Anniversary couples renew vows, share stories at diocesan Mass

Photo Caption: Golden anniversary couple Mel and Per DeGeeter of St. Matthew Parish, Champaign, and other anniverary couples kiss after renewing their marriage vows at St. Mary’s Cathedral on Sept. 28.

By: By Tom Dermody

For his 50th wedding anniversary this year, Steve Lemmon received from his sister-in-law a t-shirt with a message in Spanish: “Lo que diga mi mujer.”

It translates, “Whatever my wife says.”

Steve, an Urbana native, met his wife, Josefa, in Spain when he was stationed there with the U.S. Navy in the early 1960s. They were married in Spain on May 24, 1964, and returned to his wife’s homeland this June to mark their golden anniversary.

On Sept. 28, the Lemmons — members of Holy Cross Parish, Champaign — were among about 125 golden and silver anniversary couples from around the Diocese of Peoria who renewed their marriage vows during a special Mass celebrated by Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, at St. Mary’s Cathedral.

In his Anniversary Mass homily, Bishop Jenky cited a biblical variation of Steve’s t-shirt message as the “best advice” anyone can give not only married couples, but any believer in Jesus.

Reflecting on the Gospel story of the wedding feast in Cana, the bishop pointed to the directive the Blessed Virgin Mary gave servants who were panicked at the thought of running out of wine at the celebration.

“Do whatever He (Jesus) tells you,” Mary told them.

Bishop Jenky said that just as Jesus turned water into wine on that occasion, he takes the “little stuff and imperfections” of our lives and makes them glorious through the sanctifying grace of the sacraments — including marriage.

“His love is so amazing it changes us over and over again,” said the bishop, urging the couples present to “be ready again and again to let God’s love renew your love.”

Bishop Jenky reminded the couples that those in a Christian marriage have regular opportunities to live in God’s love as they put one another first, forgive and forget, and otherwise model God’s love and faithfulness in their families and parishes.

“You build all of us up,” said Bishop Jenky in conveying the congratulations of the entire diocese. He called the anniversary couples “living sacraments.”

“You are a grace to us,” said the bishop, speaking to the couples from the steps of the cathedral sanctuary.

The annual Anniversary Mass is coordinated by the Office of Family Life, which collaborates with parishes throughout the diocese to identify and invite the celebrating couples. Seventy-seven parishes sent in names this year, resulting in invitations from Bishop Jenky being sent to 524 couples.

Attending this year’s Mass were 66 golden anniversary couples and 62 marking their silver anniversary in 2014. All were invited to greet and be photographed with Bishop Jenky after the Mass, and then attend a reception at the Spalding Pastoral Center.

At the reception, the couples received certificates signed by Bishop Jenky. Seated at tables with family or next to strangers, they reminisced about their wedding days, shared stories about their children and grandchildren, and offered their advice for lasting marriages.

“We tell each other every day that we love one another. Every day,” said Jan Talkington of the practice that has been part of her marriage to Mike for 25 years.

The Talkingtons, members of St. Patrick Church of Merna in Bloomington, just returned from an anniversary cruise in Europe. While in Salzburg, Austria, Mike took part in a local custom by having a padlock engraved with their wedding date and attaching it with scores of other “love locks” on the fence of a pedestrian bridge spanning the Salzach River as a sign of eternal love.

After clicking the lock, a momentary doubt entered Mike’s mind. “I panicked because I hoped it was the right day,” he told The Catholic Post. Jan assured him that he remembered correctly — the couple wed on June 24, 1989.

The Talkingtons sat with two golden anniversary couples — John and Judith Hummel of St. Patrick Parish, Urbana, and Joe and Virginia Schoeb of St. Joseph’s, Peru. Judith shared the story of why she was late to her own wedding on Aug. 1, 1964, in Maryland.

“We got dressed at home back then,” she recalled. As the time of the wedding neared, the only two left at home were Judith and her father. When they began to make their way to the car, she kept stepping on her wedding dress. Well, it wasn’t the dress.

“The slip never got trimmed,” said Judith. So minutes before the wedding, on their front porch, her father took scissors and cut the slip to fit.

“She was a little late,” said John. But the priest offered calming words. “Don’t worry,” he said. “They always show up.”

The best advice that golden anniversary couple Mel and Per DeGeeter of St. Matthew Parish, Champaign, offer couples just starting out is to listen to their vows.

“They tell it all — for better or worse, richer and poorer, in sickness and in health,” said Mel.

“We’ve gone through all those,” added Per, listing compromise as another key. “You have to get used to change.”

Serving as lectors at the anniversary Mass were Deacon Tom and Kathy Jagiella of St. Joseph Parish, Peru, who are marking their silver anniversary. Gift bearers were golden jubilarians Dan and Mary Markham of St. Patrick, Raritan. Music was provided by a combined choir from the cathedral, St. Joseph Parish in Pekin, and Holy Family Parish in Peoria, with Anna Nabhan as soloist for the Ave Maria.

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