Come My Beloved: Inspiring Stories of Catholic Courtship

“Come My Beloved: Inspiring Stories of Catholic Courtship” is Full Quiver Publishing’s exciting new book to be published this June. It contains 12 stories which will inspire, captivate and entertain readers. We are currently working on the “Come My Beloved” website and we’ll post the link when it is finished, as well as the links where the book will be available for purchase.

The idea for this book came about on Valentine’s Day two years ago, when several mothers were enjoying each other’s fellowship as our children played and exchanged cards. We began sharing how each of us met our husbands. One by one we recounted our stories. It became evident that God’s hand was truly and firmly present in bringing each couple together. Kathy Cassanto, one of the mothers present, said, “It’s too bad there isn’t a book available with Catholic courtship stories.” My initial response was, “Well, if there isn’t, there should be.”

I immediately went online and discovered that there wasn’t a book containing Catholic courtship stories. So I asked Kathy to be my co-editor, and we set out to find inspiring Catholic courtship stories. We didn’t have to search far. Oftentimes, I simply listened to a small quiet voice prompting me to ask a particular couple, “Would you be willing to share how the two of you met?”

We agreed that the easiest and fastest way to gather the stories was to interview the couples, transcribe the interviews and edit the stories. Most of the stories in this book were from recorded conversations, then transcribed and edited, although some were written by the couples themselves.

As we interviewed each couple, a clear picture was emerging: that true love was far different from the infatuation which is so often portrayed in movies and books.

Each of these courtship/dating stories has its own theme, but all of them illustrate that God is the ideal matchmaker. The stories are uplifting, inspirational, funny, hopeful, romantic.

Over the past month, I have featured excerpts of the following stories. The complete versions of each story will be included in the book, along with updated family photos of all the couples. Here are the links of each excerpt:

David and Posie

Leon and Mary Lou

Robert and Sarah

Chris and Micki

James and Ellen

Mark and Kathy

Andrew and Regina

Michel and Jeanette

Tom and Patty

James and Pati

Damon and Melanie

Mark and Yvette

We are currently working on a second courtship book to be published the summer of 2012, so we are actively searching for more inspiring and entertaining Catholic courtship stories. If you have a dating story you’d like to share, please email me at info@fullquiverpublishing.com and write “courtship story” in the subject line or leave a comment below.

Text and photo copyright 2011 Ellen Gable Hrkach/Full Quiver Publishing

Ecce Ancilla Domini

My first article at Catholic Exchange is entitled “Ecce Ancilla Domini” and is an updated, revised version of an article which appeared in Family Foundations magazine four years ago.

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord…” Mary’s words in Luke 1:38 echoed loudly in my heart when I found out that I was pregnant for the first time. To say that I was thrilled would be an understatement.

“A sword shall pierce your own soul.”
These prophetic words also echoed loudly in my heart when I lost twins early in that pregnancy. And, with the loss, came the realization that being open to life didn’t always mean having a baby in my arms.

“Openness to life” is a phrase often used to describe the attitude of those using Natural Family Planning, whether they are avoiding or planning a pregnancy. However, when it comes to actively seeking a pregnancy, another form of “openness to life” comes into play. I like to call it “openness to God’s will.” For, in this openness, a couple truly becomes vulnerable — naked, in essence — before God, exposing them to whatever God allows.

This type of “openness” can mean dealing with a whole range of possibilities: infertility, miscarriage, a baby with abnormalities, a pre-term delivery, a stillborn baby, or a healthy, full-term infant. But, in a sense, this is the same “openness” that Mary embraced when she was informed that she would be the mother of our Savior: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord…”

To read the rest:

Ecce Ancilla Domini

Copyright 2011 Ellen Gable Hrkach

It’s God’s Will That We Get Married

Today’s excerpt from Come My Beloved: Inspiring Stories of Catholic Courtship tells James and Pati Mikulasik’s courtship story. Years before, they had dated briefly.

