Congressman Sean Duffy, R-Wis., and his wife, Rachel Campos-Duffy, both former cast members on MTV’s Real World show in the 1990s, have much to say about their real life as parents of six children in a culture that challenges their Catholic faith and values.
Their atypical family is what strengthens them as they navigate the political and cultural worlds where they insist on having a voice — Rachel as a blogger, author and pundit with a Catholic viewpoint, and Sean, who represents Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District.
After her Real World stint, Rachel was a guest host on ABC’s The View and was up for a co-host position twice, the first time auditioning against Lisa Ling. Two years later, when Elisabeth Hasselbeck was chosen over Rachel, it stung for a day or two, she recalls, but with two children and another on the way, the draw to stay home was stronger than the attention she was getting on the national airwaves. The nesting instinct took over.
She writes about that day when Hasselbeck took the stage in the first chapter of her book, Home, Stay Happy: 10 Secrets to Loving At-Home Motherhood (Celebra Trade, 2009).
Recalling that time now, she says, “I realized I was doing what God wanted me to do. I also became alarmed at how not valued staying at home was in the culture as a whole. It got me thinking of what was going on in the culture. That was the impetus for writing the book. If I was on The View, I would be second guessing myself and having some regrets about not being home. I realized that I was happier at home.”
Technology has allowed her to continue working from their Ashland, Wis., home, and she is frequently sought by national media to comment on issues from her perspective as a conservative, Latina, stay-at-home mom. A former blogger on AOL’s ParentDish.com, Rachel now writes for CatholicVote.com and is also heard weekly on Relevant Radio’s Morning Air show.
“I am really grateful, because I feel like I’m connected to the world in a way my mother and mother-in-law were not. There are a lot of things happening in the culture that affect my kids, and I want to have a voice in that,” says Rachel.
Those same sentiments drove Sean to run for office. The former Real World-er and commentator for ESPN Great Outdoor Games is also a nationally known professional lumberjack. It was a skill he learned while growing up in Hayward, Wis., the 10th of 11 kids, and helped him pay for law school. He served as district attorney for Ashland County before being elected to Congress in 2010.
“I saw that the country was going in a direction that could harm my kids, and I felt I could make a positive impact,” says Sean. “Against all odds, we launched this endeavor together as a family. It was truly a team effort.”
If we want a country that has a Christian and Catholic worldview, then we have to get involved in politics, adds Rachel: “We both believe that so much of the social ills that we’re seeing come from a lack of respect for life.”
Barbara Lyons, executive director for Wisconsin Right to Life, met the Duffys when Sean was a candidate.
“Congressman Duffy is a refreshing change from the previous office holder, who had a strong pro-abortion voting record,” says Lyons, adding that Rachel has much to offer as well. Rachel spoke at several WRTL events this spring and was “wonderfully received.”
“Rachel Campos-Duffy is a wonderful resource to the right-to-life movement, who studies the culture and gives important insights into how it is being impacted. She looks at what’s going on from her own distinct viewpoint and offers insights that we maybe wouldn’t recognize, so she’s really an important spokesperson on families, the culture and life,” says Lyons. “Both Sean and Rachel are wonderful advocates for life.”
Sean says he is blessed to be among a class of 87 freshmen Republicans who are one of the best pro-life/pro-family groups that have come to Congress. More members of Congress were at the March for Life in January than ever before. Rep. Duffy spoke at the march and hosted coffee and doughnuts at his office for Wisconsin pro-lifers. One of his first congressional acts was to vote against funding Planned Parenthood. While the pro-life movement is winning over more people, he says, the push to redefine marriage is a greater challenge.
“That debate is going to continue to rage on. If you look at what’s happening in the culture, there are groups that want to desensitize our youth on the issue,” says Sean. “We have to do a better job advocating for marriage between one man and one woman. It’s important for all of us to re-engage.”
While he and Rachel consider the life-and-marriage issues critical for these times, the economic issues weigh heavily, too.
“My life is pro-life. Rachel and I have six kids, we’re living our faith, and so that’s part of who I am,” says Sean. “But on the economy side, I am very concerned with the debt and the deficits. If we continue to borrow and spend on our current path, we’re going to find ourselves hard-pressed to help people who are truly in need. Where are we going to be 40 years from now? This time period will be written about whether we failed or pulled through. I do feel hopeful for our future.”
Sean’s new political office upended the Duffy home, but it has forced them to find ways to put their family first. He chose not to live in Washington so that he would be home on weekends and during legislative breaks. The Duffys pray together, attend Mass on weekends and holy days, and daily Mass as much as possible, and they talk regularly about the challenges and issues that they face.
Family is the domestic church, says Rachel, and it is within the home that they want to form their kids to have a faith-based view of the world.
“The Church is so wise to offer this as the model to raise our kids,” she says. “I’m called to make the faith come alive in my home. That’s my focus. Sometimes all we can do is hold our rosary beads.”
Staying grounded in the faith is critical in helping Sean deal with what they both deem a captivating environment, well aware of the temptations that exist in the midst of the country’s power center.
“You have to rely on your faith to be successful here,” says Sean. “You see a lot of good people come here that are idealistic and have good morals and good values, and you see them do really stupid things that jeopardize their families and their marriages. That can happen to anybody.”
Adds Rachel, “If I didn’t think Sean was a good man with good intentions to do the right thing, it’s just not worth the sacrifice on the family.”
Barb Ernster writes from Fridley, Minnesota.