A few years ago I had the opportunity to give a talk at John Paul the Great Academy in Lafayette Louisiana. While I was there I enjoyed the hospitality of Ryan and Mary-Rose Verret, a young Catholic couple with three children. It was a wonderful stay, a great experience of traditional Cajun hospitality. The Catholic homeschooling alumni circle is very small so it turned out Mary-Rose actually grew up with my cousins in Virginia.
Fast forward to last year, I was scrolling through the National Catholic Register and saw Ryan and Mary-Rose featured in an article. Since then I have been in contact with via facebook and email, and a few weeks ago Kathleen and I FaceTimed with them for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon. About half of our conversation was just visiting with some great folks, but for a good part of it we talked about the Verrets’ new project called “Witness to Love.”
Based on their experience with marriage prep in their home parish over several years they began to see a troubling trend among the young couples they were seeing through the program. Too many of the young couples were not showing up in Church after their wedding day, and the five-year divorce rate was frighteningly high. After talking with over 400 couples in their parish and diocese, they began to notice a trend that those newlywed couples who maintained a solid relationship with their parish usually did so because of a personal relationship with people, specifically other couples, in that parish.
In response they developed a new marriage prep program which centers around the engaged couple choosing a couple within the parish that they know and respect, and asking them to be their mentors as they prepare for marriage. Both couples then begin a journey of preparation, facilitated by the parish, which ideally results in closer ties to the parish community and a long term relationship between the two couples that can at need serve as a lifeline as they move through the challenges of married life.
What follows is an interview that Kathleen and I conducted with the Verret’s via FaceTime last Saturday.
Ryan K: So we have to take off about 2:00 our time, which would be 4:00 your time, so… I actually really don’t know how to do an interview. I am practicing on you guys because I have to do at least two for my Master’s Capstone project.
Ryan V: Yeah, awesome. No, this is fun. It’s great to keep connected with y’all so, sounds good. Now we had the questions here, we were looking over them. Pretty straightforward. We’ll let you take the lead on them.
Ryan K: The idea is I’m going to transcribe this and put it up on Ignitum. That’s a Catholic blog service, and I am a guest columnist there. So we’ll transcribe that and rather than just email you guys a bunch of questions and get stock answers back we thought a little bit of give and take would be good.
Ryan V: Sure, sure.
Ryan K: The place to start is for readers who have never heard it before, who have never heard of Witness to Love. In a few words, what is your bottom line take away, where did it come from, what are you trying to do with it?
(Ryan and Mary-Rose looking back and forth at each other, laughing.)
Mary-Rose: Kind of a “tag-you’re-it.” Okay. Witness to Love really came from a place of desperation and prayer. We saw couples that were getting divorced not long after the wedding, which is normal, but discouraging, especially when it is couples that you’ve worked with and tried to walk with.
Ryan K: From your parish Marriage Prep program?
Ryan V: Yeah, couples that you’ve had in your own home.
Mary-Rose: Yeah, couples that we’ve sat down with, on our sofa, and, you know, they had assigned mentors that we worked with, and they never reached out for help. It just… the frustration from dealing with those situations over and over again. I think that often people don’t actually scratch the surface enough in the parish or the diocese to find out what is going on with these couples. We’re not set up in such a way to follow-up with them, to know if they get divorced. It’s such a small percentage of people who come forward for annulments when they get divorced. We don’t know how many people in our congregation don’t actually become part of the congregation, and we don’t know how many are actually separated or divorced. So Witness to Love came from just getting involved in a community and seeing where these couples were ending up, if they were separated, if they were divorced, if they were not in church, and following up with these couples and interviewing them as to what happened? What went wrong? Why didn’t they ask for help? Why didn’t this older, assigned mentor model… why was it not working?
Ryan K: So you kind of… from your website you guys talked to 700 couples…
Mary-Rose and Ryan V: Five hundred.
Ryan K: Oh, 500, okay, sorry. 500 couples over the course of, how long did that take?
Mary-Rose: That was over the course of, let’s see. That was about… 9 years?