James: When I was starting to re-date Pati (dating Pati Part II), it was just like putting it in the Lord’s hand and saying, “Lord, here is this relationship, I still have feelings for Pati, I’m just going to abandon to You and whatever you want, it’s Your will, Your will be done.” I think that was a key thing.

One really cool thing that happened during our first date down there – it was long distance dating — and we were going for a walk outside of St. Paul in a place called Stillwater. There was a beautiful full moon. I really felt like Our Lady’s hand was on us, like Our Lady was just watching over us, and taking care of us during that time. It was the most beautiful full moon I had ever seen.

Pati: It’s funny because I walked out of the restaurant, and I also saw the full moon over the river. I thought, oh no, that looks like a sign. He thought the same thing, but in a hopeful way.

Taking it back to the beginning of the night, I had purposely dressed quite casually, because I didn’t want to get anything started. As soon as I opened the door, there was a look in his eyes, and I knew that nothing had changed as far as he was concerned. He was still in love with me. What surprised me was that I didn’t mind, even though I had been kind of preparing myself, keep it down, you don’t want to lead him on; you don’t want to hurt him again. I kind of liked the look in his eye and that surprised me, the first little surprise.

Our date was very enjoyable. We have so many mutual friends and so many mutual memories, and it was just a really nice time to catch up. But a couple times during the meal, I caught that same look in his eye, and I was just bewildered that it didn’t bother me. I think that’s as far as it went for me, though. I had taken off the veil in December, and this was only July. So I still felt like my ears were exposed. I was really adjusting to the fact that I wasn’t a sister anymore, so it was all very new. In fact, when he came down for the weekend, I told him, “You know, we can go out Friday night, but after that, I don’t know. That might be it. I might not be able to handle any more than that.” So after Friday night, he said, “Can I see you tomorrow?” I said, “Well, call me in the morning; I’ll see how I feel.” I wasn’t sure how much I could take of this. Then we ended up going out that Saturday night. He called me on Sunday and I said “No, I couldn’t handle Sunday.” Then he called me Monday and asked if we could go out Monday. So I said, “Yes, we could go out on Monday.” But I just wanted to go to a park or something, kind of simple, casual.

That Monday night when we were leaving the park, he was going to drive me back to my house (where I was living with my parents), and he basically confessed his love for me, just told me how he felt and I had nothing to say in return. I didn’t know how to respond, so I didn’t say anything. A few moments of silence went by, and he said, “You have to talk to me, Pati. You need to tell me what you’re thinking. Whatever it is, just tell me what you’re thinking.”

I said, “Well, I think you have virtue up the wazoo, but I’m not attracted to you. I don’t see this going anywhere. I really don’t want to break your heart again, and that’s all I can foresee.”

He said, “My heart is my responsibility. And I’m willing to take that risk.” Then he said, “I would just really like to see you again.”

There was something about that, well, it’s true, his heart is his responsibility. If my only reason for not seeing him again is because I don’t want to hurt him, he was saying, let me make that decision. So I thought, okay, I’ll let you see me again. When he dropped me off in the driveway, his last words were, “How often can I call you?” I said, “I don’t know.” He said, “Well, can I call you every day?” I said, “Well, you can call me every day, and if it gets to be too much, I’ll let you know.” Then he said, “Can I write you letters? Can I send you flowers?” I said, “Yeah, I guess you could do that.”

What was funny is that about two weeks before, this other man from Canada had come down, kind of a blind date, and we had gone out about three or four times. The last night he was leaving, he dropped me off in the same place in my parent’s driveway, and I said to him, “Well, where do we go from here? Are we going to call? Are we going to write or…” He said, “Well, you have my number.” I thought, I do not have your number anymore. The first thing I’m going to do is throw it away. This guy had everything I was looking for. He was a philosophy professor. He spoke Italian, French and Spanish fluently. He could salsa dance like nothing, and he was very suave. Yet those were his final words.

