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Workshop gives people something
to talk about

Meeting the
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St. Anne's wins
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Funding Catholic education: Donors
dig deep for Moreau Catholic

Charismatics gather
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Sister celebrates
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parent a tough conversation

Firm hires seniors
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Share your money before you die

Bishops say
retirement reforms should not contribute
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placeholder MAY 6, 2013   •   VOL. 51, NO. 9   •   Oakland, CA
Workshop gives people something to talk about

"We've been married 20 years, and this was the best thing we've ever done for our marriage." This was Terrie Gallagher's evaluation of the couples' communications workshop (Mastering the Mysteries of Love) she and her husband Mike attended last summer at the Cathedral of Christ the Light parish hall. The Gallaghers are among hundreds of couples who have participated in one of these workshops since the workshops were first offered last spring. Comments such as "the best workshop I've ever taken," "this course was fantastic," and "we would love to bring this back to our church," are frequently seen on evaluations.

Communications workshops

Couples: June 8, Sept. 14,
Oct. 12, Nov. 9
Singles/solos: May 18,
July 13, Dec. 7
Marriage skills: Aug. 10
Register: Ed Hopfner,

or 510-267-8392
"I'd been looking for resources for married couples," explains Ed Hopfner, diocesan coordinator for Marriage and Family Life. "I think we do a great job with marriage preparation in the diocese, but once a couple is married there are not a lot of things available for them. Marriage Encounter is great, but not every couple can make the weekend, and beyond that most parishes don't have a lot they can offer couples. So when I heard about the communications workshops, I was really excited."

The workshop is designed with 16 hours of material, but the diocese only advertises the first half (eight-hour workshop). Participants who complete the first session of the workshop are told about the second, and encouraged to complete both sessions, to build their skill levels. "Students walk away from the first part of the workshop with skills they can immediately utilize in any of their relationships, but completing both parts really helps make them permanent," Hopfner said.

The workshop does point out areas for improvement, but focuses not on weaknesses but building strengths, Hopfner said. "Often a couple will be concerned about coming to the workshop because one member may feel less skilled at communicating than the other. The beauty of the workshops is that they help both members of the couple improve."

Bento Leal, who has worked with thousands of couples over the last 30 years, leads the workshops. "It's a thrill teaching these workshops," said Leal, who has led Mastering the Mysteries of Love workshops since 2005. "When couples learn to listen to each other with empathy and express themselves in ways their partner can respond to, their eyes light up and they realize they can take their relationship to a whole new level."

The workshops are funded in large part by a federal grant received by Healthy Relationships California. The Diocese of Oakland tapped into the grant in March 2012, which allows the workshops to be offered at the Cathedral parish hall, free of charge. (There are also workshops for 'singles and solos,' a planned MML workshop in Spanish and a new workshop focusing on marriage skills.)

Because they are funded in part by a federal grant, the workshops are open to the public, and focus strictly on teaching skills; there is no 'faith-based' content presented. That said, workshop participants regularly comment the skills they learn help them put their faith into practice in their marriages and relationships. (There are other specifically Catholic programs that Hopfner is also promoting in the diocese.)

To date, nearly 300 couples have gone through one or more of the communication skills workshops.

For those who complete the full 16-hour course additional training is available to become a workshop facilitator, so an individual or couple can lead the workshop in their own parish. "My vision is to have multiple trained facilitators in every deanery (or even every parish), who could offer this resource to couples," Hopfner said. He is echoed by a recent participant, who says "we know so many people who would benefit from these skills."

For more information about the workshops, or to register for an upcoming workshop, contact Ed Hopfner at ehopfner@oakdiocese.org or 510-267-8392.

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