In their 19-year marriage, Bob and Jeanne Weisenburger of rural Pemberville, Ohio, have developed a flair for bringing other Catholic couples together socially.
Anyone invited to their home is likely to form new friendships over a glass of wine or a meal or around a bonfire. As one guest told Jeanne, “You never know who you’re going to meet when you come to the Weisenburgers.”
More often than not, the people in the Weisenburgers’ circle tend to be other Catholics, and Jeanne says it is exciting to see people interact in a social atmosphere enkindled by a love for the faith.
As friends make friends with other friends, she and her husband have noticed that some are learning more about their faith and how to access Church teaching.
“You just know other people are enjoying each other’s company,” she says, “and we’re all growing stronger in the faith.”
Would that more Catholic couples would follow the Weisenburgers’ example.
For Catholic couples need other Catholic couples — not just for fun, friendship and edification but also to help keep their respective marriages grounded in the Catholic faith.
“We as human beings were meant to socialize,” says Father Tim Ferris, associate pastor of St. Mary Parish in Tiffin, Ohio. He adds that couples can help one another grow in their roles as spouses and parents. “It’s important that saints breed other saints,” says the priest.
To find friends, he recommends that a couple begin by praying for direction. Beyond that, a good place to meet other couples is the parish, but just showing up at Mass may not be enough.
Convert Drake McCalister, a former pastor in the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, and his wife, Crystal, expected other people to introduce themselves when they joined a Catholic parish in Seattle several years ago.
“After four weeks when nobody said a word to us,” McCalister recalls, “we said, ‘Okay, time’s up. We can either be complainers or we can contribute to the need at hand.’ We literally did that. We just introduced ourselves.”
Crystal approached a woman at the parish school and that conversation became the seed of new friendships for the couple. But Drake, who now teaches catechetics at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, says making overtures to other parishioners can be done just as easily at the coffee hour after Mass, provided your parish has one.
“That’s just a great place to sit down,” he adds, “and intentionally introduce yourself.”
Co-Workers in the Vineyard
Jeanne Weisenburger says she and her husband found that their children’s involvement in extracurricular activities at school was a good way to meet other couples and families in their parish. Other possibilities might include parish religious-education programs, Bible studies and weekday Masses.
Once connections are made, socializing with other couples can be fairly simple. The McCalisters prefer home meals as a way of spending time with other couples.
“I think nothing replaces that as just a great comfortable option and environment for people to come and get to know one another,” Drake said. “It’s very inexpensive and very easy to do. Because you’re inviting someone in, it lets them see who you are and how you interact with your family.”
After dinner, the McCalisters sometimes will play a “good, nonstressful, conversation-compatible game” like Dominoes, Uno or Sequence, followed by dessert.
For couples who don’t feel comfortable entertaining at home, McCalister says, going out is a great second option, but it does cost more and is less personal. Couples, particularly those with children, also can get together around a common activity like bicycling or hiking or watching professional sports.
After relationships are formed — and ideally, before they are — couples should set some guidelines by establishing what McCalister calls a “family identity,” defining what they stand for and who they are as a unit.
“This ends up being your first set of boundaries as you begin to interact with other couples, whether you have children or not,” he says. “That way, when you interact and find another couple or family that has values and an identity in direct opposition to yours, it will help you establish a proper friendship.”
For example, McCalister says, he and his wife have a policy of not going out to dinner in restaurants on Sundays.
“That’s our day to be home. It’s the Lord’s Day, a day off, a day of rest,” he says. “We wouldn’t make it a major thing if we had just met somebody and that’s what they wanted to do, but if we can make the choice, we would say, ‘We like to make that day a day of relationship, a day of family, either in our home or another’s home.’”
The McCalisters also are pro-active about letting their parenting styles and preferences be known. When all their children were small, for instance, the couple always maintained their 7:30 p.m. bedtime, whether they were in their own or another family’s home. When visiting, they would simply put their children to bed in a spare bedroom.
“We could take our kids anywhere and stay until 10 or 11 o’clock at night,” McAlister says, “because we had established that routine in our home first.”
Although they tend to gravitate toward couples who have similar parenting philosophies, the McCalisters do spend time with those whose styles differ from theirs. But they try to limit this in the interest of minimizing the possible negative impact on their own children.
“When you’re in a home where the parent doesn’t believe in telling a child no,” he points out, “it can be problematic in the long-term and has an effect on your child, as well.”
Once couples establish a solid group of friends, they may need to be nudged to step outside that circle in the interest of evangelization.
“It takes a little more effort to reach out to others — there’s a whole new set of challenges as you get to know people,” says Jeanne Weisenburger. “But you need to reach out. I think our life by virtue of our baptism asks us to do that.”
When couples interact with those who differ from them in the area of faith commitment, McCalister says they should first ask themselves, “Are you an influencer or are you looking to be influenced?”
“My wife and I would put ourselves in the influencer camp,” he says. “We wouldn’t send our kids to certain homes, but we would invite just about anybody in the parish to our home.”
As a rule, though, couples should make sure they are spending time with people who are going to strengthen their values. “Your main relationships should be with people of common values,” adds McAlister, “and common faith-formation in Christ.”
Judy Roberts writes from