Then James, who was not at all what I was looking for as far as all those kinds of qualities, his last words to me in the exact same spot were, “How often can I call you?” That really hit home for me. I think it was kind of the first wake up call that I think I was looking for the wrong things in men.

James: During that weekend, she said, “Well, I’m just not attracted to you.” I said, “Well, let’s just take it in baby steps here. Compared to the beginning of the weekend, do you like me more or do you like me less?” She said, “Well, a little bit more, yeah.” I said, “Well, when you start liking me less, you let me know. Let’s just take it in stride here.”

Pati: James said, “Why don’t we just keep going out until you find that you’re liking me less?” I couldn’t argue with that. So those two points, I thought, okay, I can do that. I think in our relationship, that was July of 2001.

I attribute a lot of my falling in love with James to his perseverance. Like those answers, I would come up with a reason. Over the next three, four months of our dating, I regularly tried to end it and would say, “You know what, James? All I see is that I’m just going to break your heart again. I can just feel it. It’s going to end in nothing and you’re just going to be heartbroken,” and he would come up with something again that would be very beautiful and very manly. I would say “Okay” again, and he would give me whatever it was to keep going.

James and Pati Mikulasik have been married eight years and have two sons. Read the entire version of their courtship story in Full Quiver’s new book, Come My Beloved: Inspiring Stories of Catholic Courtship.

Text and photo copyright 2011 Full Quiver Publishing

Among Women Podcast

Today, I am Pat Gohn’s guest on her Among Women Podcast. The topic is “Miscarriage and Pregnancy Loss.” I share my story of experiencing seven pregnancy losses and we discuss the emotional, spiritual and physical challenges of losing a baby before birth. Click on the link below to listen to the podcast.

Among Women Podcast # 89: The Sacred Heart

Is God Calling You?

The following excerpt from Come My Beloved: Inspiring Stories of Catholic Courtship is entitled “Is God Calling You?” and recounts how Tom and Patty Strunck met, as well as the beginning months of their courtship.

Tom: My relationship with Patty McNair started years before I ever knew who she was. While young, I was shy with girls and easily fell into schoolboy crushes that never amounted to anything. During one teenage crush, I decided to do something constructive: I prayed a Rosary for the girl every day. It took a couple of months to realize that relationship was going the same way as all the others – nowhere – so I was inspired to change the intention of the Rosary to “my future wife and children.”

Patty: During my third year of law school, my father developed a cough which was diagnosed as pneumonia; however, that diagnosis was altered to lung cancer upon the discovery of a tumor in his left lung. Dad decided he would not have surgery or chemotherapy but would use radiation to shrink any tumors. That decision would hasten his death.

Tom: I prayed a Rosary for my future family nearly every night through my last years of high school. In college, my praying grew irregular, but one common intention was “my future wife and children.” After graduating in 1984, I attended law school, where I met Patty. She was a year ahead of me and hung out with a popular and partying crowd. Although she was undeniably cute, I found her somewhat obnoxious. Most especially, I did not like the way she laughed.

One fall day in 1985, while descending the escalator outside the school library, I noticed Patty with a group of her friends. Something about her particularly struck me. I walked past the group and briefly pondered whether to ask her on a date. As I opened the door to exit the building, I was overcome by an unusually intense thought: You are going to marry her. With the door half open, I froze, at least until Patty’s obnoxious laugh came floating down the hall. “Not only am I not going to marry her,” I said to myself, “I will never go out with her.” I continued outside, shaking my head.

In January 1986, I was attracted to a flirtatious law school classmate. She and Patty were friends. I invited my classmate to an upcoming dance, but she already had a date. She suggested I take Patty instead. So Patty and I went to the dance together, double-dating with my classmate and her boyfriend. The dance turned out to be a lot of fun. Patty was outgoing and easy to talk to.