Ryan K: Oh so this is a long period of, kind of, gathering.
Mary-Rose: It’s been an ongoing discernment, and it’s been… it didn’t start off as information gathering or even a study. It was more just… at first it was just wanting to understand where these couples are coming from, and just get to know them genuinely. You know my parents are divorced, my grandparents are divorced on both sides. Ryan’s family as well has several generations of divorces, and we didn’t want that to happen to us. Partly it was a personal growth thing.
Ryan V: Yeah, we thought coming from a culture… so living in an area where I can see the lives of several generations before me and several generations after me; my great-grandmother just passed away, all of her children live in the same area, I went to school with some of my second, third, fourth cousins. Pretty much almost everyone was married at the same altar. This kinda sort of came to head a couple years ago when we were visiting with our pastor at the time. Where Witness to Love was founded was the church right north of the town where I grew up in, the parish where we should have been going, but at the time we just weren’t connecting with this other priest who was assigned where Witness to Love was started. And I remember sitting down with this priest, and I said, “Father… my great-grandparents were married at this altar and my great-grandfather left my great [grandmother] you know, they separated. They had an arranged wedding, and she was pretty young, but all of her children except for one, and that was about seven or eight children? Eight children. Only one remained married. Out of all of my mother’s siblings, so four children, my parents are the only ones who remain married. And I saw just the generational culture of divorce. You know this line, “Oh the kids are going to be fine and it’s all going to work out, and you know, people are happier.” That’s really not so. It’s really a lie that people are better off separated.
Now I know there are different abusive situations and those types of things.
Kathleen: Yeah, that’s different.
Ryan V: But we’re talking about this sort of no-fault divorce type culture that we live in, “Let’s just get out because it’s not fun anymore.” We tried addressing that. And you get to a point where, if we really believe that grace is what it is, and a sacrament is what it is, how can what happened to Christ on Calvary and the gift that we received be any different today than it was a hundred years ago? What is the problem? Either we believe what the Church says, or else we’re just sort of playing church. We have a lot of great books, and we have a lot of great videos, but there’s some disconnect.
Mary-Rose: You say, what is the disconnect, but the disconnect was relationships, and this whole idea of trust, and attraction, and accompaniment, and a give and take friendship where people are open and vulnerable and honest, which is expected to be long term. I remember doing some research on “What is mentoring.” And I remember going to a website for a very well-respected mentoring organization, and one of the things it said was that the mentor should… there should be an understanding between the mentor and the mentee, that this is not long term. You don’t want to be overly connected to this young couple because you need to be done with them so you can take the next couple.
Kathleen: That’s anti community-building.
Ryan: Kind of the opposite of the community, and from reading your website, what kind of sets you guys apart from the other marriage prep we’ve looked at and been familiar with is that the mentors are usually assigned and it’s a short-term relationship. That seems to me kind of the key differences. Is that correct?
Mary-Rose: The traditional mentor model that most people are familiar with is, you know it’s better than a one-day shot in the arm. It’s a definite step up, but the problem is, it’s more time consuming, it’s more intrusive, it’s forced fun, and it doesn’t matter how amazing the mentor couple’s marriage is if the engaged couple isn’t receiving that, if they don’t trust them, if they don’t stay in it for a long term relationship. And even if there is some connection between the two couples, even if some sort of bond forms, that mentor couple is still expected to take on a new couple as soon as they are finished, and keep doing that and keep doing that.
Ryan K: Just put them through the assembly line.
Mary-Rose: Right, so just inherent in that construct is burnout for the mentors, and not a good chance for the relationship between the two to really form.
Ryan V: Yeah, a very utilitarian view of relationships, putting that in the context of faith formation. Obviously what engaged couples see is we just have a checklist that we have to go through. And these are our checklist coaches, and we make them happy, and we get what we want. We get the aisle and then we go to the party. We have to just do this.
Ryan K: Essentially you put them through the pipeline, they come out the other end, they get the certificate and go on to the next event.
