Katie Greene, family life coordinator for Ascension Press.

Katie Greene is the family life coordinator for Ascension Press and works specifically with the Joy-Filled Marriage program, a marriage preparation program that has been adopted by a number of parishes in the Philadelphia Archdiocese in coordination with the archdiocesan Office for Life and Family.

A member of Our Lady Help of Christians Parish in Abington, Greene is a graduate of Nazareth Academy and Holy Family University where she received her undergraduate degree in theology. She received her master’s degree in theology from the Graduate School of Theology at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. She is also a former teacher of theology at Nazareth Academy High School.

In this interview she discusses the Joy-Filled Marriage program.

Q. How many parishes, deaneries or groups in the archdiocese are using the Joy-Filled Marriage program?

A. We currently utilize 12 parishes and the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center as our host sites. We have at least one location in each deanery, although we have found that engaged couples are more inclined to choose a seminar based on date rather than location. In addition to the archdiocesan offerings, several other parishes in the archdiocese use the Joy-Filled Marriage program directly with their engaged couples.

Q. Approximately how many engaged couples go through the program in a given year?

A. In 2014, we will work with about 1,100 couples, an increase from 950 couples in 2013 and 525 couples in 2012. The increase is largely due to the content of the program and our promotional efforts to parishes and clergy. There are 92 parishes that refer their engaged couples to the archdiocesan Joy-Filled Marriage offering.

Q. I understand from the Ascension Press website that the program involves both written materials and a video component. Are the videos used to prompt further discussion?

A. The videos are primarily intended to allow dioceses and parishes that do not have live presenters to teach the program’s rich theology. Here in Philadelphia we are blessed to have many gifted presenters — both married couples and single persons — who can unpack the church’s teachings on marriage.

“We have found that the current generation … need(s) substantial catechesis. Most engaged couples have only a rudimentary understanding of the church’s teachings on marriage and human sexuality. Therefore, a more catechetical approach to marriage preparation is what is needed.”

Several of our presenters are graduates of St. Charles Seminary’s Graduate School of Theology, while others are associated with the Theology of the Body Institute. Having a live presenter makes the content more interactive and gives the attendees an opportunity to ask questions.

Additionally, the couples are provided a full-color, interactive workbook that they use both during and after the session. The workbook’s content is designed to facilitate a couple’s ongoing discussion on various marital issues.

The Joy-Filled Marriage program has a life-skills component (Living the Joy-Filled Marriage) and a sacramentality component (God’s Plan for a Joy-Filled Marriage), based on St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. An additional component is the Marriage Action Plan (or MAP), which helps engaged couples capture their priorities, set concrete goals and identify the next steps toward building a joy-filled marriage.

Q. In your estimation how effective is the Joy-Filled Marriage program?  How many years have you been involved in marriage prep, and how in your opinion and how does it stack up against the materials or methods used when you and your fiance underwent marriage preparation?

A. We believe that the program is very effective. Through participant feedback, we have found that many couples decide to make or at least consider making some serious changes in their lives during their engagement. They are challenged to live virtuous and faith-filled lives. Among other things, couples come to see wisdom in living out their engagement in a way that honors chastity. They are also introduced to the unique gift that Natural Family Planning can bring to married couples.

The majority of marriage preparation carried out in the Church over the past 40 to 50 years has primarily been rooted in a “witness-based” model, in which a teaching or mentoring couple “witnesses” to engaged couples about various aspects of Catholic teaching. While this approach can be very effective at capturing the initial interest of the engaged, we have found that the current generation comes to the church with a faith that is in need of substantial catechesis.

Most engaged couples today have only a rudimentary understanding of the church’s teachings on marriage and human sexuality, much less the why behind these teachings. Therefore, a more catechetical approach to marriage preparation is what is needed.

The Joy-Filled Marriage program offers a combination of witness-based interaction and rich catechesis. This is, in part, why we turn to instructors who have a strong working knowledge of the faith. We believe this is also why pastors and priests are sending their couples to the archdiocesan program. They know firsthand that more preparation is needed for their engaged couples.

Q. What feedback are you getting from the program’s presenters, and from the parishes or other groups?

Joy-Filled Marriage presenters have been extremely enthusiastic about being involved in such a great opportunity for evangelization and a chance to impact the church for future generations. Since the family is the building block of society and the church, presenters are eager to share why the sacrament is so important to them through stories about their own experiences.

Pastors have reported being grateful to have the additional assistance in marriage preparation that Joy-Filled Marriage provides. As mentioned previously, there are a number of parishes that are running the program on their own with their current marriage prep team. We work closely with these parishes to train their team members either to incorporate the content into their already existing program or to replace their current program with the Joy-Filled Marriage resources.

Many parishes are looking for deeper catechesis and are eager to learn more about it due to a growing need for evangelization of the couples who attend.

Q. Do you have feedback from engaged couples who have participated in the program?

A. Yes. Through follow-up surveys, we have collected much honest and helpful feedback from the couples who have participated. Although any program that richly presents Catholic teaching will hear some push-back from some couples in attendance, which happens because the content is counter-cultural. We have also received hundreds of comments from engaged couples about their positive response to the content.

Rooted in the virtues and the Theology of the Body, the Joy-Filled Marriage program offers a vision of life that excites engaged couples — even if it simultaneously challenges them in their understanding of the sacrament of matrimony and conjugal love.

Q. Is there any other information about the program you would like to share?

A. I would like to mention that we currently are having training opportunities available for parish staff or team members who are interested in learning more about the Joy-Filled Marriage program. We are always happy to speak to pastors and marriage preparation team members who want to utilize the program or may be interested in being a host site.

Also, please feel free to reference the new website phillycatholicmarriageprep.com for more information!

Q. Who is the best person at Ascension Press to talk to about the program?

A. Anyone who has questions about the program or would like any additional information should feel free to contact me, Katie Greene, at 484-875-4550, extension 222 (also at kgreene@ascensionpress.com).