CATO — For the children of Taylor and Katie Schmidt, “Swiss Family Robinson” could read a lot like their family’s experiences. Instead of being shipwrecked, the Schmidt family is heading on a faith journey.
On Friday, Sept. 12, the family leaves to join the Family Missions Company (FMC), a lay Catholic apostolate founded by Frank and Genie Summers in 1997. FMC, based in Abbeville, La., is dedicated to proclaiming the Gospel around the world.
Last week, the Schmidts held an auction and sold all but a couple of suitcases and backpacks so they and their four children — and twins scheduled to arrive in January — could head for Louisiana to start the journey as a family on a mission.
The Schmidts are members of Holy Family Parish in Brillion, which also serves the Reedsville and Maple Grove areas. Fellow parishioners have helped and encouraged the Schmidts.
“They have been amazingly supportive,” Taylor said.
“It’s been bittersweet, because there are so many relationships you are leaving behind with people you care about,” Katie said. “But those people have committed to praying for us and still being a part of our lives, just in a different fashion.”
Some friends are supporting the Schmidt family financially as mission partners.
“We are their hands and feet serving the poor in these parts of the world,” said Katie. “People get a lot of bang for their buck with us, I think.”
Taylor grew up in the Askeaton area and was an altar boy at St. Patrick Church, which is now a part of St. Clare Parish. He attended Brillion High School and has been a district sales manager for Great Lakes Hybrids.
The couple met as students at the UW-Fox Valley when they were both in the musical “Hair.”
Katie grew up in Neenah and was Lutheran. When they were married in 2005, Katie enrolled in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and became Catholic at the Easter Vigil in 2006.
Their children include Malachi, 7; Ruth, 6; Leo, 4; and Anthony, 2. Due by January are twin girls.
Katie told The Compass that their faith was “changed forever” when their daughter, Jane, died on Feb. 22, 2013.
“I was only two weeks pregnant when I needed emergency surgery,” she said. “God used her brief life to change ours forever.”
The experience brought them closer to each other and to God. “We used Lent to take a look at our lives. … We started reading and praying more. We attended weekly adoration and confession.”
At the time, the diocese was promoting the sacrament of reconciliation through “The Light Is On for You.”
“I can attest that (the campaign) was a major factor to our healing,” she said. “We took that time to examine ourselves and we also became more perceptive to what God was calling us to do.” It eventually led them to consider the mission call.
Even before their Sept. 12 departure, the Schmidts have made an impact on others.
Luke and Amy Bolle, friends from Reedsville and fellow members of Holy Family Parish, traveled to Louisiana in August “to see what we were getting into,” said Taylor. “They came back home and said, ‘We’ve got to do this.’”
The Bolles and their five children will start their mission training in Louisiana on Sept. 15.
The Schmidts also credit Fr. Timothy Brandt, pastor of Holy Family Parish, for inspiring their faith.
“We went to him for spiritual advice and guidance, and asked for him to help us discern (God’s will) through this process,” Taylor said. “He is a major part of this journey. As a priest, he has amazed me. Through his humility, the Holy Spirit just explodes out of him.”
“He is bringing so much of the Catholic Church to the people,” Katie said.
“I’ve never seen anyone take this kind of a leap of faith,” said Fr. Brandt. “It is pretty exciting.”
While some may see the Schmidts and Bolles as crazy, he said, “how many saints in the church’s history have been deemed crazy?”
“Craziness is just a crazy response to Christ’s call,” added Fr. Brandt. “They thought Christ was crazy too. That’s why they put him on the cross. This is a very profound statement of their desire to serve one another, a true living out of that word ‘communion.’”
There is a tradition of commitment to the missions at Holy Family Parish, said Fr. Brandt. He said a parish group goes to the Dominican Republic every year to support the diocesan mission. But what the Schmidt and Bolle families are doing is a radical response.
The Schmidts said it was a trip to the Life Teen summer camp in Prescott, Arizona, that planted the missionary seed.
Taylor helped chaperon a group from the parish and a woman there introduced him to Family Mission Company.
They then attended a four-day “Come and See” visit to Abbeville “to see if we would like mission life.”
It was a discernment opportunity for Katie and Taylor, and the Family Mission Company also made sure that the Schmidts had a commitment to doing lay missionary work.
“The second time down was for our training in Mexico,” Taylor said.
The Schmidt family will spend three months in training in Abbeville.
“The process is to train us in leading Bible studies and teaching us how to be missionaries,” Katie said. “And we are praying with them to find out where God is calling us in their missions. In November they’ll tell us where we are going.”
A commissioning ceremony will be held Dec. 10, Taylor said.
The family returns home for one month at Christmas to say goodbyes and then Taylor, Katie and their six children will be heading off as missionaries.
FMC is currently working in Santa Lucia (an island nation in the Caribbean), Spain, the Philippines, India, Ecuador, Peru and Mexico.
“The first year you don’t really get to choose where to go … but the years after that, we can go where we want,” Taylor said.
He said that would be a family decision, with the kids having input.
Neither Taylor nor Katie are worried about taking their children into mission territory.
“Initially, when I was going through the discernment process, I was concerned about it, but in total abandonment to the Lord I have faith that he knows what is best for us,” Katie said.
“We will watch (the children) as closely as we do when we go to the mall or Bay Beach,” Taylor said.
With FMC, children and parents go to the missions together.
“We have to learn how to run catechism classes, Bible studies, worship services with six little kids and deal with the distractions,” Taylor said. “That will have its challenges, but (the children) are missionaries and are probably going to be better at it than we are.”
“Kids are a wonderful gift from God,” Katie said. “God uses the kids so many times when I’m struggling with something and then (God) will speak through one of them.” And when God speaks, Taylor and Katie Schmidt have been listening.