By PAUL A. BARRA
COLUMBIA – When the Diocese of Charleston decided to hold a statewide Marriage Anniversary Celebration at St. Joseph’s on Feb. 18, many more wanted to participate than the church could hold. As it was, the worship space was standing room only.
“There were 780 people here today,” said the pastor of St. Joseph’s, Msgr. Charles Rowland. “It shows that there’s a lot of hope and patience in the world.”
The bishop of Charleston, who celebrated the Mass along with Msgr. Rowland and Father C. Alexander “Sandy” McDonald, called the response overwhelming and promised to make the celebration an annual tradition. Bishop Robert J. Baker thanked the couples who participated for more than just accepting his invitation.
“Thank you for being concrete evidence of the presence of God in your marriages. You have succeeded all these years because you have translated today’s Gospel words of Jesus into action, into real life,” Bishop Baker said.
When he said “all these years,” the bishop was speaking advisedly. Among the 187 couples who were registered for the event, four have been married longer than 60 years; 61 other couples are golden jubilarians, according to statistics provided by the sponsoring diocesan agency, the Office of Social Ministry.
Doing the organizing for the celebration were Bob and Mary Reimer of Marriage Encounter. The enthusiasm of the response was an eye-opener for them.
“People were so thrilled, saying it was wonderful,” Mary Reimer said. “It’s an affirmation of long-term marriages, and they don’t get much recognition in today’s world.”
Pastors were asked by the diocese to nominate couples and 37 parishes were represented before the rolls filled. Reimer said that the volunteers had at least another 100 couples who wanted to participate. As it was, the 187 couples at the special Mass were married in 26 different states and eight foreign countries. South Carolina was the wedding site for 42 couples, followed by New York with 31, New Jersey with 18 and Ohio and Pennsylvania with nine each. Seven couples were married in the Philippine Islands.
After Bishop Baker’s homily, all the couples present renewed their marriage vows. Walter Stryszyk of Immaculate Conception in Goose Creek took the occasion to present his wife a diamond ring.
“It’s only the second diamond in 50 years,” said Rita Stryszyk with a laugh.
Barbara and Paul Nocchi of St. Mary’s in Summerton, also married 50 years, were glad they made the long trip.
“It was beautiful that the diocese recognized us,” Barbara Nocchi said.
Clay and Ellie McDonald of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Camden, who celebrate their 45th anniversary this year, are the parents of Father McDonald, pastor of Our Lady of Peace in North Augusta. Cam and John Abbot of St. Michael’s in Garden City and Mary and Robert Fitzsimons of the host parish, were married 40 and 50 years ago respectively on the exact date of the Marriage Anniversary Celebration. They carried the offertory gifts to the altar.
Martin and Matilda Yuhasz of St. Michael’s have been married 64 years, longer than anyone else at the celebration. Even so, they waited in line with other couples for 30 minutes to chat with the bishop after Mass. One married couple after another told Bishop Baker what a great idea the special day was and how grateful they were for it, and he told them: “Thank you for being an example of married love.”
That was the concept of the new tradition, to show official gratitude to the Catholics in South Carolina who have persevered through a lifelong commitment. Based on the smiles and enthusiasm shown at the first Marriage Anniversary Celebration, it will be a popular tradition.