An enduring love

Southern Tier Marriage Encounter Circle offers fellowship and support
By claudia mathis / sun staff writer

Waneta Griffin’s life hasn’t been the same since attending a Marriage Encounter weekend in September 1975. Griffin said that weekend she and her late husband, Bob, participated in a very intense program of learning communication techniques helping them to understand their feelings and love for one another. “The weekend led us to a deeper commitment to our marriage,” said Griffin, a parishioner at Most Holy Rosary in Maine.

Griffin is a member of the Marriage Encounter Circle, a group of six couples and one other widow who have met at least once a month over the last 34 years. Griffin said the group provides ongoing love and support to its members. This has been especially important to Griffin, having lost her husband in June 2003. “It’s nice knowing that we have friends to lean on and that we are there for them in return,” said Griffin. “The love that flows gives great strength to us and to our faith. Involvement in the group helps us to find fresh truths and encouragement in the midst of our own trials and helps put them into perspective — God’s perspective — to guide us toward healing and peace.”

Marriage Encounter weekends offer couples the chance to get away from the distractions and tensions of everyday life to enrich their marriage. The weekend provides a spiritual setting for couples to re-connect with each other.

A typical Marriage Encounter weekend involves 15 to 20 couples who are led by three presenting couples and a priest. The main themes are communication, encounter with self, marriage in today’s world, listening, reaching out, God, trust, dialogue, sacrament, and prioritizing relationship. Though there are some opportunities for group discussion, most of the time couples return to their own rooms for verbal and written dialogue. Marriage Encounter encourages couples to discuss areas in their relationship that they tend to avoid.

The Marriage Encounter program got its start in Spain in 1953. Father Chuck Gallagher, SJ, was responsible for developing it later in the U.S.

The Marriage Encounter program is important to the sacrament of marriage because it teaches couples to communicate more effectively and it enables them to have a more faith-filled marriage.

Deacon Dom and Ann Rossi, parishioners at St. Joseph in Endicott, are members of the Marriage Encounter Circle. Ann believes the Marriage Encounter weekend is a dynamic experience. “It begins with inviting us to consider Christ as a personal friend and continues with recognizing how our sacrament affects each other, our families, our church and our world,” said Ann. “We then understand how, in order to grow spiritually, we need the support system of one another.”

Ann said she felt the prayerful support of the members of the Circle 10-15 years ago, when her husband, Dom, underwent a series of surgeries.

The group has been there for the important and joyful milestones of the Rossis’ lives, also. The group was present at Dom’s ordination as deacon at Our Lady of Angels Parish in Endwell. They also celebrated the Rossis’ 50th wedding anniversary at a  party which was a surprise for them.

Shirley and Jim Rollo knew they had a good marriage back in the early 70s, but they participated in their first Marriage Encounter weekend hoping to make it even better. “It brought Jim and me even closer together,” said Shirley, parishioner at St. Ambrose in Endicott. “We found that the presence of the Lord at Mass was very profound. We would hold hands throughout the entire Mass as well as when receiving Communion. I grew stronger in my relationship to God and to my husband. And now that I am without my husband, who is in heaven, I look back and treasure all that we shared as a Christian couple.”

Shirley’s participation in the Marriage Encounter Circle has proven to be invaluable. “The Circle has been a blessing to me all these years,” said Shirley. “It is a comfort to have them in my life even more so after the death of my husband. I feel so blessed to have an ongoing relationship with these people.”

Shirley remembered the support she received from the group when she almost lost one of her sons in an auto accident, another son went through a divorce and her daughter’s wedding was called off. Through it all, she knew she had the support of her friends.

Shirley also said that the Circle enjoys one another immensely. The group has nicknamed her the “party planner” because she likes to plan dinners and other events for the group. “We have a lot of fun together,” said Shirley. “We recently traveled to Cape Cod.”

Al and Pat Krzyzewski, parishioners at Most Holy Rosary in Maine, are also members of the Circle and have been faithful to the Marriage Encounter weekend over the last three decades. The couple said that their involvement in the weekend has made their relationship better because they have learned communication techniques. “It has also encouraged us to become more involved in church by serving as Eucharistic ministers, lectors and in altar care,” said Pat.

The couple views the Circle as their extended family. “It’s a place where we can laugh and cry together, knowing we will be there for each other in good times and bad,” said Pat. She remembered how, when their son was stationed in the Persian Gulf with the U.S. Navy, the members of the Circle prayed for him. The group has also shared the joyful times — the birth of the Krzyzewski’s 13 grandchildren and their children’s weddings. “When my daughter had a garden reception, Shirley helped me bake the cookies for it,” said Pat.

Other members of the Circle include George and Dorothy Ludington and Tony and Sharon Zembek, who are parishioners at Most Holy Rosary in Maine. In addition, Phil and Dawn Paradis, parishioners at St. Ambrose in Endicott, and Deacon Paul and Anna Powers, parishioners at St. Agnes in Afton, are members of the group.

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