The sight and the sound of more than 100 married couples standing side by side to renew their marital commitment before God, family and friends produced a powerful witness to the sanctity of marriage on July 10, as the Diocese hosted the annual Golden Wedding Anniversary Mass.
The breeze of a summer’s day, a musical prelude of The Wedding March and a reception replete with flowers, a guest book and cake harkened the couples back to their wedding day, which took place 50 years ago.
During the Mass, concelebrated at Good Shepherd Church in Camp Hill by Bishop Ronald Gainer and more than a dozen priests from the Diocese, the husbands and wives were invited to stand and renew the commitments they made when they first recited their vows.
“You’ve lived through the better and worse, the richer and the poorer, the sickness and the health, and you have remained and persevered in fidelity,” Bishop Gainer told the golden anniversary couples. “That gives the Church great, great joy.”
“The vocation to marriage is essentially a vocation to happiness, but the right kind of happiness – a happiness that comes into our lives through sacrifice, placing another ahead of ourselves, and growing in holiness,” the bishop said.
The annual Mass is hosted by the Office of Marriage and Family Ministries, and was available via livestream on the Diocese’s YouTube page. This year, the names of 298 golden anniversary couples were submitted by parishes across the Diocese to receive invitations to the Mass.
Among them were John and Mary Teresa Ryniak of Holy Angels Parish in Kulpmont, married on June 24, 1972.
“We were overwhelmed to see so many couples there, and surrounded by their families,” Mary Teresa said of the Mass. “We saw so many couples holding hands and just being happy together. It was a beautiful sight. And to see all the priests and the bishop there was so moving and powerful. It was a celebration not only of our marriages, but of our faith.”
The Ryniaks say their devotion to God, to one another and to their two children and five grandchildren has kept their marriage strong these many years. The husband and wife are dedicated Mass-goers and parish volunteers.
Mary Teresa is a lector and a choir member. She also has a special devotion to the Blessed Mother – and it’s easy to understand why. Significant moments in the Ryniaks’ relationship have taken place on the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, August 15.
The first was in 1960, when John and Mary Theresa met at Knoebels Amusement Resort during summer vacation from school. Throughout their four years of high school, John bought Mary Teresa three sodas and walked her home from four dances.
The two lost touch after high school, but John was waiting for her. When a mutual friend asked John when he’d be getting married, John responded, “As soon as Mary Teresa comes home.”
On August 15, 1970, Mary Teresa’s friend, who was a waitress, invited her to drop by and keep her company while she made pizzas. Little did Mary Teresa know that their friends had arranged for John to be there, too. They reconnected, and he asked her out that day, ten years to the day they first met.
“How could I not think that the Blessed Mother also played a part in this?” Mary Teresa said. “My faith has just been such a big part of my life. I’ve always placed everything in God’s hands. The Church is part of who I am and who we are, and so it’s part of our marriage.”
Ron and Michele Ambrosia, members of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Annville, are celebrating their 50th this year, too. Michele told The Catholic Witness that the Catholic faith has been a strong thread throughout their marriage.
“I find that is has helped keep our relationship intact because we do have that strong faith. We share the same beliefs, and the Church is important to both of us,” she said.
The Ambrosias are active in their parish – she serves as a lector and on the liturgy committee, and he is an usher and a member of the Knights of Columbus.
“There were times that were difficult in our lives, and we had some stressful events like everybody else, but we made a commitment to each other and we held to that,” she said.
The Ambrosias said compromise and communication are hallmarks of a successful marriage and a staple in their relationship, which began when they first met as college students during a dance at Kutztown University.
“I was in a fraternity at that time, and another fraternity was visiting ours, so we were supposed to help find dates for these guys,” Ron recalled. “Another guy and I walked into the dance, and we saw these two girls across the floor. He said, ‘I’ll take the shorter one,’ because she was looking our way and was the first to see us. Michele had her back to me, though, and I thought, ‘Ok, I’ll take the other.’”
“Boy, am I glad I did,” he said.
“We took a walk afterwards downtown, but she didn’t say a word. I talked the whole time, and I didn’t know if she even liked me,” Ron recalled. “But when we finished our walk, I had gotten three things: her name, her dorm, and a yes for a second date.”
Ron and Michele married on August 12, 1972, at Saints Cyril and Methodius Church in Reading, Pa. They both went on to have successful and impactful careers as educators and raised two sons, who are model husbands and fathers themselves. “We’re incredibly proud of our children and grandchildren,” Ron said.
The Ambrosias expressed their appreciation to the Office of Marriage and Family Ministries, Bishop Gainer and the concelebrating priests for the anniversary Mass.
“It was neat to see so many couples there and have the opportunity to come together to celebrate Mass and renew our commitments,” Michele said. “I found it very touching and emotional when they started playing The Wedding March before Mass. For me, it brought back so many memories to our day. There were some moments when I felt like it was just the two of us in the presence of God, and then moments of celebrating with everyone else there.”
Each couple celebrating their marriages at the Mass has a story to tell – of the first time they met at a pep rally, a dance or a summer job; of overcoming challenges, facing illnesses and raising children together; and of the faith as the foundation of their marriage.
“The sanctity of married life is not something that takes place alongside of or in addition to marriage, but by and through marriage you are made holy,” Bishop Gainer told the couples. “The unity of two in one flesh is something that He wills, and willed for you. Because He wills it, He sanctifies you through your spousal union.”
“As Christ lives in the Church and the Church in Christ, so the husband lives in the wife and the wife lives in her husband and the two are one flesh,” he said. “This is what it means when we say marriage is a sacrament, and this is the beautiful reality that we celebrate, the beautiful reality for which we thank God.”
A DAC Program
The Golden Wedding Anniversary Mass is one of the many programs supported in part by the Diocesan Annual Campaign. The Mass is an annual event of the Diocesan Office of Marriage and Family Ministries, which provides comprehensive ministry to married couples and their families. From marriage prep and enrichment programs, to Natural Family Planning training, and programs to assist couples in strengthening their relationship, your gift to the Diocesan Annual Campaign helps affirm the sanctity of marriage through these important ministries.
Golden-anniversary couples whose names are submitted by their parishes receive a formal invitation to the Mass, and enjoy a reception funded by the Office of Marriage and Family Ministries and the Harrisburg Diocesan Council of Catholic Women.
“Married couples celebrating their 50th anniversary together are a living witness to what it means to persevere and to sacrifice for the sake of others. Their love is emblematic of the faithful, total, free and fruitful love that all of us are called to as Christians,” said Adam Arehart, Director of Family Ministries.
“The DAC, as well as the generosity and hard work of the Harrisburg Diocesan Council of Catholic Women, enables us to return the generosity expressed by these married couples,” he said. “Their marriages and their families are a gift and they matter. It is a great blessing to be able to celebrate them.”
To learn more about the Diocesan Annual Campaign, including how you can support the important ministries of the Diocese, please visit www.hbgdiocese.org/giving/diocesan-annual-campaign.
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness