Story by Nikki Rajala
Banquet of Love is an online 12-part resource that helps make practical connections between the eucharist and marriage. As a gift to couples and a support to priests and deacons in their ministry with married couples, Bishop Patrick Neary purchased a license to offer the course to married couples in the St. Cloud Diocese. The entire course will be free through April 15, 2025.
“I believe this could be a very valuable tool for couples and families in our communities. The curriculum was designed by a local couple, Jim and Maureen Otremba,” Bishop Neary wrote in a December letter to pastors. “The sacred order toward marital intimacy modeled for us in the Eucharist and the Real Presence is so critical in marriage.”
The Otrembas are members of Sacred Heart Parish in Sauk Rapids. Jim is a licensed therapist and owner of the Center for Family Counseling in St. Cloud while Maureen has an extensive background in teaching, writing, faith formation and pastoral ministry. They are primary authors of “Fully Engaged: Growing Toward Lasting Fidelity,” a Catholic premarital inventory and marriage preparation program.
“Banquet of Love is intended for those already married,” Maureen said. “When couples celebrate the Eucharist, they will see how they’re already participating in a weekly marriage enrichment — or daily, if they attend daily Mass.”
Jim said, “Sometimes we take better care of our cars than our marriages, bringing our vehicles in for regular oil changes and 20,000-mile checkups. We need to do the same for our marriages. Over time, we all change as individuals, and our marriages also mature. To truly transform their marriages, couples could use these tools often, like every six months.”
The centerpiece of the program is what the Otrembas call the “Eight Foundational Intimacies” — ways of being together as a couple that don’t involve sexual intimacy but lay the foundation for it. These
are contained in the Eucharist, and all 12 sessions of Banquet of Love highlight the connections between intimacy in the Eucharist and intimacy in marriage, Maureen explained.
Banquet of Love includes video modules, downloadable PDF files with reflection questions and extra material like an inventory about which foundational intimacies are most important to each spouse and handouts such as on how to find a good therapist. The entire course takes about seven hours of contact time, plus the couples’ conversations stemming from printable can attend, not limited by the time or location it’s offered. Because it’s compatible with cell phone technology, couples could watch it from their couch. Optimally, we hope to see Banquet of Love done with groups in parishes.”
No facilitation is required, so a parish community might offer the course, Maureen explained. A leader only needs to be comfortable enough with technology to download classes from the website and follow minimal directions so their group could watch the videos together. They could also print the discussion questions for couples.
“I can walk them through simple steps until they hit the play button,” Maureen said. “If they need it, they could contact me.”
“The leader only has to start the video — and make the coffee,” Jim added.
After watching the videos, couples retreat to corners to talk with each other — all sharing happens within the couple. Any return to the large group is optional but not expected.
The Diocese of Salt Lake City made Banquet of Love available to all its parishioners last year.
“People’s positive comments have been humbling to us,” Maureen said. “A deacon who’s been married 50 years found it the best retreat he’d been to. And a young couple married five years said the hours they spent in the workshop were more beneficial than the couples counseling they’d received.”
“The cost is less than an hour of counseling as well,” Jim said. “And for people in our diocese, it’s now free, instead of the usual $97.”
A one-day version of the course was piloted as a marriage enrichment retreat in Wadena in March 2023, according to Father Aaron Kuhn, pastor of parishes in Mary Mother of the Church ACC (including Bertha, Bluegrass, Bluffton, Menahga, Motley, Staples, Verndale and Wadena).
Father Kuhn said. “About 50 couples attended, excited to see the tie between the Eucharist and married life. After Jim and Maureen offered large group and small group sessions, spouses enjoyed one-to-one conversations over a fancy dinner together. Those three layers of formation provided a way of being more Christ-centered in marriage. I’m glad Banquet of Love is available to the whole diocese. During the Eucharistic Revival, I look forward to helping married couples strengthen their relationships with each other and through the Eucharist.”
Mary and Ron Murray, parishioners of Sacred Heart in Staples, attended the retreat.
Ron said, “Mary and I always try to be open to opportunities to learn about being better Catholic Christians in our relationships. … [Ever] since we were married, we wanted to attend something that would enrich our marriage at least annually — and when it was right here in our own backyard, it was great!”
“We divided into men’s and women’s groups,” Mary added, “[so] I felt it was easier to share and to hear from other women on struggles or positive things in their marriages. The Otrembas’ new platform will be worthwhile for every married couple.”
Maureen said, “Banquet of Love challenges couples to take a serious look at how the Eucharist can transform their marriages and beyond.”
TO ACCESS BANQUET OF LOVE
To get started or for more information, visit https:// stcdio.org/banquet-of-love/ and click on “Get the Course.” The access code is BOLFREE. “Banquet of Love’ will be available through April 15, 2025.
To contact the Otrembas, email Maureen at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone her at 320-309-5063.
Photos by Kayla Meyer of Admeyerable Photography