Coming soon: Advice on interfaith marriage

Leslie Patton by Leslie Patton

PreCana classes at Old St. Pat's teach engaged couples to talk about spirituality and intimacy before they are married. (PHOTO BY LESLIE PATTON)

Well known and oft-used, “falling in love” is a phrase that’s causing a lot of problems today, says Jack Berkemeyer, a marriage counselor and director of marriage ministry at Old St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Chicago. The word “falling,” he says, implies passivity, something that happens to you.

But to have a successful marriage, partners need to actively talk about the important issues – faith, intimacy, sexuality, family. Specifically, when people of different faiths exchange vows and the potential for clashes grows, communication becomes imperative.

Among married Catholics in the United States, 78 percent have a spouse who is also Catholic and 14 percent have a spouse who is Protestant, according to the Pew Forum U.S. Religious Landscape Survey.

There are going to be disagreements, Berkemeyer insists, that each couple will need to work through. He uses the terms “manage” or “regulate”, never “solve,” when referring to dealing with the inevitable conflicts of married life.

Berkemeyer organizes the PreCana seminar, a requirement to get married in the Catholic Church, at Old St. Pat’s, a famous old church in Chicago’s West Loop that hosts about 180 weddings per year. The class consists of three Sunday afternoon meetings covering six content areas, including emotional intimacy and time management.

As a part of the program, the engaged twosomes hear the wisdom of several experienced married couples from the parish.

“Our teaching style is unique and different,” Berkemeyer says. PreCana courses are often a whole weekend or day-long class, each packed with information on everything from sexuality to forgiveness to household duties. But with Old St. Pat’s three-session design spaced seven days apart, the couples can “go away for a week and talk,” Berkemeyer says.

David and Patty Kovacs will speak to the soon-to-be-married pairs Sunday about honoring and respecting different family traditions. All six discussion areas include:

  1. The soul of the enterprise/the sacrament of marriage
  2. Come as you are and celebrate your differences
  3. The anatomy of emotional intimacy
  4. The crucial art of spiritual engagement and forgiveness
  5. Careers, household duties, money and time management
  6. The convergence of spirituality, sexuality and life-giving generativity

I will be chatting with the Kovacs this week about their Catholic-Jewish interfaith marriage and the milestones they have encountered during their 22 years together. What customs has each given up to make room for new ones? How, and in what faith, have they raised their children? And who gives up what – put simply, compromise, one of the most significant and dynamic topics I have come across covering dating and marriage for News21.

Before the first class, couples are required to the take the FOCCUS – Facilitating Open Couple Communication, Understanding and Study – a 156-question assessment where participants either agree or disagree with a statement. Berkemeyer stresses that it’s not a test. “The primary goal, it is a conversation starter,” he says. There is a special section on the FOCCUS for interfaith couples with statements such as:

  • We have discussed how we will handle church customs and traditions and sacramental preparation with our children.
  • Sometimes I am dissatisfied because we can’t share faith/spirituality.

In the meantime, check out the PreCana and Wedding blog about two Chicago area couples: Andréa and André, who will be married on Sept. 19, and Kelly and Jake, who were married April 18.

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