Ryan V: We had this very unique way of how this changed, instead of Jack and Jill going to the rectory when they had already rented the hall, and the florist, and the limo company and all these things, and they had their date. They can’t put that date on a calendar in a Witness to Love parish until they have chosen their mentors and have begun this whole process and understand how they’re going to grow. So they don’t like it.
Ryan K: That’s a fairly radical change of practice.
Ryan V: But the priests when they get on board with it, they like it because they know they aren’t just going to be a sacramental vending machine.
Mary-Rose: Definitely we wouldn’t want to sound crass, and like the Church is in it for the money the couples pay, and the couples are just in it to use the Church. You know, you don’t have to get married in the Church today. You can get married anywhere, by anyone. There is something going on when a couple says, “I want to get married in church, and I am going to go through this process. So we have to meet them where they are and really build on that process, and say, okay, look, we want what is best for you. Literally just this week I had a call from a couple. We are helping our cathedral implement Witness to Love, and … somebody was out sick and they wanted us to follow up with this couple. So I called them and asked, “Have you chosen a mentor yet.” And they said, “No, that wasn’t explained to us yet how to do that.” So I explained to them: choose someone whose marriage you admire, who’s active in the Church, and who’s been married five years or more; someone whom you would naturally go to for advice if you were having troubles in your marriage.
They said, “Well, that’s nice, but… what if we wanted you just to assign someone to us? What if that would be easier?”
I said, “Well, that sounds but let me just explain a few things. How would you feel if you met six times with a couple you didn’t know, and perhaps didn’t click with, and you were expected to talk about personal things? Do you think that would be fun?
“Now let me explain another scenario for you. What if there was someone that you would naturally go to for advice, maybe someone you have already gone to for advice, someone you admire, and trust, and know and would have a great time with. Someone whom you would enjoy learning form and who would be there for you after the wedding when challenges come, because they will. Do you have an idea of who that might be?”
And immediately the conversation changed and she said, “I think I know what you’re saying, and I know exactly the couple I’m going to ask. I’ll call you back.”
So it changed from utilitarian to buying in and actually wanting to have a strong relationship, because every single couple out there getting married there is a concern on their hearts, is this going to last? So working with that fear and helping them to address it, I think that’s an important piece of the puzzle. So once you explain it to them, they don’t mind, okay, I need to find a mentor, I need to get started in the process, I need to discern what we need to work on. Now we can set a wedding date.
Ryan K: So can you talk a little bit about the mentor couple. You mentioned some of the criteria that need to be met. Are they vetted through the parish, or is there a process that the mentor couples have to go through of formation?
Mary-Rose: That’s a great question, and I think that’s the question that priests, or deacons, or anyone who is involved in marriage prep, especially if they’ve understood the traditional model, would say, “Wow, these mentors need to be vetted, trained, and this all has to work.”
Ryan V: In the traditional model mentor couples are expected to be sort of catechists. They are expected to be theological, spiritual, kind of moral experts, whatever that means. But our starting point was, this is not step one of getting a person involved in the faith process. They need to see a witness, I wouldn’t say particularly a “relationship expert,” but if you’re going to find someone who has been married five years or more, and who has a marriage that you look up to, and that is in the church, going to Mass, that’s pretty vague.
Mary-Rose: Intentionally so.
Ryan V: Intentionally so. A person has to have been married five years and is active in the Church, there is something that they are working on, or that they’ve worked out.
Ryan K: They are doing something right.
Ryan V: And honestly that is the weakest point for most of the young couples coming into the Church today, because if they can get to that point, and be sustained in it, and be supported in it, it is much easier for them to be catechized. That’s where the faith comes from. So that’s why we say we’re not looking for the moral experts or the catechists, we’re looking for the people who have been committed to this relationship within the church, who have been married for a period of time.
Mary-Rose: Those guidelines really eliminate usually about 95-98% of the couples that the engaged couple knows. I mean, truly, most of the people they know are either not married, or not going to church, or not happily married. That is the majority of people. When you say, “goes to church” they are like, “Well that just eliminated 70% of the people I know.” It gets more and more narrow to the point where they really have to discern, do I know anyone who meets this criteria?
