Behind the Scenes | Andi's Insider Look at the World of Catholic Wedding Planning

Andi Compton, our Business Director, planned her own birthday parties as a girl, spent hours making wedding collages as a teenager, and worked at the largest bridal store on the West Coast during college. She eventually answered the call to turn her organization and creativity into a business, Now That’s a Party, wherein she coordinates weddings primarily for Catholic couples.

Today, we’re excited to share with you an inside look at a wedding coordinator’s responsibilities--and how you, as the bride, can have the best experience with your coordinator, if you’ve chosen to hire one, and to anticipate the details that make for a smooth wedding day. Read on for Andi’s testimony, her advice for a joy-filled marriage--the fruit of 10 years with her husband, Matt--and the #1 piece of information to share with your coordinator.


You've loved weddings and had a creative streak for a long time! How did you get started in the wedding industry?

I've been planning parties since my fourth birthday, when I told my parents we were having it at Chuck E. Cheese! Each year my parties got increasingly complex. My parents were very supportive of my ever-growing love of crafts, taking me to the store for classes and demos and letting me take over a cabinet (then a closet) for all of my supplies.

Then at 15, I saw the movie The Wedding Planner. I had no idea people could earn a living getting to help others with parties! This is long before Pinterest, so I’d save my allowance to subscribe to any bridal magazine I could get my hands on, then cut and paste together mock weddings.

In college I worked at Mon Amie, the largest bridal store on the West Coast. I learned so much about the wedding industry and even got to model dresses on the weekends.

When my husband proposed, we came up with a budget and I finally got the chance to learn exactly how to put together the ideas I’d been reading about for so long. After our wedding we were blessed with a bunch of babies (and lots of birthdays to plan!), and I would occasionally help a friend with her wedding.  

Soon I was being asked to essentially coordinate these weddings. I felt a pull towards making things official with a name, website, and branding. Then came networking and coordinating styled shoots, where I could meet other local vendors and build a relationship.

Do you work mostly with Catholic couples, or with others, as well? What, to you, sets a Catholic wedding apart?

The majority of the couples I work with are Catholic, and I would really enjoy that being my focus. I still work with secular couples, but they are mostly family friends or referrals.

Jesus Christ is what sets a Catholic wedding apart! Having the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord truly present at a wedding is just beyond phenomenal.

Do you have any stories of seeing the faith come alive in the couples you've worked with?

I arrived to the church an hour early before one wedding and prayed in the Adoration chapel until the wedding party arrived. At that time, I noticed the groom was nervous. I told him to go and sit in front of our Lord for awhile, and it was beautiful to see him, his brother, and their friend in prayer.

Now That's a Party offers services from basic wedding day timelines to full-on coordination from start to finish. What aspects of wedding planning are your brides most surprised by?

I think the biggest surprises are the little details that can easily be overlooked--like ordering meals for your vendors, packing an overnight bag if you're staying with your new husband in a hotel, and designating plans for cleanup and taking gifts home.

Here’s an example of unexpected details it’s important to plan for: one wedding I did was in a park overlooking the ocean, and the bride had ordered rose petals. I had her look over city regulations, pack a rake for after the ceremony, and schedule the petals into the timeline.

Brides have so much access to visual inspiration, message boards, and dozens more resources when planning their weddings, often before they even meet their vendors. As a coordinator, have you noticed pros and cons to this?

Pinterest can be an awesome tool to visualize your ideas and discover what trends you’re drawn to. On the flip side, it can make everything seem overwhelming; almost paralyzing. The biggest downside for me is having clients say, "Sorry, this isn't really going to be Pinterest-worthy wedding," as if that were the goal.

Becoming a Pinterest trend or getting featured on a wedding blog should never be your focus. Viewers will care about it for a day or so, then move onto the next thing. But the man you're engaged to wants to be your husband for the rest of your life.

Another disadvantage of inspiration overload is that so many wedding images on Instagram, Pinterest, and blogs are simply unattainable to the average couple, yet it can tap into our vanity because we want to fit in. Few wedding blogs feature simple receptions in church hall, yet I've happily coordinated those; and truly, the couples are so filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit from their wedding. It is just beautifully infectious to all their guests.

What's the most helpful thing a couple can do for you, as their coordinator, before and during the big day?

