July 27, 2018

Alliance offers ‘preventative medicine’ to create healthy, successful marriages

A medical panel discusses sexuality and fertility on June 16 as part of the One in Christ marriage preparation program. The panelists are Julie and Matt Miller, left, Dr. Konrad Szymanski and his wife Sonia-Maria, Marianne Stroud and her husband Dr. Christopher Stroud, Dr. Casey Delcoco, Dr. Holly Smith and Father C. Ryan McCarthy. (Photo by Kelly Martin Photography)

A medical panel discusses sexuality and fertility on June 16 as part of the One in Christ marriage preparation program. The panelists are Julie and Matt Miller, left, Dr. Konrad Szymanski and his wife Sonia-Maria, Marianne Stroud and her husband Dr. Christopher Stroud, Dr. Casey Delcoco, Dr. Holly Smith and Father C. Ryan McCarthy. (Photo by Kelly Martin Photography)

By Natalie Hoefer

In Catholic marriage preparation programs, informing engaged couples about the truth and beauty of the Church’s teaching on sexuality and fertility is essential.

Since its inception eight years ago, the One in Christ (OIC) marriage preparation program has taken this topic one step further. They not only have a panel of medical experts present on this portion, but devout Catholic medical experts who embrace and promote Church teaching. After presenting for an hour, the panelists take questions from the group for another hour, and then a third hour for couples to meet with them one-on-one.

In January, One in Christ itself joined in a marriage of sorts. The founders of the program signed an agreement forming an alliance with the St. Raphael Catholic Medical Association Guild of Indianapolis (CMA), an agreement that benefits both the engaged couples participating in the three-day program, and the members of CMA.

A win-win combination

“The majority of couples coming through [the program] are millennials,” says Mark Overholt, who founded OIC with his wife Michelle. “They’re looking for scientific answers to back up what the faith teaches. And they can get all their medical questions answered from experts who are knowledgeable not just on medical aspects, but [on] faith as well.”

Plus, Michelle notes, “This is an introduction to local support for [the couples]. There’s a face and a name to go to with questions. And it also brings them some peace of mind on ‘where do I go to get more knowledge now that I know about NFP [Natural Family Planning].’ If you offer context for them, it’s a start to their process of learning more.”

As for benefits for the CMA members, says Mark, “They can use One in Christ as a launch pad to show they can make a difference as a group, and live out the beauty of Church teaching through education and awareness.”

“We do have a lot of engaged couples who are medical students,” Michelle adds. “They say they’re excited because now they don’t have to be a ‘Catholic’ doctor only on the weekends. They’re exposed to a group that can support them going forward.”

Dispelling ‘myths and falsities’

“I am very excited about the alliance,” says Dr. Holly Smith, who is an assistant professor of clinical family medicine at the Indiana University (IU) School of Medicine in Indianapolis, a family physician for IU Health Physicians Primary Care at Anson, a certified NFP medical consultant, and president of the St. Raphael CMA Guild.

“It gives us, as Catholic physicians and health care providers, an opportunity to share our knowledge in a unique setting. It allows an outlet for service, and it’s a great marketing opportunity for the CMA guild to try to attract more members and general interest and awareness.”

Smith says she and the other CMA members appreciate the opportunity to present to the engaged couples on the topic of sexuality and fertility.

“I think it is crucial that women be empowered by understanding how their bodies function, whether they’re healthy or unhealthy,” she says. “This understanding is the foundation of the fertility awareness-based methods of family planning that are promoted by the Catholic Church.

“And it is vital to their ability to recognize myths and falsities that are frequently stated about these methods of family planning,” such as that the methods are ineffective, that NFP is “Catholic birth control,” and that couples “will never get to have sex.”

‘Holy Spirit bringing us together’

Father C. Ryan McCarthy, chaplain for the St. Raphael CMA Guild, sees the alliance as “pretty natural.”

“Having doctors help support One in Christ in preparing healthy relationships is a great source of preventative medicine,”says Father McCarthy, who also serves as pastor of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish in Indianapolis, is a moral theologian and is trained in the Creighton Model of natural family planning.

The “illness” being prevented is the disastrous effects of using artificial birth control predicted by Pope Paul VI in his hallmark encyclical, “Humanae Vitae” (“On Human Life”), also known as “On the Regulation of Birth Control.”

In this 1968 document, the pope forecast that the use of artificial birth control would lead to “marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards, … [and] reducing [a woman] to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of [man’s] own desires” (#17).

Looked at from the opposite point of view, Father McCarthy notes that “this part [of the encyclical] is primarily focused on the positive aspect that marriage, if given the truth of the biology of a man and woman, can have a strong chance of growth in virtue for the husband and wife.

“Certain statistics play out that couples who follow Church teaching in regard to marriage really have a stronger, more successful marriage, particularly in terms of the divorce rate.”

Mark sees the CMA and OIC alliance occurring during the 50th anniversary year of the publishing of “Humanae Vitae” as “the Holy Spirit bringing us together. [The encyclical] is a prophetic, providential, clear plan for the transmission of life.

“This alliance is showing how this [plan] can be executed in a charitable way that makes a difference for married couples and family life. In ‘Humanae Vitae,’ Pope Paul gave a challenge to scientists, doctors, nurses and priests to look for ways to improve marriages. The meaning of marriage and how God designed marriage, it’s all encompassed in this strategic alliance.”

‘The program transforms’

The creation of the alliance bolsters what was already a “transformative” component of the One in Christ marriage preparation program, says Dr. Casey Delcoco, an OIC panelist for six years and the founder of the local CMA chapter. In 2015, she started Magnificat Family Medicine, a faith‑based family medicine practice specializing in obstetrics and holistic health for men, women and children.

“As a medical panel volunteer for One in Christ, it’s humbling and inspiring to witness how the program transforms couples’ outlooks on such important and intimate subjects as marriage, sexuality and family planning,” she says.

She also knows the benefits of the program from firsthand experience.

“My husband Thomas and I both feel blessed to have participated in the program,” says Delcoco, who is still adjusting to not being called “Dr. Reising” since her April 14 wedding. “It’s both a blessing and a marvelous asset to Catholic couples preparing for the sacrament of holy matrimony.”

It’s the medical panel—now assured to include CMA members through the alliance—that makes the program such an asset.

“A lot of conversions happen on day three,” says Michelle of the sexuality and fertility portion that takes place on the last day of the program. “Light bulbs go off. Couples see the science behind the options.”

Smith says she has seen evidence of such conversions.

“The Overholts usually share with panelists the ‘before and after’ statements that couples write, and it is very rewarding to see that couples’ attitudes are significantly changed in a positive way,” she says.

Father Rick Nagel, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, requires couples getting married in his parish to attend the One in Christ program. The forming of the alliance reinforced his decision.

“The Catholic Medical Association is an outstanding asset to the NFP portion of One in Christ,” he says. “Many of our couples comment that they were inspired by the knowledge shared, and grateful that Catholic medical professionals have taken their time to volunteer and share from both a faith-based as well as a science perspective.

“Oftentimes, our contemporary culture sells short the Catholic Church as an outdated, irrelevant voice in the conversation of reproductive life. But One in Christ—especially now through this alliance—dispels this lie and proposes the beauty, goodness and truth of science and faith working hand in glove to build healthy families, rooted in God’s design in the complimentary union of man and woman in marriage.”

(For more information on the One in Christ marriage preparation program go to www.oicindy.com. For more information on the St. Raphael CMA Guild of Indianapolis, go to www.indycathmed.org.)

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