And sometimes they know right away, you know, like, it’s my older brother’s best friend and his wife, we know they go to church. People say, “If the engaged couple is not going to church, how can they know someone who does go to church?” But I promise you, if you go to church, everyone knows you go to church.
Ryan V: Excuse me for a second. (At this point he stepped out to take care of the baby.)
Mary-Rose: Even if you don’t go to church, you know who does go to church. It’s like Ash Wednesday every day of the year, everyone knows who goes to church. They do! It might be social media, it might be because they talk about it, fill in the blank, but everyone knows who goes to church. So even if the engaged couple does not go to church, they know who does, they know who they have to ask.
Now we live in a very mobile, transient society where people are moving all the time, moving for work, moving for school, moving for family, you name it. We have to be able to address that. One of the largest gaps in this whole marriage preparation process is, you know, “I’m going to bring a priest from there, going to get married here, my fiancé is coming from there, I’m coming from here. This may be the church that the bride’s parents go to but other than that there’s no connection. How to work with that couple? They still need a mentor. They still need formation. The majority of those fall between the cracks. They will never be connected to community, they will never have a mentor, because the traditional mentor model doesn’t apply to them. The parish is not going to use up their best couples on this other couple who is never going to be part of their community.
Kathleen: Yeah, that’s essentially the type of program we had. Ryan was going to be deployed for over half of our engagement.
Ryan K: Which of course brings in its own set of challenges, but they were a couple out of… where were they?
Ryan K: Colorado. And we never saw them face-to-face, we never heard of them before, we haven’t talked to them since. I think we got more out of a few dinners with Deacon George and his wife than we did out of all the sessions with… I don’t even remember their names.
Kathleen: I couldn’t even tell you. Our assigned mentor couple.
Mary-Rose: It was assigned?
Ryan and Kathleen: Yes.
Ryan K: I think that kind of speaks to what you’re talking about, that kind of “check-the-block” mentality. So, you kind of think of couples as falling into two categories. There’s the kind that are already going to church, they are active in the parish, and they have a firm intention to stay married and be engaged with the parish afterward. So they may feel like they don’t really need this. And then there’s the couples who have not been active before, and may not know anyone in the parish. So how do you bridge that gap, someone who may not know any couples in the parish at all?
Mary-Rose: That is a great question, and I think, frankly, that is close to half of couples, they just can’t even make that leap and that connection. So we worked with parishes, we have, really the gift and the blessing of having some of the best pastors and the best parishes in the country who are very passionate about this and are committed to figuring it out. So we, over the years, have worked with these pastors to find solutions to these problems. And in working with these parishes we’ve found the solution of what we call, sort of cheeky, but “showcase couples.” [These are] couples where the parish says, “Look, these couples are, we feel, beautiful examples and beautiful witnesses of what marriage and family life is supposed to be like. These couples, we present them to you, you can choose any one of these couples. Here’s a little bit of information about each of them. We are happy to introduce you to the couples, and we are happy to tell you which couples we think might be a good fit for you, but you still have to choose and you still have to ask.”
We will work with you, we will somehow make it happen. Whether you have to sometimes skype, if you want to bring in a couple that doesn’t live here and we’ll skype that meeting, whatever is most likely to connect you to community, to give you a lifeline in your relationship, to the Church, to Christ, and to each other, that’s what we are here to help you discern. Whether it’s one of these “showcase couples” at the parish, whether it’s someone you know in another parish, or maybe someone in a town you’re going to be moving to. Who is it that’s going to be there to support you?
And we see beautiful examples, and we get to see all the assessments that the couples write at the end, both the engaged couples and their mentors. I recently was reading one where the mentor couple said, “You know, when this couple asked us to be their mentors we had never done this before, we were so honored. We were really nervous. But the fruit that it has born in our relationship has totally changed our marriage for the better.” Then I got to read a few hours later when the engaged couple’s assessment came in, they said, “We were new to this town, we didn’t know anyone. [Now] we feel like family. We hadn’t planned to live in this town for more than a year, but now I think we’re going to call it home, and this parish is our home.”
