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The numbers spoke volumes: 49 couples, 1,183 years of marriage, 124 children, 89 grandchildren and 47 great-grandchildren.
These were the figures of those who registered for the second annual archdiocesan Marriage Day Celebration, a Mass and reception held for all married couples in the archdiocese at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis on Feb. 12.
“Pope Francis often refers to marriage and family life as the salt and leaven of society,” says Scott Seibert, archdiocesan coordinator of marriage and family enrichment, a branch of the archdiocesan Office of Pro-Life and Family Life that sponsored the event. “Marriage is what gives life freshness and flavor, and allows life to be more abundant.”
He notes that society tends to offer a negative narrative on marriage.
“This celebration shines a light on the beauty of marriage,” he says. “We’re able to see firsthand what we know to be true—that marriages offer a glimpse into the beauty of the love God has for us.
“Being able to celebrate World Marriage Day [set annually as the second Sunday of February] gives us the opportunity to both celebrate and proclaim the goodness of God’s love and his gift of marriage.”
In his homily during the Mass, Msgr. William F. Stumpf, archdiocesan administrator, said he suspected “that most young couples don’t have a clue how they will be asked to live out” the promises of their marriage vows, “promises to be true in good times and in bad, in sickness and health, to honor and to love all the days of one’s life.”
He said he could relate, noting that when he was ordained 31 years ago, he was excited and fervent about his vocation, but “had little comprehension of what it would mean to promise obedience to an archbishop, to pray daily and faithfully for the people of God, and to be a herald of the Gospel.”
Just as he has a better understanding of the promises he made three decades ago, said Msgr. Stumpf, “so through the years you couples gathered here today have come to understand a little bit better the promises you made on your wedding day.”
That understanding came through good times and bad, he said: “… times when making the mortgage payment was a constant worry, and when the car wouldn’t start and the kids were running late for school; … when together you comforted a sick or hurting child, when you placed a cool washcloth on a feverish forehead, when you gave up a night out with your friends; … through sacrifice and perhaps most powerfully through forgiveness, [which] calls us to not only put hurt aside but to move toward one another rather than away.
“And clearly, that understanding came through joyful moments, those moments when you felt as though your heart couldn’t hold all the love and joy you were experiencing: the birth of a child, Christmases and holidays spent together, first Communions, baptisms, anniversaries, family dinners.”
Msgr. Stumpf closed his homily by thanking the couples “for your witness to marriage, your witness to love and by being the embodiment of a wisdom that this age so desperately needs to hear.”
During the Mass, two couples received recognition and a papal blessing as the couples married the longest and shortest period of time among those who registered for the event. Frank and Joan Collier of St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg were married the longest at almost 64 years, and Luis and Clare Gomez of St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis were married the least amount of time at just more than one month. Their stories are below.
While their 64th wedding anniversary is approaching on May 9, Frank and Joan Collier sound like a newlywed couple.
Joan says she was attracted to Frank because “he was friendly, so kind and sweet. I loved him then, and I love him now.”
Frank feels the same.
“There was just something about her that struck me,” he says.
The couple, now both 81, met at age 16—she was a “popcorn girl” at a theater in St. Louis, and he had been an usher there.
“He came by and invited a co-worker out for a date,” Joan recalls. “She said no, and he ended up driving me home that night.”
While Joan was grateful for being spared the two-buses-and-one-streetcar journey back to her home, Frank sees more to his chivalrous act.
“God’s plan was for me to take her home,” he said.
For six months of their courtship, Frank was in the Army, first for three months in California, and then three months in Mississippi.
“I really missed her,” he says. “All the other boys were going into town for a good time, but it wasn’t what I wanted.”
Joan visited him over an Easter weekend.
“Neither of us remembers an official proposal,” Frank recalls. “We just figured we’d get married.”
When Joan returned to St. Louis, she set a wedding date, and Frank mailed her a ring.
“I got my ring from the mailman,” Joan says with a laugh.
The couple married when Joan was 18 and Frank was 17. Joan was still a few weeks from graduating from high school when they married.
The Colliers now have six children, 15 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.
Faith played a role in their relationship right from the start, says Joan.
“We both believe that God brought us together and kept us together, and gave us this beautiful family,” she says.
Passing on the faith to one’s children is important, says Frank, noting that “it’s what you leave them with.”
Joan’s advice to other couples is to “never say the words ‘I’m leaving,’ or ‘I want a divorce.’ If they go through your mind, don’t say them—that’s not a possibility. Take your wedding vows for what they are: vows.”
“Marriage is not something you’re going to try out for a year or two,” he says. “Think about this as something that is going to last until you die, the way God intended it.”
Perhaps that’s why Joan and Frank still sound like a young couple in love.
“It’s been a good 63 years,” says Frank. “I just wrote her a little note in a [daily devotional] book we both read. It says, ‘You are my every day Valentine.’
“We are just in love. We have been 63 going on 64 years. God has certainly blessed us.”
Opposites attract, so the saying goes.
Clare Gomez says her husband of almost two months, Luis Gomez, “talked to everyone” at Amazon where they both worked when they met in August 2014. But “I was quiet and shy,” she says of herself.
Nevertheless, it was Clare who first asked Luis out—to go with her to Mass at St. Mark the Evangelist Church in December of 2014.
“I was interested in her, but like most guys, I was afraid of rejection,” Luis admits.
Both are lifelong Latino Catholics, but Luis says Clare relit the fire of his faith.
“I was going to [Mass at] St. Patrick’s [Church in Indianapolis], but I stopped going for a while,” he says. “But I met Clare, and she inspired me to go back to Mass again. I wasn’t that spiritually mature until I met Clare.”
It was after Mass one cold day that Luis, now 27, sensed that Clare, now 23, was “the one.”
“It was when we started holding hands,” he says. “It was really cold. I said, ‘Oh! Your hands must be so cold! Let me warm them up for you!’ It felt different than with other girls. It gave me a warm feeling inside.”
Clare sensed a future with Luis when the couple went to her cousin’s wedding in New York.
“That’s where I got to know him more,” she says. “That’s when I felt he was the one.”
The couple was married on Jan. 7, 2017, at St. Mark the Evangelist Church. Luis says their pastor, Father Todd Riebe, who guided them through their engagement, “has helped us so much. He told us about [the Marriage Day Celebration Mass] and said we might be the newest married couple. We were really excited and registered.”
Clare says they also wanted to go to the celebration “to meet other married couples that have been married for a long time.”
And they did, speaking with their fellow papal-blessing recipients, Frank and Joan Collier, married for nearly 64 years.
“They told us how they have so many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” Luis recalls. “I said, ‘Honey, I want great-grandchildren—that sounds cool!’
“We were really inspired by what they told us. Marriage is creating a family and making a foundation for your future and your children’s children. Once you get married, you create a tree and you branch out, and you get bigger and bigger.”
The couple is on their way, already expecting their first child.
From their first date at St. Mark in 2014, to the Marriage Day Celebration Mass this month, faith has been a constant for the parents-to-be.
With Clare working days and Luis working nights, Clare says they “don’t see each other much [on] Monday through Friday, so church is the place we can be together.”
“It all started with going to church,” he says. “I like that feeling of coming together. It’s something we can always do together.” †