As the Archdiocese of Toronto prepares for Marriage Sunday on February 14, we acknowledge and thank all married couples – and especially those who are celebrating milestone anniversaries – for their commitment and witness to our community.
An essential ingredient for a long marriage is preparation. The archdiocese has been working with parishes to provide solid marriage preparation that meets our current needs and remains accessible during the pandemic. St. Patrick’s Parish in Markham is one such parish that has begun to offer the new archdiocesan endorsed “Joy-filled Marriage” preparation program – and they took the program online when the pandemic came to Ontario.
Coordinators of the marriage preparation team, Peter Keating and his wife Carmen, share their experiences of adapting this program and moving forward during this pandemic.
1. How long have you been involved in the marriage preparation ministry at St. Patrick’s Parish in Markham and what motivates you to do this work?
We have been involved in the marriage preparation ministry at St. Patrick’s for the past 12 years and we have been coordinating the program since 2012. We originally joined the ministry as a way to volunteer together and support our parish community.
Over the years, we have really enjoyed meeting all of the couples who are preparing for marriage and we continue to be inspired by their commitment to each other. We feel blessed by our faith and our relationship and we enjoy providing an example and sharing our insights with the couples to inspire them to really work at having a great marriage.
2. Can you briefly describe the key components of the “Joy-filled Marriage” program and how it prepares couples to receive God’s graces in this great sacrament?
The “Joy-filled Marriage” program consists of two components: 1) God’s Plan for Love; and 2) Life Skills for Couples.
The God’s Plan for Love segment, which is based on the concepts of the Theology of the Body, highlights the importance of God’s plan for marriage and how it reflects His greater plan for all humanity. This part of the program better prepares couples to receive the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage.
The Life Skills segment provides a virtue-based approach to the practical aspects of marriage, such as a marriage mission, communication, conflict resolution, stewardship and prayer. The overall program consists of a series of videos that explain the concepts, which are then reinforced through exercises and one-on-one discussions for the engaged couple.
3. Your parish recently began offering this program online with engaged couples. How has your team adapted to running this as virtual program?
We couldn’t run the program without a solid team of volunteer couples who support us in running the program while bringing their own skills and experience to the ministry.
Our team did have to adapt last year. First, in early 2020, when we moved to the “Joy-filled Marriage” program for our in-person sessions and then we had to move the program online (using Zoom) for our Fall 2020 session. While most of our volunteers had some experience with Zoom or other teleconferencing platforms, it hasn’t taken long for even the most technically challenged of us to become comfortable with the technology.
All our team members attend every meeting, but one couple is usually assigned to facilitate a particular evening. The “Joy-filled Marriage” program provides a series of high-quality and relatable videos featuring inspirational speakers as well as everyday couples sharing their stories and their faith. The videos do most of the ‘heavy lifting’ in terms of the program’s content and they are supported by well-crafted workbooks and exercises that reinforce the messages in the videos. The final and critical ingredient in the program is the witness and insight provided by our volunteer couples. Altogether it all makes for a really strong program.
Our parish team was able to learn how to offer the “Joy-filled Marriage” program through online resources provided by the publisher and further supported by training sessions organized by Office of Formation for Discipleship.
4. What feedback have you received from the engaged couples who have been through your program?
We always conduct an evaluation with the couples after each six-week session where we ask for their feedback and comments. We receive some great insight and suggestions from the couples and our team meets to review the feedback and make adjustments to our program going forward.
Many of the couples’ comments express gratitude for the program as they feel that it allowed them to spend quality time better understanding each other, talking about their relationship and their faith and bringing to light topics they haven’t thought of or have been reluctant to discuss.
It gives us great satisfaction to see the comments that demonstrate that the couples really are getting the ‘message’ of the program. Here are a few of the actual comments from our most recent session that really sum this up:
5. Has this experience in preparing engaged couples benefitted your own marriage and relationship with each other?
Volunteering for the marriage preparation ministry has definitely had a positive impact on our own relationship and has helped strengthen us in our faith journey.
We run two sessions per year each consisting of six consecutive weekly meetings of about two hours in length. Most of the time and effort in supporting the ministry is concentrated around those two sessions per year and the planning that goes in beforehand. For us, this is a manageable time commitment that we can fit into our everyday lives.
To learn more about the “Joy-filled Marriage” program being offered by the Archdiocese of Toronto, please click here.
Virtual marriage preparation courses are also being offered by Catholic Family Services using the “Joy-Filled Marriage” program. You can visit their website here.