Kathleen: That’s amazing!
Mary-Rose: Where do you ever hear that? That never happens anymore! And the mentors said the same thing, “We feel like they are now our children.” It was beautiful. That, I think, is what’s wrong with society, the isolation, the distance, the transience. People are transient because they never put down roots.
Ryan V returns with the baby.
Ryan K: That kind of segues into that other category… Hey there, little one!
Ryan V: Everybody’s awake.
Kathleen: I love the rolls!
Ryan V: I have to tell you what she did today.
Mary-Rose: Oh, yeah! Don’t record this.
Ryan V: Can we take a quick commercial break?
Ryan K: Sure, we will be back after these brief messages.
There followed a short break in which they shared a classic parenting story. Let’s just say it involved a jolly-jumper and a dollar store diaper, and we’ll leave it at that.
Mary-Rose: So you asked about how the mentors are trained. That’s an important piece that I don’t think I fully answered. We specifically don’t call it a training, we call it a coaching session. We train someone at every parish. It could be a marriage prep coordinator, it could be a priest or a deacon, it could be a coaching couple, but it’s someone within the parish who is trained to work with this mentor and this engaged couple, and to really mentor the mentors, and really work with them and follow them through this process. They have what we call a coaching session where they help to explain to the engaged couple and their mentors their roles, and what they should be getting out of it, what they should be putting into it, what they should be looking for. They are going to get to go to church together, they are going to get to grow together. The emphasis is that this relationship that we are building up between both these couples is the church’s gift to them, and an emphasis on what they get to do, not what they have to do.
So we don’t call it a training because the mentor is not an expert. The only way they are an expert is what we call relational virtue, that’s why the engaged couple looks up to them and says, “I want what they have.” But they are not theologians, they are not counsellors, they are simply there to be a witness to the engaged couple and to anchor them in their relationship and into the church.
Ryan V: In the workbook, the first four chapters are designed in such a way that it uses the classical moral virtues, prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. That language is not used, but we put it in laymen’s terms. It’s laid out in a way that the mentor couples can speak to the experience of using and developing virtues that sustain and develop a lifelong friendship and commitment.
Ryan K: So what would you say to the other half of the couples, or probably less than half, those few couples who say, “Hey, we’ve been attending this parish right along. We don’t really talk to anybody so we don’t know anybody here, but we’ve been going to Mass, and we’re not missing the sacraments, and we’re going to stay married. I don’t feel like we really need this.” What would you say to them?
Mary-Rose: We only grow in relationships.
Ryan V: We discovered this sort of line in reality that human beings only grow in relationship. You know we develop these personal gifts only in relationships with feedback, where honest feedback and honest growth can take place. I think it’s easy to see that our culture is attempting to thrive on isolation, and young people like to be connected, but not to really be committed. Tons of friends on facebook, but if someone is having a crisis in their life, you know, unplanned pregnancy or whatever, and everyone is giving them the wrong advice, or doesn’t even respond. I think the reality is, if you’re going to grow as people then you need this kind of extension of what’s happening in your life, which leads into the parish life.
Mary-Rose: And I think, honestly, you have to examine if someone says, basically, I don’t need a mentor. I go to the parish but there isn’t really someone that I have met in this parish that I feel that I would be comfortable going on this journey with. That speaks, honestly, to two things. Either the parish is not providing opportunities for relationships, it is not a true community; or, the engaged couple is not engaging in the community. We know many couples who have been married a similar amount of years as us, and they were formed in Theology of the Body, they were going to church regularly, but they had, in many ways, isolated themselves from feedback, especially in regard to their marriage and their relationship. You know, you basically put on a public face, but you don’t let anyone get close enough to see that your marriage is actually in shambles, and there’s domestic abuse and there’s affairs. I mean, these are good couples, from good colleges, with lots of kids and beautiful families, but sometimes when you scratch the surface it’s a mess. No one is immune from divorce, and the more we isolate ourselves, no matter where we come from or where we go to church, the more likely we are to find ourselves in a difficult situation.
