Marriage enrichment: Celebrating the diocese’s longest-married couples

A husband and wife married 69 years share their love story, which began in the ‘Magic City’

By Marian Christiana

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) National Marriage Week annual initiative begins Feb. 7 and ends Feb. 14 this year. Archbishop Charles Chaput, chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth, states that the week “provides an opportunity to celebrate the gift and blessing of marriage and to affirm and support engaged and married couples.”

The same week also includes World Marriage Day on Sunday, Feb. 12. World Marriage Day began as a part of the World-Wide Marriage Encounter (WWME) movement and has been celebrated for the past 28 years. As part of the celebration of World Marriage Day, we will once again honor the longest-married couple in the diocese by participating in the WWME search for the longest married couple in our state and nation.

Today’s media outlets often highlight unsuccessful marriages and the decline of choosing marriage as a natural progression in the love relationship of two people. This article, however, will be a celebration of all the couples throughout our diocese who are working hard to live out their covenant marriages for the benefit of all of us. Christ can be found in the love that they show one another and give the rest of us hope that strong, sacramental marriages are alive and well in our world.

As I write this article I am taking a break from wrapping up a Morning of Reflection on Mercy marriage-enrichment event held in Chattanooga, and from setting up the upcoming diocesan Picture of Love marriage-preparation program for this Friday and Saturday. I am so grateful that my job allows me the opportunity to be part of the exciting beginnings of marital love as seen through our engaged couples but also to witness the deep and abiding love of our married couples in all stages and ages of their marital journey.

At the Morning of Reflection on Mercy we had couples join us whose marriages ranged from five years to 63 years in length. The morning combined talks from Monsignor Al Humbrecht, Missionary Priest of Mercy for our diocese, and couple time when the couples could share their thoughts with each other on the particular topic relating to mercy and forgiveness in private discussions.

After the morning was over the couple who had been married the longest came up to me to tell me how much they enjoyed the morning and said that it just proves that you are never too old to learn something new about your spouse and enjoy some quality time together. I truly appreciated their comments, because they illustrated clearly the ever-evolving nature of the marital journey. During the upcoming weekend for the marriage preparation program, we will strive to provide our engaged couples with some tools to help them develop a good foundation for their ever-evolving marital journey.

Another aspect of my job is to enter the names of the longest-married couple in our diocese to the World-Wide Marriage Encounter contest held each February. This contest identifies and celebrates the longest married couple in each state and ultimately identifies the longest married couple in our nation. Last year Anthony (Tony) and Dorothy Kliemann won the longest-married couple for the state of Tennessee and our diocese. Tony and Dorothy are currently working on 74 and one-half years of marriage. They were not eligible to enter two years in a row. This year Steve and Mary Lou Knowles, who are parishioners at St. Francis of Assisi in Fairfield Glade, will represent our diocese in the WWME contest. Steve and Mary Lou have been married since Nov. 11, 1947.

Recently Mary Lou shared a bit of their love story with me and gave me permission to share some of it with you. She and Steve attended the same high school in Barberton, Ohio. Barberton was known as the “Magic City,” and it was in Barberton that the magic of their long-lasting love started when Steve started walking Mary Lou home from school and work. During their marriage the Knowleses moved with Steve’s job four times and built four new homes together. Conventional wisdom says that it is difficult on a marriage to build one new house together, so building four together is quite an accomplishment. They also happen to have four children. Sounds like the number four just might be their lucky number!

I asked Mary Lou what was the secret of their marital success, and she did not hesitate to say a shared faith. Steve was not Catholic when they first started spending time together. (Mary Lou said that they didn’t call it dating because no one had a car.) After high school Steve joined the Army. Steve surprised Mary Lou by converting to Catholicism while still on active duty. They were married at St. Augustine in Barberton when Steve completed his time in the service.

In November 2016 Steve and Mary Lou, along with 35 other couples, participated in the Morning of Reflection on Mercy when it was offered at their parish in Fairfield Glade. Mary Lou said that they really enjoyed attending the event. They both felt that the morning’s program reinforced how important their shared faith has been in their long-lasting marriage and highlighted how much they have in common. Once again illustrating the fact that you can always enjoy quality time with your spouse no matter how long you have been married.

On Sunday, Feb. 12, in connection with the World Marriage Day celebration mentioned above, the Knowleses will be acknowledged as the longest-married couple in our diocese for 2017 by the Office of Bishop Richard F. Stika and the Office of Marriage Preparation and Enrichment regardless of the outcome of the Marriage Encounter contest. I appreciate Steve and Mary Lou representing our diocese in the WWME’s search for the longest-married couple in Tennessee. I also appreciate their showing me Christ in the world through their deep and abiding love for one another. ■

Love that leads to marriage is a gift from God,
And a great act of faith toward other human beings.
— St. John Paul II 

Mrs. Christiana is coordinator of the diocesan Marriage Preparation and Enrichment Office.

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