In an overwhelming witness to the sanctity of marriage and fidelity to their spouses, more than 80 couples celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this year were honored at the Diocese’s annual Golden Jubilee Mass.
Bishop Ronald Gainer celebrated the special liturgy at Good Shepherd Church in Camp Hill on Sunday, July 11.
The turnout of Golden anniversary couples and their guests was so great in number that a second Mass was added later in the afternoon to accommodate everyone. The Mass was also livestreamed through the parish’s Facebook page.
Children, grandchildren and friends accompanied the couples, and looked on as the spouses renewed their vows during the Mass.
“What a joy each couple gathered here gives to all of us as we celebrate your fidelity over 50 years of your marital union. What a great witness you give to us, to the Church and to the world,” Bishop Gainer said as he looked out on the congregation.
“Today, we thank you and we thank God for preserving your fidelity to the vows you spoke at one another’s sides 50 years ago, and for the graces he’s given you to navigate the many challenges – some of them probably at times seemed insurmountable to you, but you navigated those difficult times. For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, you come to this day to celebrate 50 years of married love,” he said.
More than the passing of time, this Mass celebrates “promises made and promises kept, an important witness in today’s society,” the bishop said. “You vowed before God, you vowed to each other that your two lives would become one…. What we celebrate today is your fidelity by the grace of God to have kept those promises. For that, we thank God.”
Among those in attendance were Chuck and Barb Zogby, members of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Harrisburg whose names and faces are familiar to those who have contacted or visited the Diocesan Center in Harrisburg over the past few decades. Barb served as an Administrative Assistant in several Diocesan offices throughout her 32 years of service, and Chuck – an HVAC manager by trade – volunteered in maintenance for the Diocese.
Married at St. Stephen Church in Shenandoah, Pa., on June 12, 1971, the Zogbys shared the values they consider to be critical for a long-lasting marriage like theirs.
“To get to this point, you really have to get to understand one another, to trust one another, to be there for one another. Communication is also an important key to reaching this milestone,” Barb said.
“Our faith has also helped us a lot,” she added. “We realized how blessed we are to have such a long marriage together. It’s not always easy day in and day out, but we’ve worked with what God has blessed us with. We do the best we can with what we have, and are blessed that God has gotten us to this point.”
Their marriage hasn’t been without its trials, though.
“We’ve buried parents, we’ve buried family members, there was a job loss, but we worked through it together by being patient,” said Barb. She suffered a stroke last year, and Chuck is currently battling cancer.
“We have a strong faith, and we’ve had a lot of support from family and friends in our lives, and those things have seen us through,” she said.
Reflecting on 50 years of marriage, Chuck sees three aspects of their married life together, and how their love changed and grew during those periods. The first was as newly-weds, making a place for themselves as they moved to Harrisburg from the Coal Region.
“We didn’t have our son until we were five years in to our marriage, so we had five years to grow into our marriage to respect each other, to trust each other, to support each other in what we were doing. That built a good foundation,” he said.
“The second part of our life was 22 years of supporting our child, watching him go from grade school, to high school, to college, to law school,” he added.
“Now, it’s the two of us again, the third part of our life,” Chuck said. “We are growing with each other again and doing things together. We can go on vacations and enjoy ourselves, visit festivals and restaurants. But we also worry about each other’s health, as she builds her stamina from her stroke and I do whatever I have to do to prolong my life.”
“We appreciate the little things, and every moment, especially our son, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren,” he said.
Craig and Angela Sheffer are also celebrating their Golden anniversary this year, and were also among those honored at the Mass.
They met in 1969, in a hospital.
“I was a student nurse at York Hospital with only one more procedure to pass and then I was finished. It was to do an admission. When my instructor handed me the patient’s name – Craig Sheffer, age 22, for a tonsillectomy – I was mortified. At 19, I was still considering becoming a Sister of St. Joseph and I was very, very timid. I was truly hoping to admit an elderly patient with a small health issue. God, however, had a different plan,” Angela said.
Nearly a year later, she was Craig’s nurse again, this time for a more serious reason, as Craig and his friend – who died during the night – had suffered a serious accident. When a student nurse and friend arrived to visit Craig and fainted, Angela began to consider that there must be something special about him, given his impact on those around him. The two began to date, and they were married on Oct. 9, 1971, at St. Patrick Church in York.
“It was my dear mother’s 42nd birthday. What a gift I gave her, son-in-law she dearly loved her entire remaining years. She loved his wit and how sweetly he loved and provided for me. He still does,” Angela said.
The Sheffers have two sons and three grandchildren.
“We are very different and have overcome challenges,” Angela said, especially regarding her devotion to the Catholic faith, since Craig is not Catholic.
“He, however, has allowed me to freely live my faith by my activity and service to many: the homeless, dying, youth and now seniors of my parish. I could not have had the opportunity to help others without his abiding gift of trust and approval,” she said. “I have often shared with him and others that I may be the hands-on servant, but he shares in each ministry in every way.”
The Sheffers are current members of St. Joseph Parish in York. They were joined by their grandson, Max, in presenting the gifts to Bishop Ronald Gainer during the Mass.
“To have Craig, who is not Catholic, take the gifts up with me was just a wonderful experience,” Angela said. “It was so memorable for us.”
“We appreciated attending the Mass and celebrating with so many other couples,” she added. “It was so dear to see them all, and it brought me a lot of joy to renew our vows together.”
In his homily, Bishop Gainer walked the couples down memory lane, recalling events of 1971, including the Apollo 14 and Apollo 15 lunar landings; Hank Aaron’s 600th career homerun; and Fiddler on the Roof’s record-breaking Broadway run.
But none of those events, he said, were cause for the day’s celebration.
“Rather, we are gathered because of that milestone event in each one of your lives – the day that you said ‘I do’ before each other and before God. That’s what gathers us, and that’s what brings us joy and hope for the future as we celebrate the nuptial love that has grown between you over these years,” he said.
“In a very real sense, what we hear in today’s Gospel could be applied to you,” Bishop Gainer told the couples. “It says that Jesus began to send out his disciples two by two. The day you walked down the aisle, you became part of that process…. Throughout history, Jesus continues to send us out into the world to witness to the truth of the Gospel, to His death and resurrection – not just by our words, but by our lives. That’s why the witness of your married lives is so golden. It’s one thing to talk a good game, we know that. It’s another one to live it, and you have.”
The Golden Jubilee Mass is annually sponsored by the Diocesan Office of Family and Respect Life Ministries. This year, a total of 83 couples and 260 guests attended the celebration. For information on the ministries and resources available through the Office, visit https://www.hbgdiocese.org/marriage-and-family/.
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness