119 golden, silver anniversary couples renew vows at cathedral

Photo Caption: Don and Charlene MacGregor (foreground, married 50 years) of St. Joseph, Pekin, and Michael and Michelle Jansz (25 years) of St. Columba, Ottawa, renew their marriage vows at the Anniversary Mass.

By: By Tom Dermody

Mary Ellen Johnson called the diocesan Anniversary Mass in Peoria on Sunday the culmination of this year’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of her marriage to husband Bruce.

“It’s not an ending, because we’re always going to be celebrating our marriage,” said Mary Ellen. “It’s a culmination — a nice way after our own parties with families to have this,” she added, referring to an afternoon Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral during which Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, led the Johnsons and more than 110 other golden and silver anniversary couples from throughout the Diocese of Peoria in a renewal of their marriage vows.

“I wasn’t nearly as nervous today” as 50 years ago, said Mary Ellen.

The Johnsons, members of St. Malachy Parish in Rantoul, were married on June 26, 1965 at St. Patrick Church in Decatur. They attended the Anniversary Mass with longtime friends and fellow golden anniversary couple Joe and Mary Bolser, also from Rantoul, who were married about a month later at St. Malachy Church.

The Johnsons and the Bolsers have more than their wedding year in common. They each have four children, two boys and two girls, though not in the same order. During the post-Mass reception at the Spalding Pastoral Center on Sunday, both couples remembered their wedding days in that summer of 1965 as hot, with no air conditioning then in the churches.

“He passed out,” said Mary Bolser of her groom. Before taking the vows, the heat — or was it nerves? — apparently got to Joe and he had to sit for a while in the front pew. But the wedding went on, and the vows certainly stuck.

“I think the heat probably soldered us together,” said Joe, who has two younger brothers who are Viatorian priests.

In his homily, Bishop Jenky suggested another source of lasting marriage — “a lifelong support of God’s graces” promised to each couple in the sacrament of matrimony.

The bishop read from an exhortation which he said was a part of Catholic marriage ceremonies for generations until about 50 years ago.

“I don’t know if anyone’s ever said it better,” said the bishop of the exhortation. It was a brief explanation of Catholic marriage as a “most sacred and most serious” union, established by God and calling for “a complete and unreserved giving of self” to one’s spouse. The bishop said Christ compared the faithful, self-sacrificing love between a married man and woman to his own love for the church.

“Sacrifice is usually difficult,” said Bishop Jenky. “Only love makes it easy. Perfect love makes it a joy.”

In opening remarks, Bishop Jenky noted the presence of scaffolding throughout the cathedral, which is undergoing an extensive renovation and restoration.

“Our cathedral was built in the 1880s and has gone through a lot of wear and tear,” he told the couples. “It has witnessed many marriages and many anniversary Masses. And it is all about our faith and all about love.”

Before asking the anniversary couples to stand and face one another to renew their marriage vows, the bishop reminded them that “it is with God’s help that you are able to keep mutual and lasting fidelity.”

When the couples kissed after completing their vows, the assembly erupted in applause.

Among those kissing couples were Joe and Pat Fatigato, members of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Morton who were just five days away from their actual golden wedding anniversary date of Sept. 18.

They are the parents of four children and have 10 “grandboys” as well as a great-grandchild. The family celebrated the milestone with a dinner and party in July.

Asked for the secret for a long, married life, Joe Fatigato listed “communication and compromise,” while Pat said “picking your battles.”

The Johnson and Bolser couples answered the question with three “F’s” — faith, family and friends.

“They keep you all together, keep you grounded,” said Joe Bolser.

“My only answer is that marriage is a sacrament, and that’s the way we went into it,” said Mary Ellen Johnson. He husband Bruce was raised Lutheran and later entered the Catholic church.

“Through thick or thin, no matter what, we lived our faith together every single week,” said Mary Ellen. “One foot in front of the other, especially with God right there with us.”

A combined choir from St. Mary’s Cathedral, Holy Family, and St. Bernard parishes in Peoria and St. Joseph’s in Pekin helped provide music for the liturgy. The readings had marriage themes, including John’s Gospel account of the wedding feast at Cana.

Following the Mass, Bishop Jenky posed for photos with the golden and silver anniversary couples. At the reception, congratulatory certificates signed by Bishop Jenky were distributed to each couple.

Prominent in the Anniversary Mass assembly were dozens of colorfully dressed Togolese immigrants, many of whom are members of Christ the King Parish in Moline. They drove to Peoria to celebrate with silver anniversary couple Akuete (Francisco) and Akouri (Colette) DeSouza.

SPALDING PASTORAL CENTER | 419 NE MADISON AVENUE | PEORIA, IL 61603 | PHONE (309) 671-1550 | FAX (309) 671-1595
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