Ryan V: Our experience, over and over again, it’s the guy within the engaged couple that does not want to do this, does not see a need for this, thinks it’s hokie, or soft or whatever.
At this point in the conversation there was an interruption from Ryan V’s phone which thought he was talking to it and couldn’t understand his Cajun accent.
Ryan V: My point is, we hear this often times from the mentors, you know he (the engaged man) is a big tough guy, he works in the oil fields, he doesn’t have time for this, but at the end they all fall in love with each other. We’ve had so much great feedback. Some people have not had such a great experience, and some people have, but man, we’ve had some great feedback, especially as they get towards the end and they see the value of a good relationship, and how they want that, and how they needed that.
Mary-Rose: And how they never had that before.
Ryan V: People just don’t have great friendships today. It’s not like when we were kids, maybe our parents’ generation, they were much closer to their friends that maybe they went to high school with, and everyone stuck around. Maybe not everyone. But it’s a different time and so we are really having to reveal again the necessity and the gift of friendship. You can talk about how Aristotle viewed friendship, how we only grow in that context and that true friendship can never be established on a lie or something that isn’t real and true.
Mary-Rose: And something that we’ve also seen, we’ve instituted this double-date into the process, where before we were just having them go and start their six meetings, but we realized that often the ladies would hit it off, but the guys were a little more reserved. So we have a solution and we would say, “Gentlemen, please go out on the porch and we want you to plan a double date, an outdoor adventure, for the ladies and for you. You’re going to go on a double date. You cannot ask them where they want to go, you cannot tell them where they are going to go. You just have to tell them the date, and the time, and what to wear. And that’s it. So out you go.”
And they usually come back in about ten minutes later, talking and laughing and they’ve exchanged phone numbers and they’re all excited. They have a mission, they have something to do. That is having the mentor couple guy teaching the younger man how to date, and how to court again, because often times they would say, well, we just go to a movie or watch TV, but frankly, most of these couples have stopped dating a long time ago. Most of them are cohabitating, a lot of them have kids already, they take each other for granted. They are getting married just because it’s the next step. They’ve forgotten how to court, but the mentor couple is a beautiful positive force in their life showing them, no, this is how you treat a lady. That’s beautiful to see.
Ryan V: They (the mentor couple) also talk about from their own experience, you know, they missed steps. You know, “I wish I had done that, taken some extra time, go on some dates, hold her hand.” It’s a beautiful thing when people can really chair, you know, how they have seen God’s fidelity through their life.
Mary-Rose: I think one of the most beautiful things is when the mentor couple shares how God has sustained them through the grace of the sacrament. And how their wedding vows, they thought, “Oh yeah, you know, we make a promise,” but it wasn’t until, whatever, 20 years after their wedding that they, when things got really tough that they realized that they had an extra grace safety net there that they didn’t know they had. But really, if it wasn’t for the grace of the sacrament we feel like we probably wouldn’t still be married. It’s just, its’ a beautiful witness.
Ryan K: So one of the themes that kind of stuck out to us, you were talking about growth. Someone who says, “Hey, we are going to Mass, we are doing fine,” but they are stuck in a holding pattern. They are focused on where they are but what you guys are trying to do is to call people to not stay, not stagnate. If you are standing still, there is more. That was one of the things that stuck out to us first. Then there was the idea that having someone able to look into the inner reality of your marriage, or your relationship if you are not married yet, that’s scary. That kind of vulnerability where you can say (to another guy), “I can’t stand to be around her right now,” to have that relationship where you could say that to somebody, that takes some humility and some vulnerability. I can very easily see why that would not recommend itself to most guys.
Ryan V: Yeah, and that’s why I think it’s important to know that this is all designed to be gradual. It’s over time. And I think the mentor process, that after wedding this is not done, but we are setting you up for a lifelong relationship. So there is time to grow and grow, and for things to go deeper.
