September 17, 2021

‘Priority in Jesus Christ’

Couples share stories, wisdom and faith at annual Wedding Anniversary Mass

Stella and Elbert Wilson enjoy a dance at a reception in the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis after the archdiocese’s 37th annual Wedding Anniversary Mass on Aug. 29 across the street at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral. Married for 65 years, the Wilsons are members of St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Stella and Elbert Wilson enjoy a dance at a reception in the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis after the archdiocese’s 37th annual Wedding Anniversary Mass on Aug. 29 across the street at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral. Married for 65 years, the Wilsons are members of St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

Norberto and Teresa were youth group leaders in Mexico when they met in 1963.

Stella was the car hop who served Elbert a cup of coffee in 1955.

World War II ended just a few years before Elvira and Les met on a blind date in college.

Three couples in different times and places, but all share two things in common: a strong commitment to each other and to God to help them reach 54, 65 and 70 years of marriage respectively.

Secondly, they, plus 97 other couples, came together at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis on Aug. 29 to celebrate their years of marriage at the archdiocese’s 37th annual Wedding Anniversary Mass, hosted by the Office of Marriage and Family Life.

More than 50 of the 100 couples celebrated a milestone anniversary of 25, 50, 60, 65 or 70 years of marriage. That’s 2,525 years of marriage—more than two and half millennia of love, commitment, challenges, victories, laughs, tears and joy—all rooted in Christ, as Archbishop Charles C. Thompson noted in his homily.

‘Ultimate priority in Jesus Christ’

“We come here today as Christians, keeping before us what is priority,” the archbishop told the congregation of about 350. “Whatever our vocation may be,” he said, we must always maintain “that ultimate priority in Jesus Christ.”

By keeping such a priority in mind, Archbishop Thompson called the married couples witnesses “not only to your families, but to your neighbors, indeed to the world, which doesn’t put a whole lot in one’s word in commitment today.”

He noted that, along with declaring 2021 the Year of St. Joseph, Pope Francis also named it the Year of the Family in honor of the five-year anniversary of his apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”).

“The family, the community of communities, is the place where a person first learns about love, respect, understanding, forgiveness and mercy,” the archbishop said. “It is in the family, if priorities are in line with Christian faith, that we develop the perspective of encountering Christ in others.

“The foundation of the family of course, as we celebrate today, is marriage. More than anything else, though no relationship is perfect—as Pope Francis points out very clearly in his apostolic exhortation—it is the bond of marriage that shapes and molds any given family.

“Thus, we honor those celebrating special milestones of wedding anniversaries today, realizing that the full impact of your marriage covenant will never be fully comprehended in this life— the Christian witness of your marriage to one another, to your families, to the world. We pause today to give you thanks, and to give thanks to God for the gift of your witness.”

Christ made it his priority to seek to do the will of the Father, the archbishop noted. With that in mind, it is the duty of each Christian and each couple “to encounter the very person of Jesus Christ in one another in our daily lives, in our homes, in our families, in our relationships, most especially in the Eucharist.

“May we indeed be ever bold witnesses of Gospel joy in both worship and service, in our vocations, and most especially in our families.”

‘God helped us in our highs and lows’

Couples married for 50 years stand and receive applause from the congregation gathered to celebrate the archdiocese’s 37th annual Wedding Anniversary Mass at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis on Aug. 29. (Photos by Natalie Hoefer)

Couples married for 50 years stand and receive applause from the congregation gathered to celebrate the archdiocese’s 37th annual Wedding Anniversary Mass at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis on Aug. 29. (Photos by Natalie Hoefer)

As translated by their granddaughter, Ava Aguayo Martinez, Norberto and Teresa Aguayo were both leaders of their respective youth groups—his for young men and hers for young women—when the couple met in 1963 near Jalisco in Mexico. He was 18, she was 14.

“I thought he was nice, but I didn’t think we were going to get married,” Ava translated for Teresa.

Norberto and Teresa, members of St. Patrick Parish in Indianapolis, both came from strong Catholic families. So when talk of marriage came up, Teresa made a seven-Sunday devotion to St. Joseph that she marry the right man.

The couple married in 1967 and have remained strong in their faith together, along with their four children and 13 grandchildren.

Ava translated as Norberto shared about the strength of God in their marriage. He attributes the fact in part to his “constantly seeking to do the will of God and keeping the Holy Spirit in his heart.”

As for Teresa, Ava relayed her belief that “if God wasn’t in our marriage, we wouldn’t be together, because God helped us in our highs and lows.”

Through Ava, the couple offered advice to young married couples.

“For marriage to work, spouses have to offer themselves to each other and really give it their all to make it work,” said Norberto.

Teresa nodded and added, “And you have to pray, have God in your relationship and feed off the Eucharist.”

‘Ask God’s blessing every day’

When Elvira “Vita” met Les Richards on a blind date in college in the mid-to-late 1940s, “I didn’t give it much thought,” she said. “It was just a date.”

Les, however, found Vita to be “an attractive young lady. I wasn’t in the mood for marriage at that point,” he said. But then the relationship “grew, and it grew, and it grew.”

The couple dated several years before marrying in 1951. She was 24 and he was 25. At “94 and three-quarters” and “almost 95,” Vita and Les, members of St. John Paul II Parish in Sellersburg, have four children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

When looking back on their 70 years of marriage, Les admitted there were “times briefly when I didn’t like my wife, and I’m sure there were times when she didn’t like me. But we had an agreement sanctioned by the Holy Spirit, and we’re not going to break that contract.”

Vita pulled out her cell phone and brought up a photo of a wall plaque that read, “Marriage is just two imperfect people who refuse to give up on each other.”

“That’s it,” she said. “That explains marriage perfectly, don’t you think?”

Both Vita and Les attribute their 70 years of marriage to faith and prayer.

“You have to pray and ask God’s blessing every day,” said Vita.

Les agreed, adding that “marriage can’t exist without faith.”

Ironically, faith is something he didn’t have when he met Vita.

“I didn’t have any religion,” he said. “As a matter of fact, I wasn’t sure if Jesus was a person or a myth. That’s the best thing that ever happened to me was meeting my wife, and she introduced me to the Catholic Church. Best thing that ever happened.”

Vita smiled at her husband.

“I never imagined being married 70 years,” she said. “And all I can say is we’ve been blessed.”

‘Two key things’

Elbert and Stella Wilson, who both grew up on farms in southern Indiana, met by chance.

“I was a car hop for just two weeks—it’s not something I normally would have been doing,” Stella recalled.

During that short period, Elbert happened to drive in. Stella had heard that he was a nice young man.

With a twinkle in his eye, Elbert playfully said he thought Stella was “sort of cute.” By the end of the evening, he had set a date with her.

“But he got so excited he forgot to pay for his coffee! Sixty-five years later, I’m reminding him he owes me with interest,” Stella teased.

That chance meeting was in 1955, when she was 16 and he was 20. The two married a year later. They now have two children, four grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

At the time they wed, Stella was a member of a Protestant Christian faith, and Elbert was a Baptist. About 60 years later, both became Catholic.

Through a mutual ecumenical ministry in Madison, Stella came to know the late Father Patrick Harpenau.

“I went through some health problems, and he was always there, even though I wasn’t Catholic,” Stella recalled. “I told my husband then, ‘I think I’m supposed to be Catholic.’ That thought was there, but it didn’t resurface right away.”

As the years progressed, Catholicism kept resurfacing for the Wilsons—they became godparents to a Catholic child and their musically-inclined son sang at the local Catholic church.

“Then we moved up here [to Indianapolis] and met some other wonderful Catholics,” said Elbert. “We found a lot of things in the Catholic Church that we found we really believed.”

The couple was received into full communion of the Church in 2015 and are members of St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis.

The couple of 65 years had wisdom to share with young couples.

“Make sure that you share the same value system, definitely, and if at all possible, the same faith,” said Stella.

“One thing else we were in agreement on was a commitment to each other and our marriage. There are rough times, but there are so many good times. And God is there through it all.”

Elbert also spoke of perseverance and faith.

“You have to have commitment to each other and to God,” he advised. “Those are the two key things. There’s hard times and good times, but you’ve got to weather it with God’s help and each other.”
 

(For more information on the archdiocesan Office of Marriage and Family Life, go to cutt.ly/MarriageAndFamilyLife.)

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