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placeholder Largest crowd ever of caregivers, ill join for World Day of the Sick

Program teaches leadership to Catholic school pupils

Oakland Bishop leads fight to save marriage

Marriage prep classes
help keep bond alive

Resources for engaged, married couples

Bishops’ launch efforts to reinforce church teaching on marriage

Dioceses stress importance of marriage in modern world

Young artists, musicians to gather for festival

Pauline sisters move bookstore around a corner

Lay ministers counseled on balance, rest

placeholder February 21, 2011   •   VOL. 49, NO. 4   •   Oakland, CA

Marriage prep classes help keep bond alive

Ministry teaches leaders
to show how to succeed
with the ‘ever after’

Ralph and Brigitte Desimone
josé luis aguirre photo

If you have been married in the Diocese of Oakland in the last 30 years, chances are you have already met Ralph and Brigitte Desimone.

In addition to conducting marriage preparation classes for almost 5,000 engaged couples, the Desimones, parishioners at St. Mary’s in Walnut Creek, have been training other leaders of marriage prep. Some of these leaders were prepared for their own marriages by the Desimones.

And once you are “their” couple, you stay “their” couple.

“We pray for our couples every day,” Ralph Desimone says.

Their advice, care and concern do not stop with waving goodbye at the end of the required weekend of classes for engaged couples. They are on call, 24/7, and, with the use of a speakerphone, answer questions from “their” couples, as a couple.

It’s a living example of the message of unity they share with couples who prepare for marriage within the diocese. Most of the more than 1,000 couples who will marry in the diocese each year attend a weekend retreat or a commuter weekend of classes intended to get them away from the minutia of wedding planning and into spending some time focused on the tools that will come in handy in the “ever after” part of the equation.

The Hockels

Their words still echo, more than 20 years later, for Lenna Hockel, who, with her husband, Tom, has completed training to prepare others for marriage.

“I still have my notebook,” said Lenna Hockel. The Hockels’ seven children — ages 20, 18, 17, 14, 12, 8 and 5 — accompanied them to a Mass celebrated by Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone and reception at St. Joseph the Worker Church in Berkeley Feb. 5 that recognized those who completed various ministry training programs in the Diocese of Oakland.

The festive gathering honored graduates of the St. Francis de Sales School for Pastoral Ministry, as well as students who completed certificate programs in marriage preparation, theology of the body and in social ministry.

The Hockels each, independently, was thinking of joining marriage ministry but hadn’t spoken to one another about it. For Tom, it was the battle over Proposition 8: “I needed to get on the front lines somewhere, sharing our witness of what marriage is as opposed to what society is calling it on the outside.”

For Lenna, it was that her children were approaching the age at which their parents had met: “I began thinking of their future, the progression of their relationships. How do they go from being young, happy and in love to being ready to be married?”

They said they often recall the Desimones’ words, even after two decades. “The stress on forgiveness,” said Tom. “Love is a decision, not a state of feeling. You sacrifice yourself for your spouse, as Christ did for the Church.”

The Desimones, who were married in 1975, had been active in Marriage Encounter, when they were asked by Rita Billeci, then-director of the Family Life office, to take over marriage preparation, which had been mandated by Bishop John Cummins in 1981.

“We need courageous witnesses who will teach by witness,” Ralph Desimone said.
Among them are Cindy and Brad Ikegami, parishioners at the Cathedral of Christ the Light, who have been married for three years. “We found it valuable and reassuring for us,” she said. “We wanted to do this.”

Scott and Julie Genung at St. Michael’s in Livermore have been married for 21 years. “It felt like our calling,” she said. She noted that this ministry was something we could do together. It brought us much closer together.”

A key phone call

Serena and Pedro Espinosa
josé luis aguirre photo

A phone call from Brigitte Desimone to Serena and Pedro Espinosa, seeking the number of another couple, got the young Fremont couple involved as marriage preparation leaders. The Espinosas, it turned out, were interested. Married three-and-a-half years ago, they are parishioners at Holy Spirit in Fremont.

“We knew it was the Holy Spirit calling,” said Serena.

The Espinosas — she from a North American family, he from a family in South America — have focused their efforts on the Family of Origin part of the curriculum.
“It’s actually a gift for us,” she said.

The Desimones, parents of four children, beam when they talk about the couples who work with them on preparing engaged couples for marriage.

“There’s a unity there, they’re definitely a couple each one,” said Brigitte Desimone.

The sacrament of matrimony

Ralph Desimone agreed. “We’re called as a matrimonied couple to accurately, faithfully mirror the way Christ loves his bride the Church and the way his bride loves him back,” he said. “That’s the sign of the sacrament of matrimony.”

Brigitte taught German at UC Berkeley, and Ralph worked in financial services. Their children were home-schooled.

“Because we received those graces from other couples it just seemed natural to us that we could pass that on to other couples,” Ralph said. He puts it in historical perspective. “The early Church in seed form was spread by the apostles when the communities could see how Christian men and women loved each other and show that was profoundly different in their love for each other. That’s how they came to Christianity. Never before in history had wives been treated with that dignity, that equality before God, the love of the children, the permanence, the exclusivity, no adultery, profound unity and natural joy that was visible between these couples, which drew people to the faith. And that’s still how it happens.”

Countering anxiety

At the beginning of a modern-day marriage preparation event, Brigitte said, “We see a great deal of anxiety.”

Ralph adds: “Will they be able to be happy? Will they be able to stay married?”

“There’s divorce all over,” she said. “I don’t know a family that hasn’t been touched by it. Carnage that’s left behind. These couples come from that. They still have the courage, the hope to come to the Church when they don’t know how they are going to make it work. They know they want to have a permanent marriage, a faithful marriage. They want the children to love and love them back.”

“When they start hearing the good news, this is the way it’s done. This is the direction that the Church gives us. They see the goodness of it. We get a good number of converts.”

There’s more. “We’ve had a lot of couples when they hear the good news make the decision to stop living together,” said Ralph. “We’ve witnessed over a thousand couples make the decision to stop living together.”

They estimate about 80 percent of the couples who come to prepare for marriage already share an address.

Even for Catholics, Ralph said, the distinction between civil marriage and sacramental marriage sometimes needs clarifying.

“This not flying to Vegas or standing in front of the justice of the peace,” Ralph said. “This is us entering into the love of Christ and helping him and each other in this sacrament, not just for our sake, but for the sake of those beyond us.”

Brigitte says, “It’s about what Christ came to do, bring his creatures in union with him, his divinity. That’s what happens. It brings something sublime into the world.”

The Desimones pray and attend Mass daily. “If there’s a formula, that’s it,” said Ralph. “Pray and worship together.”

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