The Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Office for Life and Family is sponsoring a Marriage Enrichment Day on April 2 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Cardinal O’Hara High School in Springfield.
The event will focus on inspiring and strengthening married couples, and provide speakers on various topics relating to Catholic married life.
“Nobody’s marriage is perfect,” said Steve Bozza, director of the Office for Life and Family. All marriages, he said, need to be strengthened and “everybody has an issue that needs to be worked out. Growth is for everybody.”
Deacon Mike Cushing of St. Jude Parish in Chalfont is one of the event organizers, along with his wife of 21 years, Donna Cushing. “It’s humanly impossible to stay married for 40 to 50 years,” said Deacon Mike. “God has to be involved to get you through the difficulties, whether it’s health or money. The adversity has to bring you closer … that will happen if you have a relationship with God.”
The enrichment day is part of a program offered by Marriages of Grace, a non-profit organization founded in 2012 by a Catholic married couple in Cleveland, Bill and Tanis Merimee, to provide ongoing enrichment opportunities to other Catholic married and engaged couples.
“Archbishop Perez wanted to bring this program to Philadelphia,” said Donna Cushing, who said the archbishop was familiar with the Marriages of Grace program when he was bishop of Cleveland.
The Philadelphia chapter is the program’s second location in the U.S., and Tanis Merimee is hopeful that the program will spread to other cities across the United States.
“Our goal is to enrich Catholic couples and reach as many Catholic couples as we can,” said Merimee, who has been married to her husband Bill for 30 years. “We’re so passionate because where you have a strong marriage, you have a strong family, you have a strong Church, and you have a strong society.”
“Married couples need opportunities for enrichment and to strengthen their marriages,” said Sharon Bellitto, one of the event volunteers along with her husband of 35 years, Deacon Tony Bellitto. They are parishioners of St. Stanislaus Church in Lansdale.
Sharon knows the archdiocese has long offered a Pre-Cana program for newlyweds, and the April 2 event “is a Post-Cana so couples can grow in the covenant of marriage.”
Tony said the event offers “a diverse array of speakers dealing with different aspects of marriage.”
Sarah and Andrew Swafford are the keynote speakers for the event and will explore the topic, “Communication, Friendship, and Placing Christ at the Center.”
Sarah is a national speaker and author of “Emotional Virtue: A Guide to Drama Free Relationships,” while Andrew is an associate professor of theology at Benedictine College in Kansas. He is also an author and editor for publications by Ascension, the media production firm in Exton, and host of two Ascension DVD series. Ascension will also be a sponsor of the April 2 event.
The Swaffords live in Atchison, Kansas with their five young children.
Other speakers include:
- Alicia and Mike Hernon on “The Four Disciplines of a Catholic Family: How to Strengthen Your Family Culture.” The Hernons have a website called the Messy Family Project where they talk about raising 10 children and give hope to other families.
- Jenn and Matt Lozano on “Forgiving and Blessing Your Spouse.” The Lozanos are both involved in Heart of the Father Ministries, which empowers people to reclaim their true identity in Christ as sons and daughters of the Father. Their website is HeartoftheFather.com.
- Amy and Steve Motyl on “Communicating in Love – Learning to Speak Your Spouse’s Language.” The Motyls are parents and marriage preparation teachers who live in the Amish countryside of southeast Pennsylvania.
- Father Chris Walsh on “Praying as a Couple … in Good Times and in Bad.” Father Walsh is the pastor of St. Raymond of Penafort Parish in Philadelphia.
Lunch will be served midday with the opportunity for couples to make new friends. Merimee said the opportunity for Catholic couples to socialize is an important component of the Marriages of Grace events.
The day will end with a late afternoon Mass celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop John J. McIntyre.
According to the Cushings, the event can be helpful to couples who are newlyweds through seniors. Deacon Mike said he hopes those in their 30s and 40s will attend the event, as the middle years of marriage can be particularly stressful.
“They’re trying to move forward in their careers, they’re taking care of children, taking care of parents. It’s a stressful time of life,” he said.
“Marriage is till death do us part,” he added. “We need guidance, and we need to stay close to God. Adversity can either bring you together or tear you apart. You’ve got to respond to it properly. If you don’t have the right foundation, when you hit hard times, you get separated.”
The Philadelphia chapter of Marriages of Grace hopes that the April 2 event will be the first in an ongoing series of events to enrich the marriages of Catholic couples in the Philadelphia area.
The organizers expect to make the Marriage Enrichment Day an annual event as well as offer married couples monthly “Cana Night” events at various local restaurants and bars, similar to the Theology on Tap program for young adults.
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