Couple exchanges vows during wedding for the ages

Newlyweds Lorraine Sughrue, Woody Blackwell begin life together in their 80s

By Claire Collins

If it was up to Lorraine Sughrue and Woody Blackwell, they would have never met.

Lorraine Sughrue and Woody Blackwell hold hands for a portrait with Bishop Richard F. Stika, Father Mike Nolan, right, and Father Mike Creson.

Luckily, God had other plans. The two tied the knot on Nov. 18 at St. Thérèse of Lisieux Church in Cleveland, with Father Mike Nolan celebrating the wedding Mass.

Lorraine and Woody, both in their 80s, have a nearly combined 119 years of marriage experience. After losing both of their spouses in the first half of 2020, an ongoing tradition of daily Mass and dinner with friends ultimately brought the two together.

Lorraine and her late husband, John Sughrue, moved to Cleveland from Pittsburgh in 1966. They brought with them two children and plans to stay for a short two years while John worked on a project for Rust Engineering.

“I am not staying in Tennessee; I was going back to Pittsburgh,” Lorraine recounted telling her late husband. If it was up to her, those two years would have been swift and they would have headed back north.

However, the community in Cleveland, particularly the parishioners of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, quickly became something they realized they couldn’t leave. “(We) got to know people here; they were friendly, they were welcoming, they had parties and socials, something that we didn’t have at all in Pittsburgh.”

Three more children would be added to their family as they became more deeply rooted in Cleveland. They became active members of the parish, serving with various groups and committees. John was an active member of the Knights of Columbus, while Lorraine served in different roles like teaching and lectoring.

It was in 1991 that Woody and Lorraine’s paths would start to cross for the first time.

When Woody Blackwell and his late wife, Pat, moved to Cleveland, Woody wasn’t Catholic. He joined his wife, a cradle Catholic, for Mass and parish activities regularly.

“I was bound and determined I would never be Catholic,” Woody said. He mentioned that the Second Vatican Council helped to change things for him, combined with nice people from the parish and the friends they were making.

In the late 1990s, he finally decided it was time for him to join the Church. However, he was working on a project out of town and couldn’t participate in the regular RCIA meetings. So, on Sunday afternoons, just before he’d get on a plane to leave town, he had special one-on-one meetings with the Sister who was serving St. Thérèse at the time. After joining the Church, he would also start to serve the parish in a variety of roles. He was in the Knights of Columbus, where he currently serves as treasurer, and served on the parish building committee.

It was through both of their involvement with the Church that the two couples became friends. Both Lorraine’s and Woody’s spouses were in the choir together.

“Church is a big part of our life, and it’s important to us. It’s an obligation but not an obligation, if you know what I mean,” Woody said.

“I’ve been a Catholic all my life, I can’t imagine not participating. I just can’t imagine not being a part of the Catholic Church. This particular community is amazing,” remarked Lorraine.

“As Father Nolan always says,” remembered Woody, “it’s ‘the best Catholic church in Bradley County.’”

Woody also played golf with Lorraine’s late husband, John.

Father Mike Nolan, pastor of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, was the wedding Mass celebrant, and Father Mike Creson concelebrated. Bishop Richard F. Stika attended the wedding Mass in choir.

“Her husband gave me some of the most memorable moments I’ve ever had playing golf,” Woody recalled in between chuckles. “I’ll never forget when he hopped in the golf cart and drove it straight into the creek.”

The two couples also had a regular routine, along with other friends, of Wednesday Mass and dinner. After the loss of their spouses, Lorraine and Woody continued the tradition. This led them to begin spending more time with one another and to eventually realize just how much they enjoyed one another’s company.

“I kept going to Mass; she kept coming,” Woody said. “First thing you know, we were sitting in the same pew. We enjoyed being together, it just seemed like the natural thing to do.”

The newlyweds bring much experience and wisdom to their new marriage. When asked what the most important lessons were that they learned about marriage, they didn’t have to think twice. Be friends and laugh a lot.

“It’s so nice to have somebody that you really like,” Lorraine said. “You find that you like somebody before you find that you really love that person. What’s not to like about him?”

When asked if there was anything they didn’t agree on, Woody said, “I just don’t say anything about politics, unless I want to rile her up a little bit.”

In preparation for their wedding day, Woody humorously mentioned that they thought about eloping several times. But in the end, they realized they wanted to have a celebration that included the community that had brought them together.

When asked if it was going to be a big wedding, Lorraine responded, “Father announced it from the pulpit.”

“We started out making a list,” Woody chimed in. “But pretty soon that list was so long we just decided to let anybody come that wants.”

“But please don’t bring gifts,” Lorraine added.

Bishop Richard F. Stika was one of many in attendance to celebrate their wedding day. He made the trip just hours after his return from the annual fall meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

A wedding Mass for Lorraine Sughrue and Woody Blackwell was celebrated on Nov. 18 at St. Thérèse of Lisieux Church in Cleveland, with family, church family, and friends, taking part.

“Father Nolan let me know about this wedding, and I wanted to be part of it. So, I left the bishops’ meeting early and drove all night to be there. They are just a delightful couple. It just shows that love is something special, even when you are in your 80s,” Bishop Stika said.

Father Nolan, pastor of St. Thérèse of Lisieux Parish, celebrated the marriage of a couple that means so much to the parish.

“(Lorraine and Woody) came to me to prepare for marriage. Between them they have 118 years and nine months of marital experience. And I’m supposed to prepare them?” Father Nolan asked.

But for Father Nolan, the celebration was truly a special one knowing what Lorraine and Woody mean to the community.

“I was thrilled to be able to witness the marriage of two committed Catholics and longtime pillars of the church,” Father Nolan said.

Father Mike Creson, Deacon Barry Maples, and Deacon Steve Ratterman also participated in the wedding Mass. In addition, many parishioners joyfully attended to celebrate a couple that means so much to the parish.

“It went perfectly. It was very neat,” Lorraine said. “It was so unreal. The first weddings we had were immediate family, usually, and that was about it. But this was like the whole parish. I mean, it just seemed like you couldn’t meet anybody without them giving us a hug and telling us how happy they were for us.”

“It was a fun thing for everybody,” Lorraine added. “I think we all needed it after all the COVID and everything else we’ve been through. It was just a great celebration.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *