September 26, 2014

‘So many good memories’: Couples share their stories of faith and love at Golden Wedding Jubilee celebration

Howard and Geraldine Estes, members of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross Parish in Bright, share a laugh with Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin after receiving a gift from the archdiocese during the Golden Wedding Jubilee Mass at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis on Sept. 21. The couple has been married for 70 years. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Howard and Geraldine Estes, members of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross Parish in Bright, share a laugh with Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin after receiving a gift from the archdiocese during the Golden Wedding Jubilee Mass at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis on Sept. 21. The couple has been married for 70 years. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

A poolside encounter, a Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) dance, mutual friends and a walk past an office building.

These are just a few of the chance encounters more than five decades ago that led to wedding bells for 185 couples in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Those couples celebrated anywhere from their 50th to their 70th wedding anniversary at the archdiocese’s Golden Wedding Jubilee Mass on Sept. 21 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. (Related: See a photo gallery from this event)

Together, the couples have celebrated 10,087 years of marriage, which have led to 739 children, 1,563 grandchildren (with three more on the way), and 44 (soon to be 51) great-grandchildren.

As Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin reflected during his homily on the Gospel—a parable about workers in a vineyard—he noted the connection the couples might feel with the workers.

“I’m guessing that a lot of us at this anniversary Mass might identify with those who worked all day for long hours in the vineyard,” he said. “For years, you’ve struggled to be faithful to the Gospel demands of married love.”

The archbishop relayed an answer Pope Francis recently gave when asked by an engaged couple about the permanence of love in a world that views lifelong commitments as too challenging.

“The Holy Father suggested that this ‘fear of forever is cured one day at a time’ by trusting your relationship to the Lord Jesus in a life that becomes a spiritual journey together, made in little steps, steps of shared growth accomplished through a commitment to becoming men and women who are mature in faith,” Archbishop Tobin said.

“If our faith is mature, we realize that all is gift, all is grace. Love begins to die when you and I take the other one for granted, whether it’s our spouse or the living God. They become an object, something we can ignore, or at least pay only partial attention to.

“And so, perseverance in marriage is not simply survival, though sometimes it may seem like that. Rather, it’s a life of thanksgiving that we do not go home to God alone. A way of life that is worthy of the Gospel of Christ has to be a grateful life.”

‘So many good memories’

Geraldine and Howard Estes are grateful for their 70 years of marriage, the longest married spouses attending the Mass.

“It doesn’t feel like we’ve been married 70 years—it just seems like 50,” Geraldine quipped.

The couple, members of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross Parish in Bright, met at the former Coney Island amusement park in Cincinnati.

“We met at the pool,” Howard recalled.

“I think it was ‘41 or ‘42,” Geraldine added. “We just started talking. And then we started writing letters.”

Howard was stationed at Fort Thomas at the time, an army base in Kentucky just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati.

By 1944, Howard was stationed near Alexandria, La., soon to be heading for the Philippines. That August, Geraldine took a train down to Alexandria without her mother’s approval, and the two were married just before Howard’s deployment.

“I went back home and lived with my mom,” Geraldine recalled.

A decade later, the tables had turned. Geraldine’s mom was living with the couple, taking care of their only child, Cathy, while Howard was off to battle again, this time in the Korean War with the Air National Guard.

“It was hard,” Geraldine admitted. “I had to work because the government wasn’t giving us enough to live on.”

Her Catholic faith helped her cope through the separation.

The same faith would soon help her husband as well.

“I became Catholic when Cathy was in high school,” said Howard. “She was my only child, and I was coaching her CYO softball team. The priest kept poking me,” he said.

Seventy years after saying “I do,” the Esteses celebrated their anniversary at the parish hall in Bright with their daughter, Cathy Scholle, their four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

After 70 years of marriage, Geraldine said, they have “so many good memories we can’t remember them all.”

‘There were all those letters’

Thomas (Tom) and Judith (Judy) Korbas, who celebrated their 51st anniversary in August, met through mutual friends who were dating—just six weeks before Tom headed off to serve in the military in Korea.

“That was in ’61,” said Judy. “He came back in the fall of ’62, and we married in August of ‘63.”

And how did the couple get to know each other in his absence?

“Letters,” said Judy. “I still have a box full of all his letters.

“We didn’t make any commitment to each other before he left—that wouldn’t have been fair to either of us. But there were all those letters. When he came home, then we knew. I knew anyway!” she said with a laugh about when she realized that she loved Tom.

“He’s the level-headed one,” she said with a fond gaze at the quiet man sitting across from her.

The couple, who worship at SS. Francis and Clare of Assisi Parish in Greenwood, credits their Catholic faith as a source of strength in their marriage.

“We both are born and raised Catholic, which is a big factor,” said Judy. “We have always gone to church together and done Church things together. And once you have children, it helps your faith grow and makes it stronger. ”

The couple had three children, one of whom has passed away. They now enjoy their three grandchildren and traveling west to visit with family.

Tom said he never imagined being married for 51 years.

Judy agreed.

“There are always times when you want to give up, when times are going hard,” she said. “But he’s my rock. He’s the one that kept us going.”

‘Know that God is in charge’

John Hanagan didn’t find out until a few years after marrying Alice that “she was just about to dump me [before he proposed] because I wasn’t getting serious in our relationship.”

The couple met at a CYO dance in their native southern Illinois. Alice shared that after five years of dating John, “I said a rosary every day for one year asking God if this was the one I was supposed to marry then let me know, and if not, then throw him out in my driveway!”

The prayers apparently worked. John recalled “walking the streets of Indianapolis, and I heard a voice say, ‘You know you love her, and she’s perfect for you. Why don’t you marry her?’ That’s actually how it happened. That’s how I knew.”

The couple, members of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, will celebrate 52 years of marriage on “November 11,” said John.

“November 12,” Alice corrected with a grin.

“Well, we move it around for Armistice Day,” he joked in an attempt to cover his mistake.

Their banter is witness to what John said others recognize as a “beautiful” relationship.

“I’ve often been asked how we’ve stayed married so long and it’s still so beautiful,” he said. “I think it’s because we had the same faith values when we started.

“Part of it’s having the same background, too. We’re both Catholic, and we’ve always come along together in our spirituality, and it’s grown through the years.”

The Hanagans, who have four children and 10 grandchildren, have shared their experience and wisdom as sponsors for engaged couples at their parish.

Alice summarized the advice they give to those soon-to-be married.

“You have to respect each other and where they are in their life,” she said. “Give them space to let them do different activities. Keep your faith. Go to church together. Get involved in Church activities. And know that God is in charge.”

John agreed.

“Certainly pray together,” he said. “One of the things we used to tell our engaged couples is that marriage is not 50/50. It’s 100/100. You have to give each other all of yourself. That works for us.”

‘A lot of memories to look back on’

Young Joseph (Joe) Grzezinski used to look out his window at work and watch a young woman walk by at the same time each day on her way home from high school.

“He told Jerry, a buddy of his, ‘I’m going to date that girl,’ ” said Lillian, the woman whom he used to watch. “He told Jerry, Jerry told Irvin [a friend], and Irvin told [my friend] Nancy.”

After looking him up in an old yearbook, Lillian “told Nancy, who told Irvin, who told Jerry, who told Joe, ‘Yes, she’ll go out with you.’”

Joe’s first attempt at a date with Lillian almost didn’t happen.

They were to meet at her high school’s dance.

“The nuns at the school said, ‘You can’t come in here!’ ” he said. “Finally, one nun realized I was an alumnus and let me in.”

With a warm smile while leaning in to her husband, Lillian said, “I’m glad they did.”

Joe and Lillian, members of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, dated for four years. They were married 62 years ago on June 28, 1952.

Through the years, the couple has enjoyed golf, bowling and travel.

They have also shared the sorrow of losing their only two children.

Joe and Lillian credit their faith for sustaining them through the hard times. Their involvement in St. Luke Parish helped as well.

“When we moved here [in 1971 from South Bend, Ind.] and got involved in the parish, they asked us to be a sponsor couple for engaged couples,” said Lillian. “So we have sponsored 75 couples, and out of those, seven have adopted us. We have them as our children.”

When it comes to sponsoring engaged couples, Lillian and Joe emphasize communication.

“You are two individual people,” Lillian explained. “You can’t just say, ‘It’s going to be this way.’ You have to sit down and communicate.”

After years of advising engaged couples, Lillian and Joe are slowing down.

“We’re both quite ill,” Lillian admitted. “He’s had a number of surgeries, and he now has cancer in his bones.

“But our faith is a great gift. If it weren’t for our faith, I don’t know where we’d be. Faith has really sustained us through losing our children, moving to a new city, surgeries and illnesses.”

Joe nodded in agreement as Lillian smiled and said, “But we have a lot of good memories to look back on.” †

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