Couples Opting for Long-Distance Marriage Prep

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Andrew and J’ana Rogers wanted a Catholic wedding, and Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs wanted them well prepared.

Like many priests and prelates, Bishop Sheridan is tired of seeing couples use the Church for weddings, only to lead married lives that are anything but what the Church expects of those entering the sacrament of matrimony.

But the bishop's rigorous marriage preparation requirements were a problem for Andrew and J’ana, who couldn't find a way to attend retreats and classes without J’ana quitting college or Andrew going AWOL.

“Andrew was in the military, and I was working and attending college,” said J’ana, a student at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, who married Andrew a year ago.

They could have opted for a justice of the peace or a wedding at Andrew's Methodist church. Instead, they enrolled in CatholicMarriage PrepOnline.com, the $50 one-stop shop for intense marriage preparation by correspondence. It enabled the couple to set aside several hours on Sunday nights to have serious, heart-to-heart discussions that were essential to answering the essay questions posed by the website.

“The fact is, many couples today are separated by hundreds or thousands of miles until they are married, and there are other factors that make it impossible for some couples to attend classes and weekend retreats,” Bishop Sheridan said. “This is much better than giving someone a pass, or having a couple give up on the idea of a Catholic marriage.”

Bishop Sheridan said he has concluded that the only drawback is that couples don't build in-person relationships with other couples while attending preparation functions. That, he said, can be easily corrected with regular Church attendance.

Founded by Christian and Christine Meert, the online curriculum is catching on in a world where challenges of war, work, college and geographic location sometimes keep young couples from receiving any marriage preparation at all.

“What impresses me most is that this program doesn't approach marriage preparation exclusively from a psychological and practical perspective,” Bishop Sheridan said. “It takes very seriously the need to teach couples about the divine institution of marriage and the meaning of marriage as a sacrament.”

Bishop Sheridan said he conducted extensive research about the Meerts, their teaching methods and their online curriculum. He was so impressed with what he found that he asked them to lead the Colorado Springs Diocese office of Marriage and Family Life.

“Christian and Christine Meert have dedicated their lives to preparing couples to live a happy and holy marriage,” Bishop Sheridan said.

Using the website, couples are required to discuss issues such as sex, contraception, children, drugs, alcohol, extended family, religious beliefs, prayer and communication skills. In writing, they answer questions and share their discussions so that the Meerts, and other marriage prep instructors, can assess them and offer feedback.

The online classes follow the same format as the live classes the Meerts developed and continue to teach for the Archdiocese of Denver and the Diocese of Colorado Springs. The classes are rooted in Scripture, Church teachings and Pope John Paul II's theology of the body.

The Meerts became involved in marriage preparation in Denver at the same time the archdiocese was expanding and strengthening marriage preparation requirements. Couples in Denver, and now Colorado Springs, spend roughly a year meeting requirements by attending classes and retreats.

Christian Meert said the idea for online marriage preparation resulted from situations that arose frequently in Denver, when they were teaching only in-classroom marriage prep.

“We had a couple in a remote area on the Western Slopes [of Colorado] that was told by their pastor to go to Denver to do their marriage preparation,” Christian said. “It was a four-hour drive each way, so we started working with them by e-mail. The results were good. They were sharing together in-depth, answering questions and reporting on their discussions. They really opened their hearts and examined their spiritual journey.”

Quickly, the Meerts realized they could provide high-end marriage preparation curriculum to five other couples who simply weren't able to be in the Denver Archdiocese long enough or frequently enough to satisfy marriage preparation requirements.

“Working with them online, the results were very encouraging, so we decided to build a website to facilitate real online classes for the masses,” Christian said.

Widely Used

The online curriculum received an endorsement by Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput.

“This allows couples with difficult schedules or living in different states to have quality marriage preparation as well,” Archbishop Chaput wrote. “Their classes — both online and in person — are deeply rooted in the guidance of the Church and John Paul II's teachings on sexuality, marriage and family life.”

CatholicMarriagePrepOnline.com is recommended as an official option for couples by the archbishops of New Orleans, Denver and the bishops of Colorado Springs and Buffalo, N.Y. Christine Meert said hundreds of couples from all over the world have been granted individual approval by their bishops to use the online course to satisfy marriage preparation requirements. The program has become particularly popular among New York City police officers who find that overtime and erratic schedules interfere with marriage preparation schedules and soldiers in the Middle East who are planning to wed when they return to the United States.

“We're very pleased that it was available, and our marriage is probably better because of it,” J’ana Rogers said. “He's Methodist and I'm Catholic, and we didn't even think that was a big deal until marriage prep online forced us to take a serious look at it, and how it might play out when we have children. It really got us to know each other better before we got married.”

Wayne Laugesen writes from Boulder, Colorado.