February 25, 2022

Spring Marriage Supplement

New Albany Deanery PreCana retreats offer ‘huge benefit for any engaged couple’

Jamie and Tom Schilmiller pose with their children Lee, left, Lacy and Evan. (Submitted photo)

Jamie and Tom Schilmiller pose with their children Lee, left, Lacy and Evan. (Submitted photo)

By Natalie Hoefer

When Kristina Seipel and her husband David were married four and a half years ago at St. John Paul II Parish in Sellersburg, “We didn’t go on a day [engaged couples] retreat but worked with a marriage sponsor couple.”

It’s not that the couple didn’t want to participate in a marriage preparation retreat—there weren’t any available in the New Albany Deanery. There never had been.

“That meant [engaged couples] had to stay overnight in Indianapolis or go to Louisville, which is a different archdiocese,” said Seipel.

As director of religious education (DRE) at the time for St. John Paul II, that fact bothered her.

She discussed the issue with a group of local, empathetic DREs and parish leaders.

“We wanted to make it possible for [engaged couples] to go close to home, in their archdiocese with other local couples from local parishes.”

In October 2020, the deanery held its first semi-annual PreCana engaged couples retreat.

“It’s all good stuff, important stuff,” Seipel said of the content. “It’s not just theological [material], but also practical.”

‘No need to recreate the wheel’

The decision to implement a marriage preparation retreat “came organically at a meeting of parish DREs, pastoral associates and youth ministers,” said Michelle Fessel, associate director of communications and parish initiatives for Catalyst Catholic. The organization serves as a resource center for the New Albany Deanery.

Once the need was identified, Fessel contacted Gabriela Ross, director of the archdiocesan Office of Marriage and Family Life.

“It only made sense to make sure what we offered in the southern part of the state was in line with and exactly replicated off of the archdiocesan model,” said Fessel. “There was no need to re-create the wheel. We just needed to utilize the resources available to us.”

Ross met with the group and shared about the archdiocese’s one-day retreat model based on Ascension Press’s “Joy-Filled Marriage” resource.

“They discerned that it was exactly what they were looking for, and work began to form a team from all the interested parishes in the deanery,” she said.

The marriage preparation resource “has [couples] look at topics they might not have looked at before,” said Seipel. “There are some real practical ones, like conflict resolution and money [management].

“For theology, it helps people to understand that God needs to be kept in the center of marriage from day one, and he has a plan for what marriage looks like.”

Couples from various New Albany Deanery parishes were selected to present the program’s eight topics, then received training from the PreCana organizing team.

“We helped them pick out an activity that goes with their topic,” said Seipel. “We go through the talk material with them, make sure they’re giving good examples, help with public speaking and finding a balance of both of them speaking. We try to help them make it engaging and practical, using their own examples and examples from the [resource] book and the Bible.”

‘Starting points for conversation’

One of the retreat’s goals is to give engaged couples “tools so they have starting points for conversation,” said Seipel.

Having those conversations before saying “I do” is important, said presenting couple Jamie and Tom Schilmiller. They and their three children are members of St. Mary Parish in Navilleton.

Jamie said she only remembers part of the retreat she and Tom traveled to attend before marrying in 2005.

“What I do remember is that it made us talk,” she said. “I can remember afterward going to a nearby Dairy Queen. We ate and talked for half the day.”

The couple encourages the PreCana participants to talk as well. They start their presentation with a game, said Tom, having each person “write answers real fast to questions like where they met, but also do you want to have kids? Are you going to church or not? Who will mow the yard? Will you share a bank account or not? It’s just to get them thinking.”

The Schilmillers then discuss the role of virtue in marriage and designing a marriage mission, “a vision of what you want your marriage to be,” said Tom. “If you do that well, it helps shape the next generation to do things right—that’s our message to them.”

“We tell them you have to agree on things before you get married,” Jamie added. “It’d be hard to say ‘let’s get married’ but not talked about religion or if you want kids and how you’ll raise them.”

Along those lines, Seipel said one of her favorite talks during the PreCana retreat is on Natural Family Planning (NFP).

“I think the NFP talk is important because I think a lot of people are not aware of it and how good it is,” she said.

The presentation addresses “how the body works,” she said. “But it also shows you how God works, and that you work with the Creator, and you understand how the creation works, and you’re making an informed decision on if this is the right time to have a child.”

Besides, said Seipel, “If [a couple] can talk about NFP, they can talk about anything.”

‘The benefits speak volumes’

The New Albany Deanery PreCana retreats are held at Mount St. Francis Center for Spirituality in Mt. St. Francis and are open to all engaged couples regardless of deanery.

Fessel calls the program “a great example of parishes in the New Albany Deanery working together toward a common goal of preparing couples for what lies beyond their wedding day.

“So often, we tend to focus on the events of the wedding day—the dress, the liturgy, the reception venue—that we forget to plan for the marriage,” she said.

“The PreCana engaged couples’ workshop certainly pokes and prods couples to think about some tough topics in hopes that they can unite behind some common goals for their newly forming families.”

Many couples who have participated in the retreat agree, according to post-retreat surveys.

“I’ve been on a lot of retreats, but this one may have made the biggest impact,” said one person. The individual “loved” that couples sat at individual tables, “sharing an intimate discussion. I was so afraid we were walking into a room where we would have to share our souls and personal details with a bunch of strangers.”

One couple noted that they had “been together for a long time, but we found things we hadn’t discussed.” They also “loved the [Schilmiller’s] newlywed game.”

Even those who have celebrated the sacrament of marriage before found the retreat valuable: “Excellent retreat. I didn’t know what to expect as an older couple marrying for the second time. It was worth our time.”

“I am very proud of our parish leaders and the team at Catalyst Catholic for working with the archdiocese to produce an excellent marriage preparation retreat,” said Ross.

“The presenters and team are so dedicated, and the talks are so rich and hands-on. It will be a huge benefit for any engaged couple that attends.”

“We highly recommend it,” added Tom. “It may be uncomfortable for someone to say ‘yes’ to go, but the benefits at the end of the day speak volumes.”

(For more information on PreCana retreats in New Albany, go to catalystcatholic.org/precana or call 812-923-8355.)


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