July 20, 2007

The wedding planners: Coordinators help couples prepare for special moment

As the wedding hostess at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, Eileen Ahrens gives instructions to Lauren Rossier and Jeff Bodkin during the rehearsal for their June 29 wedding.

As the wedding hostess at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, Eileen Ahrens gives instructions to Lauren Rossier and Jeff Bodkin during the rehearsal for their June 29 wedding.

By John Shaughnessy

The stories can be poignant, including the request from the bride who wanted to be the fifth generation in her family to be married in the same church.

As the bride stood at the altar in 2005 at St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis, she made her marriage vows in the same place where her parents, her maternal grandparents, both sets of great-grandparents and her maternal great-great grandparents had promised their lives to each other—a family connection that dated back to 1888.

“It was the only time I know that we’ve had five generations married in our church,” says Eileen Ahrens, the wedding hostess at St. John’s, the oldest Catholic parish in Indianapolis. “I thought that was really neat. They were a nice couple.”

The stories can also be unusual.

“I did have one couple who wanted their dogs to participate in the wedding because they met at a dog park,” recalls Cheryl Nickels, the wedding director at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Indianapolis. “They wanted their dogs to come down the aisle—one in his little tuxedo and the little girl dog in a little wedding dress and veil.”

Nickels told the couple that the Church couldn’t accommodate the dogs, that the animals couldn’t be part of the holy sacrament of marriage binding a man and a woman. The couple understood, still were married at Sacred Heart and then had their photos taken with their dogs outside the church after the ceremony.

Those stories show the range of emotions and situations that are part of the ministry of wedding hosts and coordinators in the archdiocese as they help couples prepare for that monumental moment when they promise their lives to each other in the presence of God.

Here are some other stories and thoughts about weddings that they shared:

The best couples

“You can see when couples are open to each other and they’re considerate to each other,” Ahrens says. “They’re focused on one day, but they see it’s just a day in their married life together. You can tell they’re not only in love with each other, but they love each other. There’s a difference. They seem to know, ‘We’re good for each other. We bring out the best in each other.’ ”

A call of desperation

With St. John’s being a highly sought after church for weddings, the parish has two people who work together on them. As the wedding hostess, Ahrens usually makes sure everything goes well on the day of the wedding. As the wedding coordinator, Bridget McClellan usually schedules the weddings and handles the paperwork and pre-wedding details. Yet one of McClellan’s best stories is from a time she stepped into Ahrens’ role.

“I knew the couple,” McClellan recalls. “Everything was great until I got a phone call at four in the morning after the wedding, on Sunday morning. It was from the maid of honor, the groom’s sister. She couldn’t find the plane tickets for the honeymoon, and she was responsible for them. The couple needed to be at the airport at 6 a.m.

“She was frantic. She wanted to look in the church to see if anything had been left there. My wonderful husband, Roger, and I came down. The maid of honor was already in the parking lot, still dressed for the wedding. We’re in the church looking, and all of a sudden it dawned on me that one of the family members—the groom’s aunt—had a small baby. I remembered seeing the stroller there and a bunch of stuff was piled on the stroller.

“I told her that she needed to call her aunt. The tickets were in the aunt’s van. She got them to the airport in time. On the way home, Roger and I started laughing.”

The most important part to remember from a wedding

Here’s the advice that Cheryl Nickels often gives to young couples as the wedding director of Sacred Heart Parish in Indianapolis: “I try to tell them at the rehearsal, ‘You may not remember anything of tomorrow. You may have to refer to your photos or your videotape. The one thing you must remember over everything is the two of you. When you’re saying your vows, that’s what you will remember and you should remember.’ ”

Favorite wedding moment, Part One

“The moment when the wedding party has started to go up and it’s usually just the bride, her father and me in the back of the church,” Ahrens says.

“I close the door. I have a few moments to straighten her veil and tell them to take a few deep breaths. I tell her how beautiful she is and how good he looks. I like to see the interaction between the bride and her dad. The bride is happy, and the dad is proud. In many ways, the dad is teary-eyed more than the bride. I really enjoy it as they walk up the aisle together. It’s really nice. That’s my favorite part.”

Favorite wedding moment, Part Two

Diana Hay, a wedding hostess at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis, says, “I like to watch the end result when they’re joined together in matrimony and it’s blessed by the Church as they start their new lives together.”

Nickels agrees: “The best thing is to realize that the two people who came into church were brave enough to begin a new life together. To watch them walk down the steps of the church after the wedding makes you feel really good.”

Thinking twice

“Every once in a while, a wedding gets cancelled,” Ahrens says. “Some things happened in their lives or some issues arose in marriage preparation. That’s hard. I’ve had a couple of weddings where the couple worked through that and did what they had to do to go forward. Some of the nicest weddings are when they didn’t get married when they originally planned.”

Advice to newlyweds, Part One

“As you get married in the Church, have God in between you all the time,” advises Paola Alejo, who schedules weddings at St. Mary Church in Indianapolis. “If you have him with you always, it will really make a big difference in your marriage.”

Advice to newlyweds, Part Two

“When these couples marry, they think they love each other so much but they have no idea how much more that love is going to grow,” says McClellan, who has been married 27 years. “I love my husband so much more than the day I married him because of everything you go through together, even the hard times.

“God is a big part of that. As long as you keep God in the center of your marriage, you will have a long and faith-filled marriage—a forever marriage.” †

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