at the appropriate dosage at the appropriate age.
For us, holiness and mission go hand in hand, so intentional accompaniment for children is raising that child to be a disciple and missionary at age appropriate levels.
Alana: The word that comes up is hope. Being around the family during the whole process of writing the book I was able to see that raising children to be missionary disciples is not a fluke. It’s not just because it’s Andre and Angele, and they are founders, but it’s actually repeatable.
Caleb: My word would be proof. Proof that it is possible to be a family that is missionary and living holiness. It’s not just a pipe dream.
~ Caleb, you never rebelled against God or your family in any significant way. Why is that?
Caleb: I never had to have that time of pulling away because I always felt freedom. When it came to God, it was an attractive idea. There were people that I saw in my life who were living this relationship with God and that seemed like the best way I could live my life.
~ What was the relationship between freedom and obedience in your household?
Caleb: I did feel a lot of freedom to mess up, to find the answers, but they didn’t just say you figure it out on your own. When it came to Mass or youth group it wasn’t a question of –– if you don’t feel like it today you don’t have to go. It wasn’t like that. But there was an understanding that this is a relationship that can’t be forced. I needed to make that decision myself, but they also made sure I was being put in places where I could make that decision.
Alana: That’s one thing I noticed about all the kids coming in, that they all had a really well formed conscience and a desire to be obedient and not just because mom and dad said so, but because it would help their relationship with Jesus. They learnt the skills to make good decisions.
Angele: Having been a varsity athlete, Andre wanted the boys to be as competitive as he was and that’s actually where the rebellion happened, in the sporting arena of our family. He turned the boys off of wrestling for sure, and possibly competitive sport because he was so caught up in it. Praise God that sort of mentality didn’t transpire into how we approached faith with the kids.
The invitation, the gentleness in which we brought the kids into an environment that was authentic helped the kids have freedom in their faith lives. A lot of parents that I see have struggled because of their angst that their children would be as spiritual as they translate into control. For a lot of these parents, it’s driven by fear, it’s not driven by hope.
Andre: The principle is actually hope and expectation that children will submit and live their lives for Jesus. Because as parents, we are convinced that His name is powerful, and His message is compelling, and His life is abundant. We believe in the power of the Gospel. We expect that God is going to win out the day, so we are not living in fear of our children’s salvation. Although we are constantly doing a lot of course navigation. But we are not in a defensive mode. We are actually very offensive. We are bringing them along because we know they are going to want to come. Children will follow that great expectation their parents have for them.
~ What is your perspective on the Covid-19 virus?
Andre: We can look at this worldwide situation as a global missionary opportunity. Everyone around the world has entered into a Lenten experience right now. They are forced to fast — I can’t do the things I want to do right now. They are forced to almsgive — I have to give of myself. But they are also forced to pray at some level. They are asking what is this all about? We are forced into self-reflection, and it is in self-reflection that God can begin to speak to the person in their heart.
I feel this is a moment for us, the Church, to speak and let people know about who Jesus is. The love of God. The Church is here for you. If there was ever a time to invite people back, it’s now because they are already asking the question, “what is this about?”. How is it going to impact me? It’s not shallow reflection right now. It’s really internal, asking the big questions: what is the meaning of life. This is a missionary age. If ever we should be alive and active, it’s right now.
~ How can we make the best use of this time from the perspective of evangelization and mission?
Angele: I think at a base level, it’s a good opportunity to check-in with each other. The checking-in can be that little opening to have heartfelt conversations. How are you? How do you feel about things? Evangelization has to be personal. It’s not just the communication of a message. It’s an opportunity to get at some deeper experiences or feelings of fear. There is a vulnerability in people that can be awakened by checking-in. People may secretly be seeking out spiritual things online that they have not sought out before. People will be searching to make some sense about it. The attitude of the missioner needs to be very compassionate, gently leading them back to the Good Shepherd.
Alana: I am focusing on building trust and reaching out. Social media is our means right now to stir up curiosity in people. We can pray and ask God for someone to reach out to. I also think there are ways we can elicit curiosity in people through social media. We can show our lives and our reaction — the hope we have in Jesus during this time, even offering that if you need someone to talk to reach out to me.
Caleb: This past week, I’ve had dozens of one-on-one conversations with university students. Their biggest deterrents are partying and relationships. However, all of that is being striped away. They are not able to spend time with their girlfriend or boyfriend or go out on the weekends. I’ve been surprised at the amount of openness among young people right now. We are inviting people to leave their old ways and become a disciple. I’m just amazed that so many people are saying ‘yes, I want that.’
Written by Sara Francis for Faithfully
Photos courtesy of Sara Francis & CCO
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers