By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Mary Goldermann and her fiancé, Curtis Richards, both in their 20s, met during eucharistic adoration two years ago at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport. When Curtis proposed to Mary last October, in the cathedral, of course, the possibility of a pandemic altering their wedding plans did not exist.
Five months later, the COVID-19 pandemic suspended many activities, including public celebration of the Mass and eucharistic adoration. Determined to carry on with their plans, Mary and Curtis participated in the Diocese of Davenport’s first virtual marriage preparation program Aug. 15 with five other couples, all of whom will exchange vows in the next few months.
These couples will pledge their steadfast commitment to one another, in the unbreakable covenant of marriage, in the midst of a pandemic that forces a constantly shifting “new normal.” The six couples heard from presenters who shared their experience of sacramental marriage and how their Catholic faith has guided them on the journey with its inevitable joys and sorrows, challenges and changes.
“For Better & For Ever,” a resource for couples preparing for Christian marriage, provided the topics for the program, held via Zoom video conferencing. Topics ranged from family traditions, marital communication and money matters to mixed marriages, parenting and spirituality.
“Statistics show that couples who participate in a formal marriage preparation program tend to have healthier and longer lasting marriages,” said Marianne Agnoli, coordinator of Marriage and Family Life for the Diocese of Davenport. “Essentially, the goal of the diocesan marriage preparation process is to provide our engaged couples with a solid understanding of what a Christian marriage is and to equip them with tools that will help their lifelong covenant thrive,” she said.
Tools for marriage
Presenters shared the tools that have guided them in their sacramental marriage. Mary and Danny Ready, married four years and members of Sacred Heart Parish in West Des Moines, gave a presentation on marital communication and problem solving. “The most essential point from our presentation that we hope couples walked away with is that fights happen fast, conversations happen slow. It can be easy when emotions are high to become combative when trying to talk to your significant other,” Mary said. “However, if you agree to take the time to slow down and really discuss what is going on and how you are feeling problem solving becomes a whole lot easier.”
Debbie and Matt Kissinger of St. Mary Parish in Pella, married 27 years, gave the talk on money matters and career planning. “Money is power. It can be very stressful in your relationship if you let it be,” Matt told the couples. Debbie hopes the couples recognize the importance of communication regarding money and all other issues in marriage and are willing to make changes as the years go on.
In a presentation on Natural Family Planning (NFP) by Brandon and Emily Nitcher, Brandon admitted to being skeptical at first about practicing NFP. Over time, he discovered NFP “increases communication … it allows couples to love more deeply.” The couple, married 11 years, belong to St. Mary Parish in Solon.
John and Eleni Menard, of St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf and married for 32 years, gave a presentation on mixed marriage. They shared the four essential elements of a Christian marriage: permanent and unconditional commitment, open to the gift of children, God as a partner to the marriage, and an intimate relationship with spouse and with God. “Find ways to be creative in how you worship and share faith with one another,” John advised.
For Mary and Curtis, the virtual marriage preparation program “encouraged new conversations about marriage that we will be carrying on for the rest of our lives,” Mary said. “We are thankful for the tools we have been given to approach difficulties and to overcome them as a stronger couple.”
Refocusing wedding day vision
The strengthening has begun even before the marriage takes place. Mary, a student clerk at the Davenport Library studying for her master’s degree, and Curtis, an electrical design engineer at Exelon Generation’s nuclear plant in the Quad Cities, planned a wedding with around 230 guests — family, relatives and friends. They had planned a reception afterwards in the cathedral’s Grand Hall. COVID-19 precautions curtailed the guest list. On a wedding website that they created for family, relatives and friends the couple expressed sadness about having to limit their wedding to immediate family.
Mary and Curtis have transformed sadness into an “opportunity to refocus our vision of the wedding day to further emphasize the sacramental union we are entering into with Jesus.” They quoted Pope Francis in a Feb. 14, 2014, address to an audience of engaged couples. He said, “Make [your wedding] a real celebration — because marriage is a celebration — a Christian celebration, not a worldly feast! What happened in Cana 2,000 years ago, happens today at every wedding celebration: that which makes your wedding full and profoundly true will be the presence of the Lord who reveals himself and gives his grace ….”