Whether we call ourselves a congregation, a church, a parish, or a community, we all know how important marriages are to both the present and future of our collective Churches. In fact, it’s no overstatement that the FUTURE Church is being built in the hearts and homes of TODAY’S marriages and families.
Christian marriages are every church’s backbone. “The Church is good for the family, and the family is good for the Church,” Pope Francis often reminds us. They are part of our oldest and most precious institution, and our best hope for the future.
“Among the many blessings that God has showered upon us in Christ is the blessing of marriage, a gift bestowed by the creator from the creation of the human race. His hand has inscribed the vocation to marriage in the very nature of man and woman (see Gn 127-28, 2-21-24).” (MARRIAGE Love & Life in the Divine Plan, USCCB, 2009)
Yet, while we are witnessing great upheaval within marriages today, too often, we take our married couples for granted. Our concern and our ministries at times can even ignore or neglect the needs of the married couples in our Church, and even more, as an important focus of our care, our support, and our future.
We admire the couple who makes it to their 25th or 50th wedding anniversary. But too often couples are being left to their own imagination, ﬁnding themselves guessing their way through the daily efforts of making a marriage work. And when it proves too difficult, they quit, losing hope altogether.
Why shouldn’t marriages count on the church to be more intentional in the ways it guides them? In how they are discipled as a couple? And in the ways it prays for them and tends to their spiritual and relational needs?
There is one common denominator among marriages that survive and among marriages that fail: HOPE. “If a couple goes though a terrible period, if they felt certain they could make it, they usually did,” Shanti Feldhahn found in her work to debunk discouraging myths about marriage and divorce. Isn’t the Church in the business of giving HOPE?
In our work with the Culture of Freedom Grant in Jacksonville, FL, we saw a 28% drop in the divorce rate in this county over a three-year period (2016-2018) by increasing marriage education in the faith-based community of Jacksonville. There IS much HOPE to be found and shared.
In our work coaching distressed couples in Jacksonville, in as little as an hour and half, we see couples regaining HOPE and asking “What’s next?” to which we then guide them into the faith-based community for resources that teach marriage relationship skills.
We know we can change despair into HOPE simply by having the resources in place in our churches to prepare couples remotely, proximately and immediately for marriage as called for in Familiaris Consortio. By providing efforts that will strengthen couples in their marriages. And, we MUST have in place ready help for couples going through crisis that helps restore their marriages.
What if married couples ﬁnd within our churches opportunities to grow stronger in their marriages through marriage education, small group studies, date nights, and the on-going support found in our worshiping communities for their young marriages as well as older ones? What about the couples in our churches in need of ready help when their marriages are in crisis? Or the ones in need of Marriage Convalidation?
Is it possible for parents to look to the church to help form their teens on dating, relationships and marriage? Can singles learn “How to marry well?” And shouldn’t the divorced and widowed expect our care and needed avenues for healing and helping them rebuild?
DON & LORRIE GRAMER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTORS
Lorrie & Don Gramer consider themselves champions in the Marriage-Building efforts underway in Catholic dioceses across the United States. Responding to the US Bishops Pastoral Initiative for Marriage (NPIM) in early 2013, the Gramers took their 35 years of parish, diocesan and national leadership in marriage, youth, young adult and family ministry, and founded MarriageBuilding/ConstruyendoMatrimonios USA to help intensify the Marriage-Building efforts in the Church. MBUSA seeks to revolutionize how a parish addresses and meets the spiritual and relational needs of marriages and families.
“We don’t just offer events, we want to engage couples and mobilize parishes” say the Gramers, “by empowering them with a sense of mission that continues to form and support marriages and families long beyond any single event.”
The Gramers have worked in leadership for the National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers (NACFLM). They were inﬂuential in the development of a pastoral strategy for the NPIM using 8 Building Blocks that help to better deﬁne the areas that foster a Marriage Building Parish. Their efforts have been unprecedented in establishing Marriage-Building Ministry Teams, training leaders in a Marriage-Building Parish, and creating effective ministerial responses and strategies.
