What a Catholic Mom of 18 Can Teach Society Today: Be Devoted to the Blessed Mother

Siblings from family of 20 share what it was like being raised by a ‘Mother of the Year.’

Clockwise from left: Close-up and extended view of the portrait of Elizabeth Bodine hanging in the North Dakota Capitol (presented: July 27, 1979; painted by: Vern Skaug); Bodine family, taken at St. Cecilia’s Church, Velva, North Dakota, in June 1957: L to R: Top: Paul, Robert, Francis, Gerald, Mark, Dale, John; Middle: Charles, William, Luella, Jenette, Audrey, Ronald; Bottom: Delores, Loretta, Elizabeth (the mother), Francis (the father), Sister Bernadette (born Patricia), Monica and Viola.
Clockwise from left: Close-up and extended view of the portrait of Elizabeth Bodine hanging in the North Dakota Capitol (presented: July 27, 1979; painted by: Vern Skaug); Bodine family, taken at St. Cecilia’s Church, Velva, North Dakota, in June 1957: L to R: Top: Paul, Robert, Francis, Gerald, Mark, Dale, John; Middle: Charles, William, Luella, Jenette, Audrey, Ronald; Bottom: Delores, Loretta, Elizabeth (the mother), Francis (the father), Sister Bernadette (born Patricia), Monica and Viola. (photo: Patti Armstrong; family photo courtesy of the Bodine family)

In 1968, Elizabeth Bodine was nationally recognized for her motherhood, selected as the national (and North Dakota) “Mother of the Year.” She and her husband, Francis, raised 18 children on a farm in the rolling prairies of north-central area of the Peace Garden State.

She was also awarded North Dakota’s Theodore Rough Rider Award in 1979 during the National Year of the Child, recognizing her years of humanitarian aid, which included assisting the Native American population in the area, contributing clothing and food to relatives in Poland during World War II, and sending boxes of clothing to Vietnam.

Six of the eight living Bodine siblings shared memories of their mother with the Register. Everyone described her as organized, gentle, even-keeled, an excellent cook and a devout Catholic. 

The children all married except for one, Patricia, who became a Benedictine nun, Sister Bernadette. 

There were 100 grandchildren. 

Although neither Elizabeth nor Francis had gone past eight grade, most of their children graduated from college, with the boys usually getting sport’s scholarships. Nine served in the military (eight sons and one daughter as a military nurse), and 10 were teachers at some point in their careers.

“I was the youngest, born on Aug. 6, 1942,” William, 81, told the Register. He taught high-school math, coached wrestling and football, and was an athletic director. “When I was born, Luella was 24, married and living on a farm. The last five of us were boys, including one of the two sets of twins. My father was 60 when I was born, and Mom was 44.”

He explained the family chronology. Elizabeth (1898-1986) was born in Poland but spent most of her youth in Germany before her family came to the U.S. in 1912. She married Francis (1882-1971) in 1917, meeting him through working as a maid for his parents while he homesteaded 3 miles away. The couple honeymooned for three months, traveling from Washington state to California and visiting family, before returning to a sod home southeast of Velva to start their life together.

Elizabeth and Frank Bodine’s wedding photo, 1917
Elizabeth and Francis Bodine’s wedding photo, 1917

Luella was born in 1918, followed by Viola, Francis, Jenette, Paul, Dolores, Loretta, Charles, John, twins Mark and Monica, Audrey, Bernadette, the second set of twins Robert and Ronald, then Gerald, Dale, and, finally, William. 

The children were an integral part of the 800-acre farm. They lived in a five-bedroom, two-story house, often sleeping three to a bed. Elizabeth’s parents also lived with them for many years. Not until the late1940s did electricity and plumbing come to rural North Dakota, which meant washing laundry by hand, relying on lanterns, using an outhouse, and taking baths in a galvanized tub with water heated up on a coal-burning stove in the kitchen. 

“Back in those days, there were a lot of large families,” William recalled. “The only recognition we got is that so many served in the military, and we were well-known athletes in high school and college. We’d come in from the fields and have dinner at noon. Then, we’d play football or baseball for an hour until Pop said, ‘Okay, boys, time to go back to work.’” Work included grain farming and raising cattle, pigs and chickens.  Plow horses helped with the work.

Regarding his mother, William recounted, “I remember she really got into the Christmas spirit, starting with a big tree with a lighted angel on top. We went to Christmas midnight Mass and opened presents afterward, staying up to 3 a.m. Baking for Christmas began weeks ahead of time.”

William noted that his mother volunteered and did charitable work at their parish, St. Cecilia. A lady at the church, Ann Rodella, nominated Elizabeth as “Mother of the Year” for North Dakota, and the accolades advanced from there. “When I go to church here in Velva — daily — her picture is hanging near a side door, so I see her every time,” he said. “The spiritual collectiveness of family, faith and farm molded together so that everyone stayed loyal. Sure, we didn’t always get along, but we always had a sense of family and loyalty, and it all emanated with our parents. They were both hard workers. Pop was very demanding, but when he expressed frustration, Mom let it roll off her like water on a duck’s back.”

“Mom had a combination of a strong and a soft heart,” William explained. “Her spiritual well-being must have come out to a lot of people around her for this award to have been pushed from a small town in North Dakota. Her solid faith commitments, the simple life she lived, and what she accomplished emphasizes where we should all be. Mom was outward with her faith; she expressed it. I know Pop would stay up at night and open a Bible by himself, but he never discussed anything.”


Bodine family 1943
William (Bill, No. 18) was born in August 1942 and looks to be about 1, so the family estimates that this family photo was taken in 1943. Francis and Paul were on active duty in the Army Air Corps and were not present for the picture. Space was provided for their photos to be added later, which they were. L to R: Top: Jenette, Viola, Luella, Delores, Loretta; Row 3: John, Mark, Paul, Francis, Charles; Row 2: Francis (the father), Monica, Patricia, Audrey, Elizabeth (the mother); Bottom: Dale, Robert, Gerald, Ronald and William. (Photo: Courtesy of the Bodine family)

The Daughters

According to Audrey (McLaughlin), 90, who lives with her daughter and son-in-law in Thousand Oaks, California, the girls mostly cooked, cleaned and helped with childcare. 

“I liked taking care of the little kids more than cooking,” she said. “The last two or three were born in the hospital, and I was so disappointed. The neighbor, Mrs. Hawthorn, was a midwife. The doctor was 15 miles away and sometimes wasn’t there, but she was always there. When Ron and Rob were born, we were so excited that there were two of them.” 

Audrey described her childhood as fun with built-in playmates and time given to play. Spiritual formation, however, was No. 1, she said. “We said the family Rosary every night in October, the Month of the Rosary. You never went to sleep without kneeling by your bed saying the ‘Angel of God’ prayer. To this day, I have a strong relationship with my guardian angel.”

“I am very grateful for the parents I had,” she added. “I think I had a perfect mom. I never heard her complain.”

Monica (Goetze), who turns 92 next month, noted that she and Audrey are the only girls still alive. Her twin, Mark, is also still living. She moved to Eugene, Oregon, to join a sister, Dorothy; worked as a secretary; and met her husband there. “We all had the same impression of our mother: very even keel, intelligent and steadfast,” Monica shared. “She learned Latin and Greek in Germany, which is probably why she picked up English so easily. Our mother could do everything. She could sew and remodel our clothes. When we needed a new floor, she painted over our linoleum and made a design on it.”

Although their mother never appeared overwhelmed, Monica said traveling to New York to accept the award was probably an overwhelming experience. “She was very glad to return home,” she said. “Afterwards, she got so much mail from all over the world. She loved that.”


Gentle Diplomacy 

John, the oldest living sibling, turns 94 on June 1. He lives in Minneapolis and was a teacher before working for a corporation. “My mother was the go-between between us and our dad,” he recalled. “If we wanted something, we asked our mother, and she would ask our dad. She communicated between the children and my dad, who had his hands full running the farm.”

John recalled his mother’s excellent cooking, which included many German dishes and baking eight loaves of bread daily. “In the summer, the nuns from Minot would come spend two weeks teaching catechism at the church. At the end, my mother would invite them all to the farm for a big chicken dinner. There would be five to seven nuns and the priest. Years later, I went to a church dinner and the visiting priest who was a speaker talked about this big farm family from Velva that invited them out for a big family dinner. He didn’t even know I was in the audience.”

Dale, 83, worked as a mechanical engineer and now lives southeast of St. Cloud, Minnesota. “My favorite memories are that she was a real good cook, worked hard and never complained,” he said. “I remember fixing carpet on the steps with her when I was 8 or 9.” Another less pleasant memory that he recalled exemplified his mother’s calm nature. She earned extra money selling eggs, usually collecting 24 dozen to sell in town. The box of eggs was almost full one afternoon when the boys started an egg fight in the hen house that soon expanded to the box of eggs ready for sale. “Bill and I and Gerry were left out of discussions — we were the youngest. If she yelled at anyone, it wasn’t us, the youngest ones, but I heard that she had cried.”

He noted that Elizabeth had a heart for everyone. “Our mother had a happy disposition and good friends. Back then, Methodists didn’t think much of the Catholics, but Glenna Evashenco, a Methodist, and Mom were best friends.”

Ron Bodine, 86, one of the twins, taught biology and chemistry and coached at Bishop Ryan Catholic School in Minot and also at North Dakota State University. “My father was Irish and French, and Mother full-blooded German,” he said. “They got along great. I never saw an argument. Father was the boss, but mother was an implementor; whatever the situation, she implemented the assignment.”

“Mom had help from her daughters,” he said, “but, basically, she nurtured the relationships and did a great job. There’s not a word I could bring up that was negative against my mother.”

Elizabeth was also devoted to the Blessed Mother. “She and my father said the Rosary together every night,” Monica said. “My dad had to get a loan from the bank every year, and my mother would go to St. Leo’s Church in Minot to pray a Rosary while he would go to the bank. They were so trusting in God.”