Michelle Briseño in front of her house for one of her 12 children. (Joyce Coronel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Michelle Briseño in front of her house for one of her 12 children. (Joyce Coronel/CATHOLIC SUN)

When you turn onto their quiet street in East Mesa, you can spot the Briseño family’s house right away: it’s the one with the 15-passenger van parked in the driveway.

The front door swings open and children —12 in all — sit strumming the guitar, playing with kittens or cuddling their stuffed animals. A Disney movie plays softly in the background and mom Michelle Briseño, holding 11-month-old Abraham in her arms, calmly explains how it is she manages a household of 14.

The short answer is simple: deep faith and a life of prayer. This is a busy home, to be sure, but what strikes a visitor is Briseño’s peace and contagious joy in the midst of it all.

“I know I am such a sinner and yet God keeps sending me children to sanctify me,” Briseño said. “That’s why I don’t complain about them, because I know I can’t make it to heaven without them.”

Life wasn’t always so simple. Briseño grew up in a Los Angeles suburb in a home marred by domestic violence. There were nights she and a younger brother would cower in bed, praying the rosary together in Spanish on their fingers.

“Although I grew up in that situation, I do thank God for my mother’s gift that she gave to me — a prayer life,” Briseño said.

At 17, she became pregnant. “The biological father pretty much abandoned me,” Briseño said. Afraid for the future, she scheduled an abortion but didn’t go through with it.

“With my oldest son, I was headed for trouble for sure and that was God’s way of saying, ‘No, you’re not going down that road. I have other plans for you,’” Briseño explained. She met and later married her husband, Giovanni.

Raising the children, she said, has helped her become a better person.

“I would be — thinking of where I was — I would still be that person if it wasn’t for them, if it wasn’t for them being here,” Briseño said.

Since those days, the couple has welcomed 11 more children —including 4-year-old twin girls. The five sons and seven daughters range in age from 20 years to 11 months. All live at home and each, except the very youngest, has rotating chores. The children are homeschooled and active at their parish, Holy Cross.

Briseño said she keeps meals simple and laundry is pretty much a daily affair. Without fail, the family gathers each evening to pray the rosary together, the children taking turns in leading the decades and finishing with a song.

With seven car seats and booster seats, getting to church for Mass on Sundays is no small undertaking. The Briseños fill a pew and the boys often help their father with Knights of Columbus activities at the parish. The older kids often volunteer serving meals to the homeless and poor at Paz de Cristo.

Like any family, Briseño said the children sometimes quarrel amongst themselves. When her 16-year-old was hit by a car last February, however, she was touched by the way siblings banded together in support of their injured brother.

What she loves about being Catholic: I’ve always felt like a baby being cradled in her mother’s arms in my Church. I love the sense of community, seeing Christ in other people. We are living in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. I feel God has allowed us to see and experience truth in

our Church.

Parish: Holy Cross

Apostolate: Homeschooling 12 children

Year of Faith Quote: The one prayer we are constantly saying is a prayer that I learned as a teenager: “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I love you. Help me to love others and myself the way You love me.” To me, in our family, that is our most perfect prayer. You say it five times, and that pretty much sums it all up. That’s the greatest commandment. When we’re at loss for words or when there’s a squabble going on, it’s easy to pray it.