Throughout the year, the Office of Marriage and Family offers a marriage preparation course for engaged couples. It is a requirement for those choosing to marry in the Catholic Church in the Diocese of St. Cloud.
In June, the course was revamped under the direction of Patrick Flynn, who began as director of the diocesan Office of Marriage and Family in January 2019.
“The content of the marriage course [has always been] excellent. The teaching and the information was solid,” Flynn explained. “The problem was that the couples lacked time to process the information. The format was mostly a lecture style and so they had almost no time to talk to each other during the course. That’s what prompted the change in the format.”
Flynn said the revised marriage course includes many of the same topics. But rather than talks lasting 60-120 minutes, the talks now last for 20-25 minutes. After each talk, participants are given a series of questions with time to write down their answers. Then the couples discuss what they heard in the talk and their answers to the questions.
“The more seeds we plant, the more directions or ways these couples can grow.”
“Obviously because the talks are shorter, we have to be more precise with the information we are sharing, but the couples will assimilate so much more of the information as a result of their time to process it,” he said. “We also combined some of the topics or included them in other talks, and we added a talk on finances and one on self-awareness.”
Due to social distancing requirements, the June course was held at a local parish instead of the diocesan Pastoral Center in St. Cloud, where it has traditionally been held. Janet Dusek, who serves as the marriage course coordinator, was pleased with the outcome.
“The new location allowed us to stay in one room but to spread out the participants enough to foster intimate discussions between couples. Although this hindered group activities, it worked well for our new format. I definitely witnessed far more reflection and discussion at this course,” Dusek said.
During lunch, couples were provided additional content to share more about themselves and to learn more about each other. The questions revolved around priorities, goals and decision-making.
“By exposing the couples to more topics, we hope to give them more things to talk about once they walk out the door and continue their journey together. I’m excited about this, because the more seeds we plant, the more directions or ways these couples can grow,” Dusek said.
Meaghan Baldwin and her fiancé, Jake Dodds, attended the revised marriage course in June. Meaghan grew up Catholic in the St. Cloud area and currently lives in Sartell. Jake grew up Lutheran in Parkers Prairie and recently converted to the Catholic faith. Meaghan and Jake are members of St. Francis Xavier in Sartell and are planning to be married Nov. 21 in Alexandria.
“Prior to the marriage course we were nervous that it would be a lot of small talk and presentations,” Meaghan said. “But following [the course], we were very pleased that the time was truly meant for us as a couple, and we were able to bond and connect further together. The course offered many presentations; however, all were interactive and allowed us to talk further on points we previously may not have known to talk about together prior to marriage.
“Since the course, we have found a new sense of patience and understanding with each other,” Meaghan said. “We now better understand how we can accommodate and work together through issues so that both sides are heard and end conflict in resolution between us both, not just one-sided,” she continued.
“Marriage prep and counseling sounds scary and almost a ‘box you need to check’ to get married,” she said. “Following the course, we have a different take. We learned to better communicate even though we thought we had that down already. It’s truly more of a learning-together course rather than a learning-new-information course. We also were very pleased and fortunate to be able to learn from a real-life couple with real-life experiences.”
Flynn and Dusek believe these changes will help engaged couples confront some of the topics that could cause issues later in their marriage.
“We also want couples to be affirmed in all of the ways that their relationship is good, healthy and faith-filled,” Flynn said. “I hope this revised marriage course revitalizes their faith together. I hope it assists them in living their marital covenant with God and with each other. I hope they will be inspired to be a symbol of Christ’s love for the Church.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE MARRIAGE PREP COURSE, visit http://omf.stcdio.org or call the office at 320-252-4721.