Faith: The Secret to a Sacramental Marriage

As Church leaders meet at the Vatican through Oct. 19 for the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops to discuss how the Church can strengthen marriage and family, couples share their own experiences of forming faithful families.

It has been said that “it takes three to get married” — a man, a woman and God.

In fact, in 1951, Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote a book with that sentiment in the title.  

For three Catholic couples who have a combined total of more than 150 years of sacramental marriage, they know that the beloved archbishop couldn’t have gotten it more right.

As Church leaders meet at the Vatican through Oct. 19 for the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops to discuss how the Church can strengthen marriage and family, these couples share their own experiences of forming faithful families.  

‘Prayer Is Key’
“Prayer is key. Love is self-giving, and love is self-sacrificing,” said Judy Schlueter of Columbus, Ohio.

She and her husband, Bernie, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in August of last year. The two grew up as friends in Dubuque, Iowa. The couple credit their families of origin for instilling a strong faith foundation in them.

“The greatest gift our parents gave to us was their love for each other,” Judy told the Register. “Their love for each other was evident all the time. Whether it was in the sacrifices they made or the respect they had for each other, Mom and Dad lived the Catholic faith.”

Bernie was the second youngest of 11 children. “We (my family) practically lived at church,” he said.

Their friendship eventually led to their marriage in August 1963.

“I like to say that our relationship was not love at first sight, but, rather, love seeking understanding,” explained Bernie.

This sentiment was expressed by Pope Francis recently.

“This is what marriage is all about: man and woman walking together, wherein the husband helps his wife to become ever more a woman, and wherein the woman has the task of helping her husband to become ever more a man. This is the task that you both share. ‘I love you, and for this love, I help you to become ever more a woman’; ‘I love you, and for this love, I help you to become ever more a man.’ Here, we see the reciprocity of differences,” Pope Francis told couples who were married at the Vatican on Sept. 14.

The Schlueter family has been involved in the pro-life movement since day one.

Judy explained, “In 1973, when Roe v. Wade became the law of the land, we had five kids. With the encouragement of our priest, we were invited to join in the pro-life movement.”

Judy was one of the founding members of Bethesda Healing Ministry, a post-abortive healing ministry of which she is still one of the leaders.

While the Schlueters were on the front lines of the Church 30-plus years ago, they now look to their seven kids to keep them updated on all things Catholic.

“It is a real blessing that we have our kids and grandkids (42 of them) active in the faith,” noted Judy. “Throughout these conversations with our children, we gain insights and opportunities to grow in our personal and communal faith. Now, the young and budding teens also engage in age-appropriate conversations, hopefully preparing them to one day believe that they are called by God to change the culture by the building [up] of God’s kingdom.”

They illustrate what the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “They (the couple) are called to grow continually in their communion through day-to-day fidelity to their marriage promise of total, mutual self-giving” (1644).

That has been the Schlueters message to their children and to anyone who is contemplating this beautiful sacrament. “The cross is really the essence of marriage,” Judy emphasized. “It is at the cross where Jesus formed our marriage; and it’s the cross that leads us to holiness.”

Give 100%
In October 2013, Paul and Marilou Clouse and their extended family — three daughters, three sons-in-law and four grandchildren — spent a week in Orlando, Fla. It was their 50th wedding anniversary. They even had polo shirts made up with the message “Family, Life’s Great Blessing!” emblazoned across the front. It was a fitting message for a couple who met more than a half century earlier, as high-school students in Columbus, Ohio.

The two say that they were best friends as they graduated high school and moved into college. Marilou was a nursing student at Mount Carmel School of Nursing in Columbus, and Paul was a commuting student at The Ohio State University.

“We wrote many, many letters to each other at that time. Ours was very much a courtship,” said Paul, “which I think is very different than what young people do today. We had our ups and downs, but it didn’t take long before we knew we were committed to each other.”

Paul proposed to Marliou in the chapel at Mount Carmel after she graduated. A year later, in October 1963, the two were married.

Within the first five years of marriage, the two had four pregnancies. One resulted in a miscarriage. “We handled that very differently,” Paul said. “I tried to bury it by not talking. Marilou wanted to talk about it, on the other hand. It was a very tough time for us.” The two said they relied on their Catholic faith throughout that difficult time.

Marilou was blessed to be able to stay home and raise their three daughters. They loved doing things as a family: Dinner together in the Clouse family was a given. Family prayer and Mass were non-negotiable, too. “Through the good and the bad, we have always prayed; and we knew that the sacramental graces of our marriage would carry us through,” explained Marilou.

This is what Pope St. John Paul II shared during his pontificate, noting that marriage is the foundation of life and love.
“According to the plan of God, marriage is the foundation of the wider community of the family, since the very institution of marriage and conjugal love are ordained to the procreation and education of children, in whom they find their crowning,” (34, Familiaris Consortio).

As their children got older, the Clouses became more and more involved in their parish, in particular marriage ministry. They have been involved in Marriage Encounter for 30 years.

“Marriage Encounter helped us to share our feelings and not just our thoughts,” said Marilou. “We’ve learned to compromise.”

For those contemplating marriage, Paul and Marilou have a few words of wisdom that they have gleaned over the past 50 years.

“Take time to know each other,” said Mailou. “Share your feelings, hopes and dreams. Be realistic; expect problems, and be patient.”

Paul added that it is important to marry for the right reason. “Make God first and foremost a part of your life and then your spouse a top priority,” he said. “Remember, sacramental marriage is not a 50/50 plan; each spouse is called to give 100%.”

In Sickness and Health
Father Jude Halphen of the Diocese of Lafayette, La., credits the sacramental love of his mom and dad as laying the foundation for his priestly vocation.

“As I was growing up, Mom and Dad always impressed me as both a man and a woman of great faith,” he said.
Eula and Dewey Halphen married on Dec. 20, 1949.

“They always looked for opportunities to lead us (my brother and me) in family prayer,” said Father Halphen, who has been a priest for more than 20 years. 

“In terms of my vocation, Mom and Dad were always supportive and encouraging.”

That is the way it should be, according to the wisdom of the Church: A holy household begets a holy priesthood.

The Catechism states, “It is in the bosom of the family that parents are by word and example ... the first heralds of the faith with regard to their children. They should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each child, fostering with special care any religious vocation” (1656).

For the past five years, 87-year-old Dewey has been caring for his wife since she suffered a stroke. It left her paralyzed on her right side and unable to speak. According to Father Halphen, his dad insisted on taking care of his mom at home. He plays his harmonica and guitar for Eula every day.

Dewey says he couldn’t imagine it any other way. This is what the Lord has blessed him with.

“We’ve had our ups and downs, but we have always leaned on the Lord. We have always respected each other and valued each other’s opinions,” he shared. “Eula and I have had a wonderful life, and I attribute that to the Lord.”

The Halphens love illustrates a poignant quote from the pope emeritus.

“Dear married couples, by means of a special gift of the Holy Spirit, Christ gives you a share in his spousal love, making you a sign of his faithful and all-embracing love for the Church,” Pope Benedict XVI stated during his papacy. “If you can receive this gift, renewing your Yes each day by faith, with the strength that comes from the grace of the sacrament, then your family will grow in God’s love, according to the model of the Holy Family of Nazareth.”


Eddie O’Neill writes from
Rolla, Missouri.