By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
PELLA — Bishop Martin Amos began his homily at this year’s diocesan anniversary Mass quoting from the musical “Fiddler on the Roof.” Tevye, the fiddler, asks Golde, his wife of 25 years, “Do you still love me?” She thinks the question is absurd, but while singing a litany of the things she has done for him, what they have done for each other, she acknowledges her love for him. And he acknowledges his love for her.
The 23 Catholic couples married 50 years or longer who attended the anniversary Mass on Oct. 2 at St. Mary Parish in Pella likely saw some similarities to Tevye and Golde’s relationship in their own marriages. They’ve journeyed together through joys and sorrows, triumphs and challenges and remained steadfast in their commitment to one another. Their Catholic faith has given them the strength to see it through, and to look back with fondness on the memories of their life together.
“We are in a vocation. We may not have realized it when we started, but the grace of the sacrament gives us the support for the vocation, the calling,” observed Peg Lazio, married 50 years ago to husband, Tom. They are members of St. Mary of the Visitation Parish in Ottumwa.
Asked why young couples should get married in the Catholic Church today, she responded easily, “for the community support. The Catholic Church isn’t just a building, it’s a community. The promises we make in our marriage are supported by those around us.”
Tom recalled that the priest friend who witnessed their marriage 50 years ago, told the young couple: “I didn’t marry you; I’m just a witness for the church. You marry each other.” That statement had a lasting impact on Tom. He thought about Jesus telling his disciples, “wherever two or more of you are gathered in my name, I am also present.” His advice to young couples: Take it one day at a time, and pretty soon you’ll have reached 50 years.
The Catholic Church “is our home,” said Eileen Schloemer, who has been married to husband Ed for 50 years. They are members of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Bettendorf. Faith and patience have been essential components of their marriage. For Ed, “It’s the sacraments, plenty of prayer, patience and understanding. I don’t know how marriage can make it today without a good, strong faith foundation which the Catholic Church has given us for the last 50 years.” The three-legged stool of their marriage consists of their love for each other, the church and God, Ed continued.
“We’re happy with each other, we’re comfortable with each other,” Eileen said. “It doesn’t seem like 50 years.”
Rosemary and Gerald Pacha of Ss. Joseph & Cabrini Parish in East Pleasant Plain are the 10th couple among Gerald’s siblings to be married for 50 years. Commitment to faith and family paved the way, Rosemary said. “We need to have faith. We need to have a place to pray to God.” And faith is part of the family. “Our families have always been involved in the in church,” Rosemary said. “Faith, humor and listening, all three of those things tie in,” Gerald added. “You need the support of your family; you need to listen to each other as husband and wife and as family to solve problems, and then you have to have a sense of humor,” Rosemary agreed.
Marilyn and Richard Varnum of Sacred Heart Parish in Newton have been married for 60 years. Like the other couples present for the anniversary Mass, they appreciated the bishop’s presence and the warmth he conveyed toward all of them. The couples also appreciated the hospitality of the Pella Parish, which prepared the reception that featured the famous “Dutch Letter” pastry, along with meat, cheese, vegetables and fruit. Each couple also received a yellow rose and a small book on prayers for married couples.
The Mass and dancing lessons have guided the Varnums through a fulfilling, sacramental marriage, Marilyn said. The couple took dance lessons when the younger of their two children was a year old. “My husband was a beautiful waltzer,” Marilyn said with fondness. “They rhythm of the dance gets better as time goes on, just like marriage, she continued. Richard can’t dance anymore, but still loves to watch Marilyn dance. “You’re the best one on the floor,” he told her after a recent dance.