With a little help from Saint Leo, Michelle and Mike Fritz – parents of 11 homeschooled children – decided on a name for their youngest son and found a way they could complete their college degrees online.
Michelle and Mike Fritz were not familiar with Saint Leo University when they were deciding on a name for their eleventh child.
After almost losing her life with the birth of her tenth child, Michelle had been told that another pregnancy could be fatal for both her and her unborn baby. A devout Catholic, she believed that God clearly had other plans when she gave birth to a healthy son.
For such a feisty little guy who defied all medical odds, Michelle and Mike wanted a strong name.
"I prayed that God would reveal his name to me," she says. "I kept hearing Leonidas. So I looked it up in the saints book and found him to be the patron saint of large families. That was a good sign."
About the same time, Michelle and Mike, residents of Villa Rica, Ga., started hearing commercials on a local radio station for Saint Leo University. "Another sign!" says Michelle.
Finally, when Michelle started looking at the writings of Pope Leo XIII, especially his prayer to St. Michael, her husband's patron saint and the patron of police officers (Mike works on a drug task force with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation) they decided: Leonidas Alexander.
"But imagine our surprise once we enrolled at Saint Leo and found out the mascot's name was Fritz," says Michelle. "I told Mike that it was meant to be."
"Biscuit boy" marries "salad girl"
While those Saint Leo radio commercials might have played a small role in helping Michelle and Mike choose their baby's name, they played a much larger part in helping the couple decide where they would complete their college degrees.
Sophomores in high school when they met, Michelle and Mike worked at the local McDonald's. "He was the biscuit boy and I was the salad girl," says Michelle.
They married less than a year out of high school when Mike, a mortarman with the U.S. Marine Corps, returned home from the Gulf War in 1991. A corporal, he also served in Somalia during the Operation Restore Hope relief efforts, missing the birth of their first child in 1993.
Over the years, Mike had taken some college-level management courses. Michelle started at a Catholic college right after high school, and despite a couple of cross-country, military-related moves, completed an associate degree. Just a few credits short of a bachelor's degree, however, the needs of her growing family intervened.
"Throughout the years, I thought about going back to finish, but the time was never right," she says.
Choosing Saint Leo online programs
Though the radio commercials made them aware of Saint Leo, Michelle and Mike chose their online degree programs in psychology (Michelle) and criminal justice (Mike) based on the university's Catholic heritage, Benedictine-inspired core values and reputation.
"I also really appreciated that Saint Leo has such high respect for the military and really works to make it easy for servicemen and women to go to school," says Mike. "As a vet, that means a lot to me."
Mike's goal is to advance in his current career with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, where he has worked for more than 15 years – and perhaps, one day, become a police chief.
Michelle just completed her bachelor's degree and will be starting a master's program in theology in the fall. Her goal is to help people work through healing – especially those facing loss – by focusing on faith, and to become a published author on similar issues. Currently, Michelle writes for two websites, Catholic Sistas and Catholic Stand, as well as maintains her own site, Tales from the Side of the Tub.
The realities of large-family life
So how do they do it all?
While their 20-year-old son, Garrett, has moved into an apartment, with 10 children still at home – Kaylie, 22; Savannah, 16; Emma, 15; Isabella, 12; Anna, 10; Benjamin, 9; Caroline, 7; Madison, 6; Jacob, 3; and Leo, 2 -- how do Michelle and Mike find time for their online degree programs?
Here they share some of the details.
How do you find time for your studies?
Mike: I typically study at night after dinner and all the kids have gone to bed. Sometimes I am able to sneak in some schoolwork during the day if we happen to have a slow day at the office.
Michelle: Like Mike, I do my studies at night, mostly when the kids are in bed. We often are up pretty late trying to get them done. When I have time in the day, I sneak in some work then too; most of the time that happens when the kids go outside to play with friends.
How do you support each other?
Mike: We check in with one another to make sure the other is keeping up on schoolwork. We bounce ideas off of one another. If one of us needs help in a subject, the other is always there to lend assistance; we encourage one another when the going gets tough.
Michelle: It helps that Mike knows what I am going through when I am down to the wire on a project or am worrying about a test. It can also be hard too. Having both of us stress during those last couple of weeks each term is difficult. But we usually try to balance one another out and so the benefits definitely outweigh the challenges.
How do you stay motivated?
Mike: Knowing that all this hard work will pay off one day and also knowing that it's not forever.
Michelle: Our children have been amazing through our time at Saint Leo. They are our biggest cheerleaders! When we are stressed over a paper or a test, they are there to tell us we can do it. After we turn in an assignment, they always ask us how we did. They truly want to see us succeed and are so happy for us when we do. It's a great motivator!
What's a typical day like?
Mike: A typical work day is from 10-7, but if we have search warrants or take downs scheduled, we will either be up before the sun or out well past sun down. There are times we work 12+ hours a day. We are on call for a week at a time; once every month and a half.
Michelle: To be honest, there is no typical day. If we don't have a crisis like a child putting diapers in the toilet and flooding the bathroom or someone tearing up school books, we try to get up, have breakfast and homeschool.
I rotate which kids are schooling at particular times. The beauty of homeschooling is that it is up to us how we do it or what we do. After lunch when little ones lay down for naps, I have more time to focus on the older kids' specific needs.
When school is done the teens play Xbox or on the computer and the younger kids go outside. The neighbor kids normally all play here so there is always a gaggle of kids at our house. Several times a day we stop to straighten the house and, in the evening, we do one last clean.
We always wait supper on Mike so we can eat as a family. That means we normally eat about 7:30. Bedtime comes quickly afterward and then Mike and I start our studies.
Is there any time for family fun?
Mike: With both of us in school there seems to be less time for family fun than I would like. School takes up a lot of our time right now, but the kids seem to understand how important it is. We still try to make time for movie night, family games and always go to church as a family.
Any advice for busy moms considering an online degree program?
Michelle: Get organized. Make sure you have time set aside for schoolwork so you won't get behind. But most importantly, trust in yourself. You can do this! When your children see how important setting goals and then really working toward them is to you, they take on those attitudes as well. You are not only bettering yourself, but you are encouraging your children to be better and do better. It is so worth the effort!
Images: Courtesy Michelle and Mike Fritz