By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Each of the 12 couples participating in a marriage preparation program at the St. Vincent Center shared a common experience — one or both partners had been previously married.
“It’s super helpful to hear from other people who have been there,” said Tina Osmun, as she and her fiancé, Brian Degen, headed to a session on stepchildren. The couple, both 38, look forward to their wedding at Our Lady of the River Catholic Church in LeClaire on April 25. They believe that the remarriage preparation program, coupled with their annulment experience, provides insight and resources on which to build a solid foundation for a sacramental marriage.
The program they participated in, “Two Become One … Embracing the Sacrament in Remarriage,” provided the framework for the 12-hour remarriage prep course, offered for the first time in the Davenport Diocese.
“It is important that our church offers those preparing for the sacrament of matrimony the most appropriate tools to help their marriages thrive,” said Marianne Agnoli, the Davenport Diocese’s Marriage and Family Life coordinator. She researched several programs and observed “Two Become One … Embracing the Sacrament in Remarriage” in the Archdiocese of Dubuque. She began recommending it to couples in the Davenport Diocese.
The remarriage prep program explores “topics unique to couples who have been married previously, such as barriers to a successful remarriage, the ‘ghost’ of the previous spouse, integration of two families, impact of the marriage on adult children/ grandchildren, finances in a blended family, etc.,” Agnoli said. The program also covers topics that all couples should discuss as they prepare for the sacrament of matrimony, such as marital spirituality, communication and intimacy.
During the program Jan. 25, couples heard presentations from speakers including Father Thom Hennen, the chaplain at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, who spoke about the sacrament of matrimony and later celebrated Mass with the couples.
He described the selfless, unconditional love of Christ, called agape, as different from romantic love or the love of friends. Look at the crucifix, he told them, the very image of Christ’s selfless love. To mirror God’s love requires grace, the grace that flows from the sacrament. “God will supply the grace through the sacrament of marriage to help you live out the marital covenant,” Father Hennen told the couples.
Hearing the stories of the couples that morning helped shape his homily for the Mass celebrated before dinner. Father Hennen reflected on Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 4, which quotes the prophet Isaiah: “… the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light …” and in that light, hope. Father Hennen encouraged the couples to make a habit of reading Scripture and to write a meaningful passage on a slip of paper to place on the bathroom mirror for their spouse to find and appreciate.
Throughout the day couples listened to presenters, asked questions, completed workbook exercises, role-played, conversed over lunch and dinner, and learned more about themselves and each other.
John and Nancy Schmidt of the Archdiocese of Dubuque served as lead presenters. Steve and Jennifer Stefani from the archdiocese presented with them. Three other couples were in training and observing.
“We’re just so thankful to have a second chance at love,” John Schmidt told The Catholic Messenger, explaining why he and Nancy lead this program. They want to train other couples to ensure that all couples entering the sacrament in remarriage receive the enrichment they need. “Helping others to see marriage as a sacrament is important to us,” Jennifer Stefani said.
Jerry and Renee Guinan of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport were among the couples in training. “I think it’s a great experience and a need in the community for people who are entering a second marriage,” Renee said. “Especially in light of the statistics regarding remarriage and blended families,” Jerry said. The day’s program provided the Guinans with a good review and ideas for their marriage of 12-1/2 years, Renee added. “God has blessed us with a sacramental marriage.” She and Jerry want other couples to experience what they experience.
Brandon Hinnenkamp and Alicia Freihammer of St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville, appreciated the customized approach of the remarriage preparation program and the strategies and resources provided. Brandon has been married previously. Alicia has not. Hearing about other couple’s situations regarding remarriage was helpful, she said. “We’re not alone; this is something other people go through,” Brandon said.
Rob Arth and his fiancée Terese Benvenuto said their pastor, Father Tony Herold of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport, encouraged them to participate in the remarriage program. Both of them discovered during their annulment process that “you need God and his grace that comes through the sacrament,” Rob said. “He needs to be at the center. He does have to be first. I think we figured that out, but today (the remarriage preparation program) affirmed it.”
“One thing that really seemed to stand out with this group of couples was the acknowledgement of the importance of keeping God at the center of their relationship,” Agnoli said. “Several couples commented that this had not been the case in their previous marriage and they wanted things to be different this time around.”
From this first presentation in Davenport, she also recognizes “the importance of having team members who have experienced death/divorce in a previous marriage to serve as hope that a healthy, thriving, Christ-centered remarriage is possible.”