Patty: Tom was cute and I needed a date. We had a nice time together. Initially, I thought that Tom was not my type; he was a little awkward and stiff. But there was something about him that was different from other men I had known. He treated me with respect. We kept dating each other through my last semester of law school.

Tom: Before Patty, I had never dated the same girl more than three consecutive times. With Patty, spending time together was natural and I never noticed we were on our fourth, fifth or sixth date. I enjoyed doing anything, or nothing at all with her. After a couple of weeks, she told me that her father had been diagnosed with lung cancer and refused chemotherapy. Over time, his declining health would serve as the glue for our increasingly shaky relationship.

Patty: Dating Tom and Dad’s cancer intensified at roughly the same time. The more ill Dad became, the more I needed Tom. This was especially true when my car broke down because Dad had always taken care of my automotive needs. When he was unable to do this, Tom became my chauffeur. We spent lots of time together. He came from a devout Catholic family and was able to answer questions I had concerning suffering, life, death, and God. Still, Tom was not someone I would consider marrying. I was 24, emotionally immature, and not even thinking of marriage.

Tom: Although Patty was not thinking about marriage, over several months of dating, the thought had crossed my mind. Even so, Patty and I were not deeply compatible. She had no religion while I was undergoing a somewhat rocky renaissance in my spiritual life. We frequently clashed over politics and morality and I thought these disagreements would be unhealthy for our potential future children.

Patty: As Dad’s cancer progressed, Tom invited me to attend Easter Mass at Holy Spirit Catholic Church, which was two blocks from my house. I found it deeply moving, so much so, that I continued to attend every Sunday. I enjoyed Mass, but with my dad in such poor health, I was very confused. Tom was the best man I had ever dated, as he kiddingly reminded me at the time, but I wanted something more to fill the growing hole in my heart.

Tom: Going to Mass together was a comforting experience, especially given her father’s declining health. But it could not make up for our differences. Several weeks before her graduation from law school she suggested we see other people. I was disappointed because I really liked her, but mostly, my pride was offended. I told her to make a choice: see me alone or never see me again. If it hadn’t been for her broken-down car and continuing need for rides, our relationship would have ended then.

Tom and Patty Strunck have been married for 23 years and have six children. This is an excerpt of their courtship story entitled “Is God Calling You?” which will be published in its entirety in Full Quiver’s new book, “Come My Beloved: Inspiring Stories of Catholic Courtship.”

Text Copyright 2011 Full Quiver Publishing
Photo copyright 2011 Tom and Patty Strunck

Your Vocation is Hidden in Your Baptism

Today’s excerpt from Come My Beloved: Inspiring Stories of Catholic Courtship tells the beginning of the courtship story of Jeanette and Michel MacDonald.

Jeanette: I think that God is a God of waiting. But when He chooses to act, it’s like lightning. When I was 31, back in October ‘97, I had just moved back in with my parents in New Jersey and I had recently gotten a job teaching. For ten years previous to this, I had been waiting for a husband. I really thought I’d be married at age 21, which I was not. I felt positive that I was called to marriage. I had dated a few guys, but up until this point, nothing had worked out. I was still waiting for my husband. And I really could not understand why God would make me wait that long. So I started to think, well, maybe I’ve just missed the boat. Maybe I have a different vocation.

So I talked to a priest, Father Peter, for a little direction, and he invited me to this talk he was giving on baptism. He told me that I would find my vocation in my baptism, that each person’s call is rooted in their baptism.

To assure myself that I wasn’t just running away from religious life, I decided to write to a convent of nuns that I admired. I received the questionnaire and started to fill it out. When I got to the question, “What do you most want to do with your life?” I thought, Get married and have lots of kids. I never sent in the form.

I prayed, “God, what do you want me to do while I’m sitting here waiting and waiting and waiting for my husband?”

As I prayed, I felt the answer was to focus on my music (I had written some songs). Throughout the fall term, I began working on some new songs I had written, adding introductions, fixing the lyrics, et cetera and I decided with my brother, Terry, who was a seminarian up in Canada, to record some of these songs on something better than a little tape player.