Mary-Rose: We were meeting with some couples who were going through our process recently, and I remember one of the wives saying, “As a mentor couple, honestly I thought this was going to be easier, but you are really asking us… there is no surface level option in Witness to Love. When you first read the question you are thinking, how can I answer this in a superficial way, you can’t. You have to be honest, you have to be real, you have to be open. And the vulnerability that is required of you as the mentor couple , you basically have to admit that you’re broken. And how you got from where you were to where you are now, and share that with the engaged couple. And it’s difficult.” But it’s so healing. And when the engaged couple hears that this mentor couple that they really admire and really look up to isn’t perfect, and didn’t always have it together, and is even now growing and working on their marriage and you can’t ever say it’s good enough, the power in that! … I was just on the phone with a lady who is in her seventies and she was saying as the marriage prep coordinator for her parish, she was going through all this and she said, “ You know, I realized we still have a lot we need to work on.” I was just like, wow! That’s awesome.
But we’re always, always going to be working. So for an engaged couple to say, “You know, I think we have a good thing going here, I don’t think we need this.” It’s just not possible.
Ryan K: It means they probably don’t know what they need.
Kathleen: Which means that is probably the couple you are most reaching out to.
Kathleen: Because if they are not foreseeing themselves having any issues at this point, you know they are not going to turn and ask for help when they do need it.
Mary-Rose: And if we don’t build that bridge now, you can’t build it later. And the tragedy is, this is really where Witness to Love came from, is that tragedy of saying “Wait! Where did that come from, this couple is getting divorced, no one even knew they were in trouble. They never asked for help.” So it’s preventative measures, we are trying to prevent them from being in that situation. Our vision is that every single couple getting married is going to have a lifeline.
Ryan K: We’re kind of getting towards the end of our time here but there are two things we want to get your feedback on. The first is the case of the young couple who wants to do this but may not have this program available in their parish or even in their diocese. How can they kind of reverse engineer this, what would you say to that couple?
Mary-Rose: We have seen that engaged couple. Sometimes the way Witness to Love enters a parish or a diocese is by an engaged couple who realizes they need more. You know they say, my parents are divorced and we don’t want that to happen to us. When they see the little that is available to them, you know when you see the difference between the preparation for the priesthood and the preparation for marriage, the difference is drastic. So there are couples who look at that and say there is no way we can do this, this is so basic, this is under ten hours worth of work. It’s not going to cut it. We need more. And we get a lot of phone calls and emails from those couples asking how they can bring Witness to Love to their parish. How can I let Father know about it. We say send Father to our website, it’s very inexpensive to get trained, it’s a great way to explore it and it’s continuing education for clergy. Honestly it’s those couples who say I want more, or I need more, I would say probably half of the parishes we are in, that’s how it got there, an engaged couple saying, Father we want to do this, can you do this for us. The priest or deacon is vital, it’s an important piece of this Witness to Love program, so it is great when a couple goes to their priest and says, I need more, which really means we need more with you. We need a mentor, we want to be part of the community.
I think it is when a couple says to their priest I want more, that is an opportunity to explore this marriage catechumenate. Any priest or deacon who does explore this catechumenate approach is going to be very happy and surprised that marriage prep can actually be fun and worthwhile and you do see fruit in the parish.
Ryan K: I like how your answer comes out of your whole philosophy of community. I was expecting you to say something like go find a couple you admire and ask them to be mentors for you, but you say no, go to your priest, go to your deacon, and try to insert this into your community. You have a consistent emphasis on coming together, building up the parish family. I really appreciate that answer.
Ryan V: We really want to build up the parish, though. If you look around the church in America, in the next few years we are going to need a whole lot more handicapped parking spaces, it seems like every year a few more of them are filled up. We love our older people… (Everyone laughs and Mary-Rose facepalms)… But we also want to be forward looking too and see what are the real needs of the young people.
Mary-Rose: and the main point is that what we are doing isn’t working, because people are getting divorced. So, obviously, a couple could go and find someone whose marriage you admire and ask them to walk with them. You could do that. But better yet is to bring it into the parish.
