At age 39, graphic designer Maria Kaczperski felt that time was running out for finding her significant other. Her previous relationships had ended badly, and she didn’t hold out much hope for finding a date, let alone a spouse — especially over the Internet.

When she first signed on with Ave Maria Singles (avemariasingles.com) in February 1999, her expectations were pretty low.

“I didn’t expect it to work out,” Kaczperski says. In fact, she was convinced that she would be single for the rest of her life and began making plans to work as a missionary in Honduras.

Three months after taking the plunge, she began corresponding with Mark, a horticulture professor in Macon, Ga. While not an active Catholic, Mark agreed to pray for Maria during her mission trip, returned to the sacrament of reconciliation and made a commitment to attend daily Mass for her. Seventeen months later, they were married.

They aren’t alone. The Holy Spirit is using the Internet to allow single Catholics, young and old, to meet one another online. Many of them are entering sacramental marriages and starting Catholic families of their own using Internet dating services such as Ave Maria Single Catholics, Catholic Match (catholicmatch.com) and Catholic Singles (catholicsingles.com). All three services post wedding photographs and success stories from couples who found sacramental love online.

With prices ranging between $8 and $15 per month, members are able to conduct searches for compatible dates, read member profiles and correspond with other members. All three of the services estimate the majority of their users fall between ages 25 and 40.

While each company offers a similar service, they differ in their approach. Front Royal, Va.-based Ave Maria is the smallest of the three. It features a married-member forum, where singles ask married members about such things as how to handle long-distance relationships and activities suitable for a first date.

Ave Maria boasts more than 9,000 members — not to mention 319 marriages and 121 engagements. In addition, the service offers singles cruises, including one to Alaska. Founder Anthony Buono has also published a book of 25 success stories, We Met Online.

“I prefer to call Ave Maria a marriage service rather than a dating service,” Buono says. “We’re creating a neighborhood full of people who are discerning the vocation of marriage. Our primary goal is to get people together who are answering God’s call to be married and build up society through strong family life.”

Networking Works

CatholicMatch.com, formerly St. Raphael Catholic Singles, was founded in 1999 by law student Brian Barcaro along with Jason LaFosse and Michael Lloyd. Two years later, they made the initiative part of their business, Acolyte LLC — an Internet development and management company — and started charging a fee. It’s been growing ever since.

Under the patronage of St. Raphael, the patron of single people, the service has a membership of 50,000. Catholic Match features an online list of events across the country for Catholic singles.

“Our approach is to provide a community atmosphere,” Barcaro explains. “Since parish life is no longer the focal point of the community, singles need opportunities to meet other singles.”

“We’re hoping to create physical communities and networks that allow people to meet,” he adds. “Some sites are so large now that it’s possible to miss a person.”

Competitor Catholic Singles bills itself as the largest Catholic singles Website. Since its inception in 1998, it has registered nearly 200,000 individuals. The site currently has 50,000 active members. Unlike the other two sites, Catholic Singles doesn’t ask members to disclose their stand on specific doctrinal and moral questions. Like Ave Maria, Catholic Singles also hosts two cruises per year.

E-Correspondence

Buono points out that one of the reasons why online Catholic matchmaking works so well is that it saves singles time. Ave Maria, for example, allows members to screen one another based not only on personality and interests but also on fidelity to Catholic teachings on marriage, contraception and abortion.

Catholic singles find that, behind the safety of the computer screen, it’s easier to make friends. By corresponding via e-mail, singles are able to forgo the dating scene and ask the most important questions up front. That correspondence can screen out mismatches and transform online friendships into marriages.

Barcaro enjoys telling the story of one couple who met online while working in the same office building. Until the match, neither one knew the other.

Then there’s Maria and Mark. After returning from her mission trip, they continued their e-correspondence for three months. “His letters were beautiful,” Maria recalls. The couple finally agreed to meet one another for the first time at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens.

After that, they began speaking on the phone and, finally, getting together for activities. Despite a two-and-a-half hour drive for Mark, they became very involved with the young adult ministry offerings in Atlanta — Theology on Tap, Thank God It’s First Friday, the Songs of Solomon and different Catholic apologetics seminars. Every morning at 6, Mark would call Maria so they could begin their day by praying the rosary together.

The fall after they met, Mark first told Maria he loved her. Maria was frightened at first, but then Mark wrote her a letter explaining what love meant to him.

“He described a type of sacrificial love,” Maria says. “I had never been loved that way before.” A month later, Maria told Mark she loved him in return. They were married on Oct. 7, 2000 — the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.

Register staff writer Tim Drake is the author of

Young and Catholic: The Face of Tomorrow’s Church.