|February 8, 2016 • VOL. 54, NO. 3 • Oakland, CA|
Weddings & Anniversaries
Getting ready for 'happily ever after'
One of the steps on the journey to the altar is marriage preparation, required by each parish in the Diocese of Oakland. While some parishes may provide their own marriage prep programs, more than half of the couples marrying in the diocese will attend a marriage preparation program sponsored by the diocese, said Mimi Streett, who coordinates the marriage and family life ministry.
Jack Sullivan, who teaches the course with his wife, Mary, jokes that they have been teaching "since the last century," beginning in 2000.
Last year, the Sullivans were called on by Rev. George Alengadan, pastor of St. Joseph Basilica in Alameda, to lead a daylong marriage prep course for civilly married couples seeking to convalidate their marriage. They will be presenting the class again this year, on March 5.
The Sullivans usually teach a weekend commuter marriage prep retreat twice a year, and occasionally offer marriage prep to about six couples in their home.
The six classes, offered on weeknights, provide the opportunity, Jack Sullivan said, "to get to know the couples, their whole story," he said.
"I wish we could do that in each parish," he said, calling it an ideal model.
In the weekend commuter classes, which include 15 to 20 couples, he said, "you see a lot of changes from Saturday morning to Sunday night."
Among the messages the Sullivans deliver: "it's not just a party; it's a sacrament."
Comments at the end of the weekend have included: "I didn't know it was a sacrament. I've got to go to Mass more often."
For interfaith marriages, the program offers the opportunity for the non-Catholic partner to learn more about the Catholic faith.
"I always say, 'thank you for coming and learning about your spouse's faith,'" Sullivan said.
A priest is present during the weekend program. "They love the presence of a priest," Sullivan said.
The priest's presence provides the opportunity for confession, as many couples say it's been a while since they've been. It may take a bit for the first person to go to confession, but "pretty soon, most of the class goes," Sullivan said.
The composition of each marriage prep group varies. Some are right out of high school; there are also Cal and Saint Mary's College graduates. ("Everybody loves the chapel at Saint Mary's," he said.) A couple in their 40s or 50s might be "sitting on the edge."
The Sullivans always ask participants to tell how they met. "It's always interesting," he said.
Sometimes, the number at the prep is odd. One of the couple is in the United States, while the other is overseas, doing their marriage prep in their home country.
The person in the U.S. returns home for the wedding.
The engaged couples leave marriage prep energized, Sullivan said, asking "What can we do now?"
It's a question that interests Streett, too. Some parishes, such as St. Michael in Livermore, St. Francis in Concord and St. Joseph Basilica, offer a Covenant of Love Date Night program for married couples. Immaculate Heart of Mary in Brentwood has offered retreats for married couples. There's a strong marriage ministry at St. Joan of Arc in San Ramon.
If there's not a marriage support program in your parish, Sullivan advises the soon-to-be-married people, "Go to your priest and see if you can get something going."
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