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