By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
MOUNT PLEASANT — If you could address Pope Francis at the World Synod of Bishops on the Family, what advice would you share based on your experience of the sacrament of marriage? “Thank you,” Mick Robertson responded to a reporter’s question. Elena, his wife of 50 years (this coming Dec. 4), took a tissue out of her purse and dabbed her eyes, deeply touched. She said she couldn’t top that answer.
Members of St. Andrew Parish in Blue Grass, the Robertsons had just arrived at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church in Mount Pleasant for the Davenport Diocese’s 50th Wedding Anniversary Mass. They were among 40 couples who traveled to Mount Pleasant to renew the vows they made 50 or more years ago.
Asked what has been his greatest joy in his long marriage, Mick said: “How close we’ve grown together … you thought you were in love at 20; you really don’t know about love until you’re 50.”
Bishop Martin Amos must have had that observation in mind when he wrote his homily for the anniversary Mass. One of three bits of wisdom he shared was this: “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.… You wind up accepting one another; you adjust the dream to the reality; you begin to carry one another’s burdens and in the process love happens and matures.”
His second bit of wisdom, “that even a stopped clock is right twice a day,” reflects on spouses’ commitment to love one another, warts and all. “After 50 years of marriage, the mature love of a husband looks down at his sleeping wife and says: she still can’t cook like my mother; she doesn’t keep a perfectly clean house; she has the strangest relatives this side of the zoo and even with Miss Clairol the grey is showing … but I love her. And she looks down at him sleeping and says: sometimes he drinks too much; he’s getting thinner on top and thicker around the middle, he has the strangest relatives this side of the zoo … but I love him.”
“I think you have to be compatible and get along with each other every day. Two make one,” said Marlene Hilgendorf of Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton. Marlene and her husband Jim celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary Oct. 9. One of their four children, Father Patrick Hilgendorf, said his parents set a wonderful example of marriage. “When I meet with couples for marriage preparation I share stories of my parents … I encourage couples wherever I go by the experience of marriage I’ve witnessed.” Mindy Hilgendorf, his sister-in-law, said Marlene and Jim put family first. When Mindy and her husband Matt were building their home, Jim and Marlene were there to help. The couple’s grown children, in turn, help Jim and Marlene. “It’s the idea of what family can do for one another,” Mindy said.
Bishop Amos’ third bit of wisdom focused on St. Paul’s message about the meaning of love. “Love truly is patient; love is kind, not jealous or rude or self-seeking. It is not prone to anger or brood over injuries. And for that to happen there needs to be as St. Paul said to the Colossians: heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, forgiveness and, above all, love.”
“To be forgiving,” that’s the first bit of advice Sharon Bailey said she would share with Pope Francis based on her personal experience of 50 years of marriage to Bill. Next, “to talk to one another and to always say I love you,” Sharon continued. The Baileys are active at St. Anthony Parish in Davenport where they serve on the RCIA team. Bill’s advice: “You’ve got to make a commitment and keep it.”
For Richard Looker, married to Joanne for 57 years, “love, laughter and prayer” are essential. “Joanne is the big prayer bear. She keeps us going,” added Richard. He and Joanne are longtime members of the Mount Pleasant Parish, and treasure it like family. Joanne noted that when she writes messages in wedding cards to newlyweds, “I tell them it’s a together thing and you have to help each other grow.”
“Having an example of their marriage is what made my marriage successful,” observed Theresa Rose, one of the Lookers’ five children.
Marriage “is a give and take; mostly a give,” quipped Dave Huber who married Connie on Aug. 28, 1965. “And you have to be able to laugh about it,” added Connie. The members of Holy Family Parish in Davenport recall returning from their honeymoon to find a draft notice for Dave. The military uprooted the couple frequently. “We had to be strong for each other,” Connie said. She truly believes God made that possible.
As each of the couples renewed their marriage vows during the Mass, they turned to one another and prayed: “Blessed are you, Lord, for in the good and the bad times of our life you have stood lovingly by our side. Help us, we pray, to remain faithful in our love for one another, so that we may be true witnesses to the covenant you have made with humankind.”