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Generating Faith

The Reisenauers live and pass on the Catholic faith by word and deed

By John Burger

It’s been a long time since anyone has used horses and mules in farming, but for the Reisenauers of Richland, Washington, the stories are still alive. That’s because the children of Michael and Cindy Reisenauer have a grandfather whose tales from the old days in Eastern Washington are lively and memorable.

“He likes to talk about growing up in Colton, Washington, which is in an area known as the Palouse, and the big horses they used, the combines they ran on the hills, with a set of mules and half a dozen men,” said Michael of his father, Andrew. “Everyone would go from one farm to another, helping out. They all helped each other. My mom, at the time, was part of the kitchen crew, keeping these guys fed.”

Michael and Cindy Reisenauer are shown with three of their four children Monica, Mark and Paul.

It was a Catholic community, he added. “The only church in town was a Catholic one.”

Michael Reisenauer, his wife of 28 years, and their four children were a Knights of Columbus runner-up Family of the Year at the 2015 Supreme Convention. Yet the honor could have extended to the couple’s own parents as well. When you talk to the Reisenauers, one thing that comes across strongly is the intergenerational dynamic, the sense of family tradition and values being passed down from one generation to the next.

“When the award was being presented, I thought it was going to my father: he's the head of the family,” Michael said. “In a way, we pretty much feel like ambassadors for the ‘clan.’ When we finally had a chance to think about ‘why us’ for the award, the thought that came to mind was, ‘We're just living our lives the way we were taught.’ We realize, however, that it's my parents and my wife’s parents, and both extended families that make us better, and in return we make them better.”

Michael, who is grand knight for the Richland Council 3307, traces his family from “two German boys who came here in the 1800s,” right down to the generation that is now hearing all those family stories and their valuable lessons. He and his wife have four children – Aaron, 26; Mark, 24; Monica, 22; and Paul, 18, as well as 28 nieces and nephews.

So the same kind of charitable instinct that spurred Michael’s mother, Alethea Reisenauer, to go shopping for the homebound in her free time now motivates his son Paul to give up summer vacations to serve on a Native American reservation. Paul spent the past two summers attending a Catholic camp at the Northern Cheyenne Native American reservation in Ashland, Montana, and in Reno, Nevada.

“It was a big thing for him to see the other Catholic youth at camp. He was impressed by the support they got from his own parish, to see that people they didn’t even know would sponsor them and give them money,” Cindy said. “He saw some really poor people and how they live, and the gratitude they displayed to the kids, the community they developed among the kids who were helping—it was an inspiring experience for him that sparked an interest in church that was kind of waning in high school.”

Service is manifested in other ways as well. The eldest child, Aaron, is a military veteran who now serves in the Marine Corps reserves. But much of the service is offered as a family.

“Mike takes the lead in annually organizing the slide show and t-shirt sales for the parochial school’s major fundraiser,” an annual sausage festival, said Past Grand Knight Jerry Rhoads. “With a very limited initial budget, the family planned a pancake breakfast fundraiser that raised over $10,000 to help finance the youth mission.”

Father Thomas Champoux, pastor of Christ the King parish in Richland, added, “Every pastor and parish should enjoy the presence and participation of a family like Mike and Cindy Reisenauer. I regard Mike and Cindy and their children as an exemplary Catholic family.”

Referring to an annual parish event that benefits a mission church in Alaska, Rhoads said, “Mike can usually be found in the kitchen scrubbing pots and pans, while Cindy is on the serving line. Their kids were part of the Boy Scouts crew that helped serve.”

He added that Michael, who is a graphic designer by trade, has also lent his talents to help produce materials for a number of parish and Knights’ activities.

Rhoads called him a “servant leader.”

The tradition of service is long in the family, and it includes building the Christmas manger scene in the church, a practice started 53 years ago by Michael’s father.

“Nieces and nephews help out. It’s a fairly big scene, complete with trees and hand-carved figurines straight from Italy,” said Michael. “The kids always look forward to doing this and the visit to their grandmother’s gravesite after.”

Alethea Reisenauer died just before Christmas 10 years ago.

For Michael, being a Catholic family is all about keeping the faith he received from his elders and now seeks to pass on to the next generation.

“Every Sunday committing to being at church, participating where possible,” he said. “At home or when we’re out at a restaurant, saying grace before a meal.” That simple prayer in public is itself an example. These days, especially, he said, “You might be the only ‘Bible’ somebody sees.”

John Burger is news editor of Aleteia.org