Dozens of couples married at new cathedral since 2018 reunite to mark National Marriage Week USA
By Gabrielle Nolan
Nearly 50 married couples gathered at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in Knoxville for an evening to celebrate their unique marriages.
The event, which took place the evening of Feb. 18, was open to all couples who have married at the cathedral, as well as to those couples who are parishioners but married elsewhere.
The celebration was intentionally planned for the Friday after Valentine’s Day, which marked the completion of National Marriage Week USA, an annual opportunity for the “Catholic Church to focus on and celebrate the vocation to marriage and family life,” according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website.
“We are consistently looking for ways to continue to touch people’s lives after they receive a sacrament,” said Scott Barron, director of the cathedral’s campus events. “Once they walk out those doors, we don’t want to lose that touchpoint with them.”
Father David Boettner, rector of the cathedral, welcomed the couples with a blessing.
“A wedding oftentimes is viewed as something that just happens at a moment in time,” Father Boettner said. “But our theology of marriage is that the choice to be married is something that’s made every day, and so really, we are encouraging you to celebrate your wedding every day of your marriage. And so we begin that way this evening.”
The evening kicked off inside the cathedral hall with fun table icebreakers, allowing the couples to meet one another and share stories of their respective wedding days.
The bilingual event was presented in English and Spanish, “so everyone feels welcomed,” Mr. Barron said.
After a buffet-style dinner, four couples volunteered to participate in the timeless party activity The Newlywed Game.
Deacon Walt Otey, director of evangelization and faith formation at the cathedral, led the divided groups of husbands and wives to provide their own answers to questions such as:
- What is one thing you want your husband to throw away?
- What was your wife wearing on your first date?
- What does your spouse do that drives you crazy?
When the husbands and wives were brought back together to see how their answers compared, hilarity ensued as spouses shared different responses.
The event also included a marriage enrichment video, as well as a questionnaire for couples to thoughtfully (and sometimes humorously) write out responses to questions related to their marriage, such as:
- Is marriage easier or harder than you thought?
- What is the best marriage advice you’ve received?
- What do you like most about married life?
Throughout the course of the evening a projected slideshow ran in the background, showcasing the photos of couples on their wedding days.
“I’ve gotten e-mails and pictures from couples all over the country that have been married here and moved on to Colorado and Chicago and other places in the country…to say hey, here’s how we’re doing, here’s our picture,” Mr. Barron noted.
Mr. Barron pointed out that the interruptions from the coronavirus pandemic have given the parish a new opportunity for “a great restart.”
“There’s a lot of ways to start new traditions as we’re kind of coming back together,” he said.
Mr. Barron also noted that many of the couples married at the cathedral in the past two years “did not have the traditional experience,” as mask mandates and COVID capacity restrictions were in place for gatherings.
The event was “a great opportunity to come back and just be recognized, even without all those guests, just to say, ‘hey thank you for getting married at the cathedral or getting married anywhere,’” he said.
Mr. Barron personally works with every bride and groom who come to the cathedral and enjoyed the opportunity “to see people again and touch base.”
“You hear these great stories, and you meet these people for 48 hours, you know, the night before and the day of (their wedding), and they move on and sometimes you hear from them, sometimes you don’t,” he said. “For us as a parish staff as well, it’s going to be a great reminder why we do what we do.”
Brian and Janine Gerber, who married at the cathedral on Aug. 31, 2019, attended the evening celebration to reflect on their wedding day.
“Everything was great, everyone was impressed,” Mr. Gerber said. “I had family coming in from Kansas, so seeing the cathedral and everything was amazing for everyone. It was a great time.”
“This was our wedding venue,” Mrs. Gerber said. “We had the reception right here, so we wanted to come back…. Since we got married, we have kids and we’re pregnant again, so it’s a good break to socialize with other Catholic people also here in the area.”
There is a hope to turn this wedding celebration into an annual event at the Cathedral.
“Our goal is, hopefully invite back the previous grooms and brides so they can actually be mentors or be people that those younger couples can reach out to,” Mr. Barron said. “It’s just a great way to continue the ministry and keep people anchored here.”
Mr. Barron hopes that this event also will be a reminder to the couples of the various ways they can be involved in the parish.
“How can we get you in our different ministries? We’re just going to use this as a great reminder that we have lots of ways to be involved in our church outside of sacramental life or Mass,” he said.
Since its dedication on March 3, 2018, the cathedral has hosted 130 weddings.
Mr. Barron recounted that there was a bit of a race to be among the first couples married at the newly built cathedral.
“There’s also a few that were scheduled to be the second or third and then somebody took the date before them, so there’s some good-natured joking that some people were bumped from the top three,” he said.
The first bride to be married in the new cathedral has since brought her children back to be baptized.
“So, we’re starting to see that second generation come through, those brides bringing their children back to be baptized, that next generation starting to be anchored in our cathedral,” Mr. Barron said.
The cathedral has 40 couples scheduled to be married this year, which is about the capacity of what the staff can handle.
“We’re fully booked from the weekend after Lent until the week before Christmas,” Mr. Barron said.
He shared that the Sacred Heart staff wants to be a part of the couples’ lives after they leave the cathedral and that couples can come to them at any time with their needs.
“We care about you, and it’s not just about sacramental life,” he continued. “We want to minister to you in every chapter of your life, and this (event) is just another way we can give to you and you can give to others.”
Father Boettner concluded the event with a solemn blessing:
“May God the eternal Father keep you of one heart in love for one another, that the peace of Christ may dwell in you and abide always in your home. Amen. May you be blessed in your children, have solace in your friends, and enjoy true peace with everyone. Amen. May you be witnesses in the world to God’s charity so that the afflicted and needy who have known your kindness may one day receive you thankfully into the eternal dwelling of God. Amen. And may Almighty God bless all of you who are gathered here. Amen.”