Ryan K: and return it to that community.
Mary-Rose: Right. And honestly there is no way we can work with every engaged couple out there who finds a mentor couple and their parish isn’t invested in it. I would be shocked if someone went to the pastor and said, “I want to do this, I want more” and the pastor said, no, not interested. Could that happen? Obviously it could, but I think that would be a tragedy. So I think it’s good to encourage these couples to ask for more. The engaged couples and the mentor couples who go through this process, they get involved in the parish, they volunteer, their lives are changed, they change their communities. They are the leaven. It’s a beautiful way of basically resetting a parish, and the multiplication of the loaves and fishes that happens within a community when you build it up in this way, it’s incredible. Our number one donor base is actually pastors who have Witness to Love in their parish, and they see the fruits and they want to share it.
Kathleen: I remember when we were setting up the (St. Frances Cabrini Parish) young adult group, that was one of our questions, how do we create a community. It was always the question that came up. And the answer that we would get from other people, because we would ask other people, was always, “I don’t know, just get involved. Do something.” Well, that doesn’t necessarily build a community, it just keeps you busy.
Ryan K: That’s a great distinction.
Mary-Rose: That’s very superficial. You can either live on the surface or you can go deep.
Ryan K: So the other question that I had was, the videos that we watched, especially the first video, they involved some pretty awesome looking food. (Laughter) So I was wondering, is that an intrinsic part of the program? Or is that just Louisiana.
Mary-Rose: No we encourage meals for the meetings. It doesn’t have to be a meal, but the engaged couple goes into the mentor’s home and they can share a meal or have a desert or coffee. But it usually does end up being a meal, especially when we have what’s called the theology discussion night, that’s the one in the video. That’s the night when the priest or the deacon comes into the mentor couple’s home and unpacks with these two couples the richness of the Church’s teaching on the sacrament of marriage. Ideally they will have gone to a retreat ahead of time, but that meal, the conversation, a good bottle of wine, it’s just the way the Church should be. It is hearkening back to the early Church where things, even the Mass, happened in people’s homes. It’s a great way for the priest or deacon to get to know the community, sample the good cooking. This all came from our pastor saying, “The doors to so many domestic churches are closed. Open the doors to your domestic church. It doesn’t matter if it is messy. Open them!” So this came from a call to open the doors of the domestic church, and to allow homes to really be a missionary outpost of the local church.
Kathleen: That just made me think of something that my Grandmother always talked about. The long time priest in the parish where she grew up. He did two things. He would randomly stop in to any parishioner’s home for dinner, any day of the week. He would just pop in.
Laughter, Mary-Rose: That’s awesome!
Kathleen: Knocked on the door, “Hey, I am here for supper.” That hardly ever happens anymore. You don’t hear about that, but I think that’s important too because it makes the priest not just this person that you put up on the altar and they do their thing, but they become active in that community.
Ryan V: And it gets the priest into the homes of his community, not just the Catholic experts in the parish, the two-percent that like hanging around the church, like us. But all these really great people who really put in a lot of great effort into their lives and their families and they’re on their knees and say a lot of great prayers, but they are really just not super connected with everything that is going on in the parish. It’s a great opportunity for the priest to get into their homes, meet their teenage kids.
Kathleen: The other thing he always did, he had a pocket full of tootsie rolls for the kids.
Ryan K: You can’t do that anymore, but it worked back then.
Kathleen: Yeah. Monsignor Farley died, what, almost 40 years ago. The streets all around the church are still named after him, because he was there for that long.
Ryan V: And that’s in the town that you live in?
Kathleen: The town I grew up in.
Ryan V: and what’s the name of that town?
Laughter. Mary-Rose: I’m not even going to try.
Ryan K: So we have to kind or wrap this up because we have to get the baby girl up and take her up to Enumclaw. But, it’s been great talking to you guys. We hope you guys can make it out here sometime.
Ryan and Mary-Rose: Thanks. God Bless!