April 10, 2015

A match made in heaven: Wedding plans set for young couple drawn together by volleyball and Catholic faith

Ten months after they meet as strangers through the IndyCatholic Young Adult Intramurals program, Katie Coonan and Matt Duffy became engaged. Their wedding is scheduled for July 25. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Ten months after they meet as strangers through the IndyCatholic Young Adult Intramurals program, Katie Coonan and Matt Duffy became engaged. Their wedding is scheduled for July 25. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

Considering that they first met on a volleyball court, Katie Coonan and Matt Duffy know that some people will call the young couple’s upcoming marriage “a match made in heaven.”

Besides, that’s exactly how Katie and Matt feel about their love story so far—a love that began through their interest in sports and that has grown deeper through their mutually strong Catholic faith.

“It’s divine intervention at its best,” said Matt as he sat next to Katie in a coffee shop on the north side of Indianapolis.

Looking at Matt, Katie smiled and added, “We just live four blocks away from each other, but we never would have met if it wasn’t for being on the same intramural team.”

Katie and Matt, both 26, were randomly assigned in early 2014 to the same volleyball team during the first season of the IndyCatholic Young Adult Intramurals program.

Started by the archdiocese’s young adult and college campus ministry, the program reflects the desire to use sports and friendly competition to create a sense of community and a connection to the Catholic faith for young adults. (Related story: Sports program draws young adults to faith, friendship)

It’s also led to another kind of deep, personal connection between Katie and Matt, neither of whom imagined that they would be engaged to each other just 10 months after they met as strangers.

A setting of sports, friendship and faith

Two main interests guided Katie as she stepped onto the volleyball court for the team’s first game last winter. She enjoyed sports, having played basketball and soccer at Bishop Dwenger High School in Fort Wayne, Ind., where she grew up. The 2011 graduate of Marian University in Indianapolis also hoped to make some new friends near her age who shared her Catholic faith.

“I just feel that as young adults, we’re in a limbo state of life. We’re out of college, and we’re starting our adult lives,” said Katie, a third-grade teacher at St. Joan of Arc School in Indianapolis. “It’s easy for young adults to not feel connected in their parish church. The young adult group in general builds a sense of community. And I thought the intramurals would be a good time with good people. And I like that we pray before and after the games.”

Matt also had two reasons for joining the volleyball league.

After moving from Michigan to Indianapolis for his first job as a civil engineer in August of 2013, Matt still counted his dog, Master Toby, as his best local friend when the brutal winter of 2013-14 sent the city into a prolonged, deep freeze. Realizing that Matt needed more human connection, his librarian-mother looked online from her home in Michigan and learned about IndyCatholic Young Adult Intramurals.

“She told me, ‘You’re going to sign up,’ I said, ‘Yes, ma’am,’ ” Matt recalled with a smile. “I was desperate for friends. But it was also good to know I’d be surrounding myself with people who have similar beliefs and values.”

A court leads to courtship

When Matt and Katie played for the first time on the court together, neither of them were thinking it would eventually lead to a courtship.

At the same time, the leaders of the intramurals program encourage the idea that teammates and other players should hang out together before and after games, emphasizing the social connections more than the sports competition.

As Matt and Katie individually joined those larger groups, it came out that Matt was involved in a long-distance relationship.

“I respected that,” Katie recalled. “We only saw each other in group settings.”

Yet the more they were around each other, there was no denying there was an attraction between them.

“I started to like Katie for the qualities she has—her genuine kindness and loving nature, and she tries to include people in things, and her competitive nature,” Matt noted.

Katie added, “I think what made a difference was hanging out before the games. I got to know him. He was funny, athletic, Catholic and cute. I always said that the guy I married, I wanted to be friends with him. I was drawn to him.”

Their friendship continued in group settings after the volleyball season ended. And when the intramurals program had a sign-up for a kickball season, they decided to form a team together.

“I thought we were just being friends,” Katie recalled about their relationship in the spring of 2014. “We didn’t know how the other person was feeling.”

When Matt knew his feelings for Katie couldn’t be denied, he ended his long-distance relationship in May. A month later, he asked Katie for a date.

“June 22 was our first date,” he noted. “I went back to Detroit two weeks after we started dating. I told my best man, ‘I’m going to marry this girl.’ ”

Katie soon learned that his feelings were matching hers.

An unexpected proposal

“There was a time, a month into dating, when we went to see my family in Fort Wayne,” Katie recalled. “On the way back, we had a really great conversation. And he told me that he loved me. He said, ‘It’s my choice to love you, and I want to help you get to heaven.’ ”

Matt nodded at the memory of those words and said, “I know that’s what real love is. That’s what I was feeling: ‘I want to do this for you.’ ”

Katie added, “It’s hard to explain how much Matt encompasses things I’ve always wanted in a relationship—the value of marriage and the commitment of marriage.”

Matt promised that commitment when he proposed to Katie on Christmas Eve after the midnight Mass at her family’s church in Fort Wayne—St. Vincent de Paul Church.

“I wasn’t expecting it,” Katie recalled. “After Mass, he asked if there was a Nativity where we could pray for Christmas. We walked over to it together. As we stood in front of the Nativity together, he was telling me several moments from our relationship when he knew he was in love with me. He got down on one knee and said, ‘I love you, and I want to help you get to heaven.’ ”

Katie said yes, and the celebration began as they were soon surrounded by her parents and many of her seven siblings. A phone call to Matt’s delighted parents followed shortly.

They plan to be married in that same church on July 25, during a Mass concelebrated by two of her older brothers who are priests in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend—Father Matthew Coonan and Father Terrence Coonan.

“To me, there is no other option than to be married in the Church,” said Katie, a member of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis, along with Matt. “The whole reason we’re here is to get to heaven and bring as many people with us. I absolutely love my Catholic faith, and we need as much grace in our lives to help us out. We’ve always talked about Christ being the center of our marriage.”

Matt added, “I want our marriage to be a testament to our beliefs. I believe that God made marriage part of his plan for us. I can’t imagine being married in any other place. We want people to know this is what we believe.”

Their shared belief includes the wonder and the joy of a journey that has taken them from strangers to teammates to friends to an engaged couple.

Looking at Matt, Katie said, “It’s amazing how God has things work out for you.” †

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