Michel: Just by way of introduction, I had been away from the Church for several years and had a dramatic return the Christmas of 1991. Then I spent a year in prayer and formation, eight months of which were at Madonna House in Combermere, Ontario in their spiritual formation program for men discerning the priesthood. After that, I ended up joining the Companions of the Cross in Ottawa. In September ‘97, I was with the Companions for five years, and it was the beginning of my fifth year as a seminarian when Jeanette came up to Ottawa the week of American Thanksgiving. Our friend Randa had a Thanksgiving dinner and invited some of the CC seminarians. That is where I met Jeanette.

Jeanette: After dinner, I took out my guitar and Terry and Michel joined in playing some music together. We played quite a few of my songs. It was fun. I thought, “Great, this is nice to be sharing some of my music with these people,” because music had become a central theme in my life. That’s what I thought of that event.

Michel: Of the five years that I was with the Companions, the first two years were a really graced moment in my life where I felt that God was calling me to the priesthood. My third year, I hit a brick wall. I did not want this call to the priesthood and it was something that I fought with my whole being. After struggling for a year, I was able to surrender to God and say, okay, well, if this is what you’re calling me to, then I’ll continue on this journey. But if it’s not what you’re calling me to, then you’ll obviously close the door and open another door. I was very much at peace with where God wanted me to be.

At that American Thanksgiving party, Jeanette was playing her music and I was playing guitar also with her brother, Terry. I found Jeanette’s songs very profound. They’re very deep songs. During the song called “As I Run,” she sang, “Which hand will I hold as I run toward you, running to the light of Your Glory? The hand very far away and yet so very dear, this one has never left my heart. Is this hand the one to grasp tighter as we lift each other to You?”

As she sang this song, something deep happened within my heart. I thought, I want to be the one to run with her and to lift her up. And it was sort of a profound movement in my soul and in my heart. It wasn’t like oh, I’m in love with this girl this week. I didn’t even know this person really. And yet somehow I had this really strong movement within me.

So in my prayer time, I was journaling, saying, is this what’s going on? Is my heart fickle? Am I being distracted here? Here is this person who is very deep, spiritual, has a great love for You and is musical, funny and who, for all intents and purposes, would make a perfect wife. Yet I was on this journey towards the priesthood.

As part of the Companions, you have small share groups with your brother seminarians. I told these men in my share group how I felt, that this was something very profound. I also confided my feelings to my spiritual director. It just didn’t seem like a run-of-the-mill event, you know, like I’m just sort of infatuated with this person. He said that this needed to be seriously discerned. He made it very specific: Should I marry Jeanette? That was the question. So it was…am I called to the priesthood or should I marry Jeanette? When you get married, you’re getting married to one person and so he made it very specific. What we did was we embarked on an Ignatian discernment method.

I didn’t do a 30-day retreat. I did a shortened version of the Annotation 19. With my spiritual director, I used the Ignatian method to discern whether I should get married to Jeanette. At the same time, I was very open with the men in my share group. Also, as this was going on, because it was something very deep and very profound and it also had pretty serious consequences, I had people praying for me. If I met people that I knew and whom I trusted and knew well, I told them to pray for me because I was discerning really whether this truly was my vocation, this call to the priesthood and with the Companions of the Cross.

Jeanette: Now we’re into 1998 in here, about January or so. At this point, my brother and I decided to invite a few friends to help with this little recording project we were going to do. So we invited Michel to play on the guitar and Dan on drums. We asked a friend, Marie, to sing and Lucy to play the piano and our friends Randa and John to help out with some other things. So we’re preparing for the recording project and I’m making a demo of all the songs so that everybody can learn them. The recording week was in February of 1998. It turned out that this was my spring break from teaching and it was also Terry and Michel’s spring break.

