By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Three different couples preparing for the sacrament of marriage; three different stories.The common link: a commitment to their faith and allowing God to be the center of their relationship.
Without prayer, it is unlikely that St. Wenceslaus–Iowa City parishioners Jacob Poliskey, 23, and Ellen Martin, 21, would have ended up together. Though they shared a similar background, faith and devotion to the saints, they initially wanted different things. Ellen felt the Holy Spirit calling her toward a relationship with Jacob. Unbeknownst to her, Jacob was contemplating a calling to the priesthood.
As the two got to know each other attending daily Masses at college, Jacob’s desire to become a priest grew stronger, as did Ellen’s call to marriage. After expressing their conflicting desires to each other about a year later, they chose to put their trust in God through prayer, Eucharistic adoration and novenas. They asked God to help them discern between desire and vocation so they could do his will, whatever that might turn out to be.
As time passed, Jacob felt God change his heart. As much as he wanted to be a priest, he sensed strong signs that he was being called to marriage and family life instead. For the first time, he began to share Ellen’s affectionate feelings. The day before leaving for a religious life discernment weekend in Washington, D.C. in 2013, he knew that he and Ellen were meant to marry someday. Shortly after, they went on their first official date. They’re set to marry next year.
Ellen said they are cherishing their time as an engaged couple. They’ve focused on prayer, self-improvement and planning for the future. “Engagement is a rich period of preparation before entering into your vocation to love faithfully and without reserve. Not only is it a time of spiritual growth individually and as a couple, it’s also a time to practically look at yourself as a whole and to discover what areas of your life that you can work on so as to best grow in holiness with your spouse.”
While wistful thoughts of priesthood still flitter through Jacob’s mind now and again, he is grateful that God led him to his true vocation. “Ellen is like a great sharpening stone that God uses to work out the dull spots in my love for him. She is so perfectly made for me that it seems like every imperfection of mine meets with opportunities for refinement. I can’t express how thankful I am to God for giving me her. … I love her so much.”
Danny Ready had been in relationships, but always felt like there was something missing. During his junior year at Loras College in Dubuque, one of his brothers offered a piece of advice that he’d heard from a priest: “Don’t focus on finding the right girl, focus on becoming the right man.”
Shortly after, he met fellow Loras student Mary Agnoli at a Christian retreat. Agnoli, a Davenport native, knew early on that Danny could be the right man for her. “One of our very first conversations, I remember being blown away by the way he would talk about his three older brothers and his parents with such love and genuine joy. It might sound like a strange thing to comment on, but that was honestly one of my first ‘I could like this guy’ moments when we started talking. He also had a great smile.”
Danny felt a comfort in the relationship that he hadn’t experienced in other relationships. He and Mary could laugh about anything, and both are action-oriented Catholics with a strong interest in social justice issues. “We have a connection that I don’t have with anyone else on earth,” Danny said.
Even during stressful points in their now four-year relationship, Mary, 22, and Danny, 24, felt God giving them a certainty that everything would work out. Danny popped the question earlier this year in Memphis and they plan to marry at Loras College’s Christ the King Chapel next year. Mary said, “God is the one who got us here.”
Jessica Thompson, 27, always knew she wanted to get married in her childhood parish, Our Lady of Lourdes – Bettendorf. She first spotted her now-fiance Jon Heyland, 28, from across the courtyard of her apartment complex in Bettendorf in 2013. “His smile and kindness to others hooked me right away,” she said.
As it turned out, he came from a different faith background – he grew up Baptist and is a member of Harvest Bible Chapel in Davenport. Still, they shared a mutual love for God and similar values. They inspired each other to become better, more God-fearing people. Despite their differences, they realized God was calling them to be together. Instead of creating animosity, they found that their differences fostered respect and understanding.
In preparing for marriage, they have discussed the kind of compromises they will make throughout life and know that God will help them in their journey. Knowing that it was important for Jessica to be married in her home parish, they participated in a diocesan Marriage Preparation Weekend and will enter into marriage at Our Lady of Lourdes next month.
Jessica said, “We know marriage will be challenging, but with our hearts in the right place we can endure what is thrown at us. Our faith will guide us to the right decisions, and we have each other to keep on track. … We are on the same page and want to grow spiritually as a couple and grow closer to God.”
Pope Francis encourages engaged couples to lean on God, and realize that they are never alone. In an address to engaged couples, he said marriages based on love alone are much weaker than those which include God as a cornerstone. “The more you entrust yourselves to the Lord, the more your love will be forever, able to renew itself and to overcome every difficulty,” he said.
(Editor’s note: Next week we’ll share information about the importance of marriage preparation and what the Davenport Diocese has to offer in terms of programs for engaged couples.)