Family Fully Alive Articles


‘Not Perfect’ Is Good Enough

Bell family of Wyoming embodies Catholic values

By Brian Caulfield
Editor, Fathers for Good

James Bell wants you to know one thing for sure. Before you can say how cute his little ones are, how mature and responsible his teens seem, or ask how he and his wife keep a glow on their faces and a glint in their eyes amid a hectic home life, he says with a smile: “We’re not a perfect family.”

This was his first message to a ballroom of applause at the Knights of Columbus Supreme Convention last August, where the Bells were honored as the 2014 International Family of the Year. He and his wife, Stefanie, and their nine children stood on the stage with Supreme Knight Carl Anderson and other dignitaries of the fraternal Order, as James Bell said:

“We are not a perfect family – just ask anyone who saw us come in to the first convention Mass yesterday morning. We require three miracles just to get to Mass; two just to find shoes and one for an empty pew. I once asked one of my kids to find his shoes and the first place he looked was up. Up? I have never found a pair of shoes hiding on the ceiling. But that’s us, a family trying to live our faith, raise our children, and get to heaven.”

A sense of humor combined with a sense of balance and perspective help the Bells get through the noise and commotion that come with large families. Living in a close-knit community with the supportive help of St. Anthony of Padua parish in Cody, Wyo., is a big plus. It also helps to have a touch of western wisdom learned from the hard realities of the land.

“Picture a tree,” James Bell continued in his convention speech. “Our trees in Wyoming have a tough time. They all lean about 15 degrees to the east because of Wyoming wind. You have to stake them and they still lean. The definition of an optimist in Wyoming is someone who plants a tree. Well, picture a huge tree. My family is just a little family of robins that built their nest in that tree. My family is protected by each and every leaf, all good people, their actions and their prayers. We are sheltered by each branch, St. Anthony’s parish and other Catholic parishes. We are lifted high by the massive trunk of God’s grace. We can’t claim to be a branch, we are just resting on branches. Strong branches, like my local Knights of Columbus council, have provided charity, unity and fraternity to us as a family.”

The names of the “robins” are Ashlen, Hallie, Taylor, James, Kateri, Michaela, Cecilia, John and Felicity.

Bell is an optometrist, an eye doctor for the community. He chose that profession partly because he wanted to co-own a business that would allow him to stay close to what he and his wife prayed to God would be a large family. They staked their family tree firmly against the wild winds of a culture that counsels “planned parenthood” based on contraception and the backup of abortion. Like a healthy tree, they have grown roots in the community and branched out with their pro-life message.

In 2005, as an alternative to an event sponsored by a local family planning organization, the Bells held a “Horton Hears a Who” culture of life event, with the theme “A Person is a Person, No Matter How Small.” It is now an annual event, with support from the local Knights of Columbus.

James and Stefanie also led the campaign to raise funds to purchase an ultrasound machine for the town’s pro-life pregnancy center, through matching funds from the Knights of Columbus Ultrasound Initiative.

As a family, the Bells have suffered their share of heartbreaks, especially in the early death of Matthias, who passed away three days after birth. Amid the grief and feeling of loss, they consider their baptized child the family’s intercessor from heaven.

Everyone is sure to ask them how they find time to be active outside the home. Stefanie and another mother started a group called “Mary’s Mom,” providing support, instruction and prayer for young mothers. In addition, she and her husband are parish marriage mentors, and have helped with youth pilgrimages to Rome.

James summed up the “secret” to their family life when accepting the family award. “We consecrate it to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, without whom we can do nothing,” he said.

This is the first of a series of profiles highlighting the new Knights of Columbus initiative Building the Domestic Church: The Family Fully Alive, which includes a guide book offering monthly tips on how to bring prayer and fun activities into your family.