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Marriage jubilarians are ‘signs of God’s love,’ Bishop Burbidge says

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Evelyn and Rafael Geigel met when he crashed her 13th birthday party in Puerto Rico. Paula and Burman Skrable both attended daily Mass on campus at Cornell. Tim and Trish Hance met in a bar at the beach.

All three couples knew that when they said “I do,” they were making a commitment for life — and that has made all the difference.

“I think the most important thing to keeping a marriage together is taking your vows very seriously — in sickness and in health, ’til death do us part,” said Paula Skrable, a parishioner of St. Leo the Great Church in Fairfax. “Lots of things happen in 50 years, even 10 years — accidents, cancer ... But you’re making a commitment to God and yourself that you're really going to stick it out and work through it, with God's grace.”

On Oct. 4, the Skrables and Geigels, both married 50 years, and the Hances, married 25, were among 125 couples who marked golden and silver jubilees by renewing their vows at the annual Mass for Marriage Jubilarians, celebrated by Bishop Michael F. Burbidge at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington. With COVID-19 social distancing restrictions, 125 couples is the cathedral’s maximum seating capacity; another 50 couples registered and will receive certificates. 

“God gives us signs of his love for us,” Bishop Burbidge told the assembly, pointing out that this year’s jubilarians represent a total of 6,700 years of marriage. “Your loving union has been that sacramental sign for us for 25, 50 and even more years … With God’s help, you have and continue to reflect that love. You remind us that God is near and his love for us is without end.” 

The Geigels, parishioners of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Vienna, said that even though they met at 13 and went to heavily chaperoned “tea dances” in Puerto Rico, they didn’t start dating until later. Yet, he was the first person she called when her dad died while she was in high school. When he invited her to visit him at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana for Mardi Gras weekend, she thought her mother would not approve, but when she learned a friend was going and the friend’s grandmother would chaperone, her mom said yes.

“During that weekend, without saying a word, he gave me his high school ring and I accepted it, without a word,” Evelyn said. At the end of the weekend, “Rafi asked, ‘Are we going steady?’ ” She kept the ring. “We were both shy,” she said. She visited again the next two years, and then in 1969, they got engaged. 

 

Half a century and three daughters later, that shyness “is long gone,” said Rafael, who became a lawyer and eventually got a job with the federal government. In 1990, they moved from Puerto Rico to Tampa, Fla., and then two years later to Virginia. They settled in Vienna to be near Our Lady of Good Counsel School, recommended by friends for their youngest daughter, then in fourth grade. Their two older daughters were both in college in the area, and gradually, other relatives moved to Virginia as well, some staying with them for extended periods. “Home is where your family is,” Rafael said.

Both are extraordinary ministers of holy Communion and bilingual lectors, most recently serving at the Spanish Mass. Rafael was one of the readers at the cathedral — St. Paul’s familiar Letter to the Corinthians, “Love is patient, love is kind … ” The words are especially meaningful now, Evelyn said, because their youngest daughter just got married a few weeks ago, in a small “toned-down COVID wedding,” rescheduled three times. 

For their own anniversary, they stayed home and “cooked together, a nice meal with wine,” Evelyn said. “We have been OK with just being the two of us, walking outside holding hands.”  

Tim and Trish Hance, parishioners of St. William of York Church in Stafford, remember the night they met; he was in the Navy, and they were in a bar in Virginia Beach. He recalls feeling uncharacteristically shy; she was out with her girlfriends and “wasn’t that interested in meeting me,” he said. But she finally agreed to a dance. “You hear it in storybooks, but once we got on the dance floor and I touched his hand, I knew the rest of my life was going to change forever,” she said. “I was smitten.” 

From that day on, they spent almost every day together. When Tim got out of the Navy 27 years ago, he became an engineer with Comcast and was offered a position in Northern Virginia. They married in her church in West Reading, Pa. Tim wasn’t Catholic but she hoped he would convert; her priest said, “ ‘Give him his time, don’t push him.’ ” 

About 10 years later, when their young daughter and son were in religious education classes, Tim felt it was time. “Something else needed to be in our relationship, and that was God,” he said. Joining the church “changed everything” and made their relationship stronger. Now he volunteers as a reader and extraordinary minister of holy Communion. 

Church “is just part of our lives,” said Trish, adding that over the years “we've surrounded ourselves with other families with the same beliefs and ideals,” which has helped them grow stronger in their faith. Their daughter is now 21 and their son is 19. “We've been blessed and lucky that in 21 years, we’ve never heard from our children ‘we don’t want to go’ ” to church.

They agreed from the beginning that marriage was a lifetime commitment. “Divorce is not an option, even in hard times,” Tim said. “You’re stuck with me.” 

The Skrables dated for almost five years before they were married, after meeting at daily Mass at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., where Paula was a freshman and Burman was starting a doctorate program. A week after she finished nursing school, they married and moved to Virginia; he was a government economist, eventually with the Labor Department. 

“We have been blessed in basically being able to agree on all the big issues that seem to be such a problem for so many other people — religion, money, where to live, how to raise our children,” Burman said. When they don’t agree, “we pray about it and come to some agreement,” Paula added.

They have always approached their marriage as a partnership. When she was in a car accident at age 29 that broke her back, jaw and shoulder, her sister helped out during the day, but when he got home from work, “Burman had to basically take over” caring for their 4-year-old and 9- month-old. “When one person couldn’t fulfill their duties, the other person took over. We were a good team that way,” Burman added. 

They’ve continued to be a good team, raising four children, all of whom attended St. Leo School, and enjoying five grandchildren. After 45 years, they still go to St. Leo’s on Sundays, even though they now live near St. Mary of Sorrows in Fairfax, where —  after more than 50 years  — they still walk to daily Mass.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020