Diocese revises marriage prep program

By Jeff Kurowski | The Compass | August 14, 2013

Workshop held Aug. 7 for parish leaders to review ‘A Marriage in the Lord’

HOWARD — The Diocese of Green Bay has revised its marriage preparation program. Pastors, pastoral leaders, deacons and pastoral associates attended a workshop, Aug. 7 at St. John the Baptist Church, to review the new program, entitled “A Marriage in the Lord.”

Frank Hannigan
Frank Hannigan

Frank Hannigan, director of the Marriage and Family Ministries Office of the Archdiocese of Chicago, co-authored the program. Hannigan served as the main speaker at the workshop. He also presented at an evening workshop, Aug. 6 in Howard, for FOCCUS (Facilitate Open, Caring Communication, Understanding and Study) facilitators, marriage mentors, natural family planning teachers and others involved in parish ministry to engaged couples.

The main change from previous marriage preparation practices is the use of the text by the same name as the program. “A Marriage in the Lord” workbook will be used by all engaged couples. Peg VandeHey, diocesan Family and Married Life coordinator, outlined the new program for parish leaders.

Engaged couples will start with an initial meeting with parish leadership, preferably eight to 12 months prior to their wedding date. Couples will then complete the FOCCUS inventory. According to VandeHey, FOCCUS training is now available in Spanish. She added that a new FOCCUS manual with a new set of questions is scheduled to be released in the upcoming months.

The new diocesan marriage preparation program then requires two parts — daylong sessions, offered by the diocese or as a parish-centered retreat, and a separate two-hour session. Part I will include discussions about communication skills, finances and ways to empower the marriage. Time for prayer and personal reflection will be provided. The daylong session may be divided into two half-day programs. In Part II, couples will learn the church’s teachings about the sacrament of marriage and natural family planning.

Bishop David Ricken, who also spoke at the workshop, encouraged parish leaders to promote engaged couples to “go for the face-to-face contact” offered at the sessions. In cases where one-half or both members of the couple live a great distance away from the diocese, or if schedules don’t allow for participation in the sessions, online marriage preparation is available at www.catholicmarriageprepclass.com.

Hannigan, who serves as a member of the online presentation team, listed other benefits of online marriage preparation class in addition to convenience.

“You meet couples where they are at in their lives,” he said. “All major universities in this country have online courses. You can get a degree without stepping on campus. That’s where we are at today.”

The site does not allow for couples to fast forward, so they are required to be “focused and engaged” in the material, he added. Couples may also choose the pace in which they cover the material.

“You are giving them a lot of information in one day,” said Hannigan.  “Learning in blocks is very effective for many people. They can go back and look over material again.”

Hannigan also provided benefits of the online class for parish leaders, including eliminating the requirement “to be the expert.”

“We have 26 different people that they will see and hear from on the website,” he said.

“A Marriage in the Lord” will also feature aftercare for married couples including an e-newsletter. VandeHey also suggested that parishes recruit prayer partners for the newly married, post photos of the couples and offer blessings and send cards on wedding anniversaries.

The diocese is also offering “Re-Opening the Door to Marriage,” a special marriage preparation retreat for couples who plan to marry after an annulment, death of a spouse or for those who are civilly married and now seek the sacrament of marriage. The first retreat is scheduled for Oct. 12 at St. Agnes Parish in Green Bay.

Hannigan said that he provided evening workshop participants with concrete tips to share with the couples they work with in their ministries. The workshop was also beneficial because “it’s important for them to know what each other is doing in their ministries,” he added.

For the day workshop, he said his goal was to “build on what’s been done in the past with a unified approach for the future.”

Bishop Ricken emphasized that “A Marriage in the Lord” should be used in all parishes.

“I want us to move together as a diocese,” he said. “You can certainly supplement things, but I really want to have a system where we are working together for a vision of marriage, an understanding of how we want to prepare our couples as a diocese for the sacrament of marriage.”

The workshops were partially funded by Advancing the Mission and the Bishop’s Appeal. For information on the new program, visit www.marriageinthelord.org.

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