Lorrie received her MA in Leadership in Family Ministry from Dominican University, River Forest, IL and working on a second Masters in Pastoral Counseling for Marriages and Families. Don has an MS in Adult Christian Community Development with emphasis in Family Ministry from Regis University, Denver, CO. They served as Diocesan Family Life Directors for 30 years in the Diocese of Rockford including 22 years as Directors of Bishop Lane Retreat Center and 7 years as Directors of the Ofﬁce of Family, Youth and Young Adults. Lorrie was a senior Consultant for Healthy Relationships California where she was instrumental in forming MarriageBuilding California, an outreach to Catholic Diocese there. Prior to Church Ministry, Don spent 8 years as a Warrant Ofﬁcer in the Army flying Helicopters and as a computer specialist. The Gramers have been married 49 years, have 7 adult children and 19 grandchildren.
LUCIA & RICARDO LUZONDO, DIRECTORS OF HISPANIC OUTREACH
Dr. Ricardo Luzondo and Lucia Luzondo, JD, MPTA are co-founders and directors of Hispanic Outreach at Marriage Building USA / Construyendo Matrimonios USA, Inc. They are also cofounders of Family Renewal Ministries, Inc. (Renovacion Familiar) a ministry dedication to serve marriages and families in the United States, Latin America and Europe. Ricardo and Lucia have work extensively as directors in the areas of laity, marriage, family life, youth, Hispanic ministry and parish life in various archdioceses in the United States. They have produced and presented hundreds of retreats, workshops, conferences, congresses, programs and courses in English and Spanish, and are contributors for several Catholic publishers in the United States.
Ricardo and Lucia co-host the Television series “Created to Love” in EWTN’s worldwide Spanish signals, and also co-host the weekly live radio program “In the Day to Day with Ricardo and Lucia” which broadcasts from EWTN Global Catholic Radio in Spanish. Ricardo and Lucia were the on-air commentators of the World Meeting of Families in Ireland 2018 in Spanish. They are also writers and contributors to several Catholic publishers in the United States. Ricardo and Lucia had the privilege to address the full Assembly of Bishops on how to best accompany married couples in their journey, during the U.S. Bishops Meeting in June 2015. They have served as experts and collaborators in numerous initiatives on marriage and family of several Secretariats of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Lucia was a presenter at the World Meeting of Families –Philadelphia 2015 and at the Convocation of Catholic Leaders- Orlando 2017.
Lucia holds a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree, a Masters in Practical Theology and Ministry and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. Ricardo is a pediatric neurologist. They both closed their professional practices to work for the Church full time. They have recorded three musical productions including several songs of their authorship. Their son Sebastian accompanies them in their ministry. Their son, Sebastian, accompanies them in their ministry.
Dennis Stoica received his Harvard MBA in 1985, then had a productive and profitable business career as a Corporate Strategy Consultant before retiring at the ripe old age of 42. His “second half” has been as a pioneer and leader in the National Marriage Education Movement where he has formed and led several non-profits, including the California Healthy Marriages Coalition, the largest and most successful Healthy Marriage Coalition in the country.
He has conducted grant writing trainings for dozens of novice leaders of other Healthy Marriage Initiatives, who have subsequently received over $100 million in federal, state, and private grants to strengthen marriages and families. He has been active in Catholic Marriage Ministries since 1991 and in 2011 was the recipient of the Diocese of San Bernardino’s first ever “Marriage-Building Award” in recognition of his contributions in bringing Marriage Education programming into that diocese as part of its implementation of the “Marriage Building Church” initiative prescribed in the Bishops’ National Pastoral Initiative for Marriage. He now lives in Florida where he volunteers full-time at Life the Life, both as their Chairman of the Board and as the Project Director for the Culture of Freedom Initiative project in Jacksonville. Dennis is married to Sandy and they live in Panama City Beach, Florida.