By Tracy Kinne | Contributing writer

Neither Chris nor Linda Padgett grew up Catholic, but they credit the Catholic faith, which they came to as adults, with helping them flourish through the good and the not-so-great of more than 25 years of marriage.

The couple, who moved to Constantia two years ago, has begun leading marriage preparation classes for the Syracuse Diocese in the Syracuse, Cicero, and Cortland areas.

“For us this has been a real special opportunity,” Chris said. “Both of us felt a little spoiled in a way with what we had been given. Seeing the beauty of the sacrament and looking at it from a Catholic perspective was just fundamental to our marriage.”

The Padgetts meet with couples in a daylong class at parishes or at Christ the King Retreat House in Syracuse. Some of the couples are both conservative Catholics, but many are not, Chris said. Some have children together, some are older, perhaps one person has children. Many are already living together.

Many of them don’t have examples of healthy marriages to guide them. “We recognize this,” Chris said. “This is why having Christ in your life is a good idea. They’re going to face some difficult times, if they haven’t already.”

The Padgetts begin their classes talking about firsts, the story of how they met, their first date. They invite participants to recall their stories, “partly because it’s why they fell in love in the first place,” Chris said. And partly because, through the years together, as they become caught up in the day-to-day struggles and banalities, remembering where they came from will help keep them together.

The Padgetts use the cardinal and theological virtues to instruct couples in the qualities they will need for marriage. They talk about natural family planning. The Padgetts talk with couples about making wise choices together and dreaming together. The day includes time for couples to reflect together and pray together. Couples spend time alone together and in small groups. Time is available at the end for adoration and reconciliation.

The approach is extremely helpful, said Kaitlin Perkins, who attended class with her now husband, Nick Perkins. They were married at St. Mary’s of the Lake Parish in Skaneateles.

“We both found the experience extremely rewarding in so many ways,” Kaitlin wrote in an email. “It brought up situations that are very important to marriage that we hadn’t previously thought to talk about and discuss together, as well as hearing from other couples and seeing other people’s dynamics and how they work things out. It gave us a new perspective and gave us a great foundation to start our marriage. To have a day to sit down and be together and talk about the rest of your lives is very intense, but we walked away from it feeling more ready to start our lives together.”

Tommy and Teal Nanna, who were married at the Church of the Sacred Heart & St. Mary, Our Lady of Czestochowa in New York Mills, also benefited from their class, which was led by Sue Kielar.

“Like any couple, we were both nervous about starting our lives together,” Teal Nanna wrote in an email. “We were nervous about living together, our work schedules, money and how our lives would be different. The class was a wonderful introduction into what our new lives would be like. We were able to put ourselves in different scenarios in a workshop and explain how we would handle each situation.

 “I believe this also made us closer because we were working together as a team and we could see how each other reacted in certain situations,” she continued. “It taught us about compromising, communicating, working together and the things the other person really values as important in different scenarios…. After we left the class, I was even more excited to spend the rest of my life with him!”

She has some advice for couples: “Be willing to open up to your significant other, yourself and God.”

The Perkinses and Nannas benefited from a reorganization of marriage preparation that came about when the Respect Life and Family Life Offices merged, said Lisa Hall, director of the Office of Family/Respect Life Ministry.

The combination of the offices made sense because many issues surrounding the beginning and end of life, as well as healthy sexuality, flow together seamlessly, she said. And the change allowed the office to offer class signup online and make it easier for couples to find a class in the location or at the time they need.

Hall agreed with the Padgetts that these are challenging times for married couples, and the church can be a source of strength and support. “The sacraments will provide them with the grace they need to survive and thrive in their marriage,” she said. “It really helps the couples see that marriage and the sacraments have a beauty and dignity that goes beyond our romanticized notions.”

Each class, which has an average of 25 couples, lets couples see that they need to put God first and at the center of marriage, Hall said. “Every person wants to be known and loved, and the only one who can fully know and love you is God,” she said. Couples realize they have to be open and vulnerable. In that way, spouses ultimately help each other get to heaven, she said.

Tracy Kinne is a freelance writer who lives in Oswego County.

Find out more about the Pre-cana Marriage Preparation in the Diocese of Syracuse here.

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