During this week I went up to Ottawa. Terry and Michel and I practiced every day for the upcoming recording session, which was going to actually happen on the weekend. I knew Michel a bit from talking to him when I had gone up to see my brother. Throughout this week, I started to really, really like him. I mean, he was very good looking, a man of God, a man of prayer. One time I went into an adoration chapel to pray for an hour, and he was there when I came in and he was still there when I left. I remember that specifically. And he was also a great guitar player. Being a musician, it’s this that really attracted me to him. Michel basically had all these qualities that I was looking for in a husband. But there was only one problem: he was unavailable. He was a seminarian. I thought, great, another dead end street. Everything’s becoming a dead end street.

During this week, Michel had mentioned to us as a group to pray for him, because he was discerning whether or not to stay with the Companions of the Cross. I figured he might just as easily join some other group of priests. I did, however, write in my journal that I wanted to marry a man like Michel MacDonald.

It turned out the recording weekend was a big high. It was so much fun and we were all totally exhausted, but it was just a wonderful week and a wonderful weekend with everybody. I was staying at Randa’s house with Lucy and Marie and we called a few of the guys to see if they would join us for breakfast. We called Michel and I was so happy that he came over. He had breakfast with us, right before I left to go back home to New Jersey. So even though he was in the seminary and I really liked him, he wasn’t available, so it was just nice to know that this type of man actually did exist.

Jeanette and Michel MacDonald have been married for 12 years and have seven children. Their entire courtship story entitled “Your Vocation is Hidden in Your Baptism” will be included in Full Quiver’s new book Come My Beloved: Inspiring Stories of Catholic Courtship, which will be published in June.

Text and photo copyright 2011 Full Quiver Publishing

The “Whole Truth”

My new column at Catholic Mom is entitled “The Whole Truth:”

“The only “place” in which… self-giving in its whole truth is made possible is marriage, the covenant of conjugal love freely and consciously chosen, whereby man and woman accept the intimate community of life and love willed by God Himself which only in this light manifests its true meaning.Familiaris Consortio

When James and I met, I would’ve considered myself Catholic, although I did not agree with the Church’s stance on pre-marital sex, abortion and contraception. I wasn’t staunchly pro-choice, just quietly so, although I knew within my heart that I would never have been able to make the decision to kill my unborn baby. However, I agreed wholeheartedly with society’s views on contraception and pre-marital sex. After all, I thought, if you love the person, why shouldn’t you be able to show it?

I met James in 1978 when I came up to Canada to meet my pen-pal. My pen-pal took me to a jam session and I was enamored with the 16-year-old curly-haired lead guitarist. It seems cliche to say this, but when I first saw his face, he took my breath away. The following summer, we were formally introduced and spent some time together, then I returned to NJ. We kept in touch via letters and the occasional phone call (no email or texting or cheap long distance back then). I returned to Canada after Christmas that year and we pledged our undying love to one another.

In my mind, there was no reason to wait. All we needed was to get our hands on some contraception. Condoms were easily accessible, even back then, so the pregnancy issue didn’t worry me at all.

When we were able to be alone together, I shared with James that I would be willing to take our relationship “to the next level.” It must have been difficult for a 17-year-old boy to turn down an opportunity like that, but we didn’t take our relationship to the next level that day. James shared with me that he planned to wait until marriage to have sex. He told me that it was precisely because he did love me that he couldn’t have sex with me, that he was worried about pregnancy at our young ages (and was against abortion as an option), that he saw the bigger picture of where our relationship was heading: marriage, and what we were experiencing then was not close to marriage yet.

I returned home to NJ and we spent the next three years having a long distance romance, visiting only once every three or four months and keeping in touch through snail mail letters and occasional expensive long distance phone calls.

In hindsight, I am very thankful for James’s strength and faith. It is precisely because we waited until marriage to consummate our love that makes our relationship so strong today.

Copyright 2011 Ellen Gable Hrkach