Hands down, send me copies of every single signed contract and give me contact info for each vendor, friend, or family member who will be there for setup, as well as emergency contacts. Once I have all of that info, I can contact each vendor and helper so I know what to expect and can construct a timeline for each person involved, so we are all on the same page. That timeline is gold on the day of!

We’d love to hear stories from some of the weddings you've worked on! Are there any particularly profound moments that stand out to you? Any funny or otherwise memorable ones?

One of the most fun moments at a wedding was when a bride and groom surprised their families with a belly dancing ensemble. One of the groom's cousins came out and played drums with the drummer, and everyone there was really into it. They even danced with swords! Another couple went all out smashing cake into each other's faces. That was rare for me; in my experience, most couples are nice and don't want to make a mess.

Does being immersed in weddings and, by extension, marriage, influence your relationship with your husband and family, and vice versa?

Yes! A big trend I've seen in the past several years is elaborate, showy proposals. They are featured on blogs, go viral on YouTube, and are all over Pinterest. Though I, of course, cherish my husband, he absolutely did not stage a "dream proposal," and I've had to try really hard to develop humility, accepting the reality of what happened and growing in gratitude for who he is. A proposal is all of five minutes, but having someone by your side, someone who constantly chooses to love you in sickness and in health, in bad times and in good…well, that's real love.

Lastly, what distinctively Catholic planning secrets can you share with brides-to-be?

First, before booking any vendors, book your church. Many dioceses require 6-9 months of preparation before the wedding. Second, develop an openness to Natural Family Planning. For many couples, it's their first time delving into the technical aspects after years of just hearing about it. No matter where you’re coming from, learning about the body God gave you is truly empowering.

Photography: Leif Brandt Photography, as seen in Sara + Calvin | Sophisticated Handcrafted Wedding, coordinated by Andi.

Andi Compton is Spoken Bride's Business Director. She is the owner of Now That's a Party where she coordinates weddings, fundraising galas, and social events. Read more


Newlywed Life | When You Aren't Able to Have a Cocoon Period



I clearly remember the hours spent on the phone with my husband-to-be during our long-distance engagement. At some point, at least several times a week, we’d express how much we missed each other, following our unintentional script: “I can’t wait until this time is over and we can see each other every day.” “Me neither. We won’t have to say goodbye anymore! Instead, it will be goodnight.”

Short of a handful of work-related trips and bachelor and bachelorette weekends each, my husband and I have been blessed with the opportunity to come home to one another almost every day of our marriage, a gift we try not to take for granted. Having friends in the military, ministry, and the corporate world, we’re aware that for some couples frequent travel and separation is the norm, not the exception.

What will your own living and time situation look like after your wedding day? Being able to insulate and fortify your marriage in its early days--a “cocoon period” wherein your relationship and its boundaries are a top priority--is an incredible grace. But if by necessity or circumstance--school, a job requiring regular interstate trips, selling a home, or otherwise--you and your spouse aren’t able to be together daily, your marriage certainly isn’t doomed. Where some opportunities are absent (namely, the ease of spending significant amounts of time together as husband and wife--and it’s alright to find this difficult and undesirable), others present themselves. But only with the Father’s hand.

I recently talked to two friends, a couple married six years who spent the first six months of their marriage living in two different states as one spouse completed her PhD and the other established his business. I find their devotion to prayer, theology, and liturgical living so inspiring, and as we chatted about their advice for married couples who are frequently separated, it appeared clear to me that some of the very habits established during their time apart later flowed into the habits they maintain still, now together each day and with their children.

Here, their tips for couples experiencing temporary long-distance marriages.

Invest in your prayer life as a couple.

My friends told me when they shared their forthcoming situation with their pastor during engagement, he urged them to develop habits of regular prayer, both individually and as a couple. Going so far as to schedule specific times to pray is very helpful for accountability--they committed to praying on the phone before work each morning, using this prayer for married couples, followed by spontaneous prayer and intentions.

If necessary, get creative with your time and schedules.

Making time to chat each day was a priority for my friends, one that involved a well-worth-it effort to align their schedules across different time zones and responsibilities. Depending on your situation, this might look like one or both spouses waking up an hour earlier or talking during meals or work breaks.

Know your limitations, however, and prioritize each other’s well-being--my friends decided to impose a rule of no evening Skype calls on weeknights, because they’d both be too willing to stay up too late.

Find things to do together from a distance.

Reading the same book, watching the same show, or even making the same recipe can help you feel connected across the miles.

Try to see each other as much as possible.

As time and finances allow, it’s worth making efforts to see one another often. This might involve certain sacrifices; my friend, for instance, decided to live with family during his time apart from his wife, and the money they saved in rent went to plane tickets, instead.

Expect an adjustment when you’re reunited.

The end of your time apart will surely be one of great joy. Bear in mind it will also be a big move for at least one spouse, with many changes: living with someone new and adjusting to a new location, job, and community. Give yourselves times to ease into the transition, in the form of taking a few days off from work and taking things slowly before overloading yourselves with social commitments.

A temporary long-distance marriage probably feels more unfair than a long-distance engagement; after all, the contentment of significantly more time together is a privilege of becoming husband and wife. Yet opportunities for your sanctification and the strength of your relationship do exist; gifts even in a less-than-ideal situation. If you have or will experience frequent separations from your spouse, be assured of our prayers, and be sure to share the practices that have helped you on your journey.

About the Author: Stephanie Calis is Spoken Bride's Editor in Chief and Co-Founder. She is the author of INVITED: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner (Pauline, 2016). Read more


Kaitlyn + John | Southern New Year's Wedding

A few months before her freshman year at Notre Dame, Kaitlyn’s aunt showed her a newspaper article about a local young man’s involvement with campus ministry on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. On her first day of Philosophy 101 at school, she quickly recognized “the Mississippi kid from the article.” It was John, who, it turned out, had grown up only 20 minutes down the road from where Kaitlyn was born.

Kaitlyn introduced herself on that first day of class, and John sat behind her. Midway through the semester, they began studying and attending daily Mass together. John asked Kaitlyn out, and before they knew it they were falling in love.

From the Bride: Little did we know, while we were busy falling for each other our parents were doing some behind-the-scenes research! My dad called his best friend, a priest who happened to be on a school board with John’s father. When asked about John’s family, Fr. Paddy--who later concelebrated our wedding--replied, “Oh they are cream of the crop!” My dad was sufficiently satisfied, and apparently so was John’s family in their discoveries about me.

Our friendship, and subsequent romantic relationship, was founded on our mutual love of Christ. After Mass, we’d often discuss our faith lives and pray.

I knew from the first time we prayed together that I could trust my heart with such a man. His devotion to the Lord and our Blessed Mother were so clear, and they continue to be.

John asked me to marry him next to the Sacred Heart statue in front of Notre Dame’s famous Dome, as our family watched via webcam and our friends stood nearby.

Our wedding Mass was the main focus of our planning and where we devoted most of our energy. Between getting married close to New Year’s Eve and being ND grads, it was an easy decision to choose gold as a central wedding color. Our colors were inspired by my engagement ring, which belonged to John’s great grandmother and is gold with an aquamarine stone (my birthstone).

We wanted the natural beauty of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where we held the ceremony and reception--including the beach, old Southern oaks, and a nearby lighthouse--to influence the general aesthetic of the day. We incorporated cream and soft blue details to reflect these local features.

My dress and bouquet were influenced by our traditional style and the setting of the gorgeous cathedral where the Mass was celebrated. My sister got married three months before me, and we actually bought our wedding dresses on the same day! We decided to share the veil, so it could be our “something borrowed” and signify the closeness we share.

Our wedding date, December 30th, is often celebrated as the Feast of the Holy Family depending on the liturgical calendar. This seemed incredibly apt, as we want the family we created, starting at our wedding mass, to be an image of the Holy Family, reflecting their love in all we do.

We wanted to find a way to dedicate our marriage to the Holy Family during the Nuptial Mass. We searched for statues and images online to whom we could pray and present flowers during the Mass, but never found exactly what we were looking for. So John came up with the idea of “commissioning” my dad to paint us an icon of the Holy Family, featuring the many devotions we have developed as a couple.

The finished icon includes the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a nod to our engagement location, Saint Joseph, to whom my family has a longtime devotion (my parents met on his feast day, which is also my birthday), and Our Lady, who is particularly precious to John’s parents. We asked for the artwork to depict Joseph with his trademark lilies and Mary with the image found on the Miraculous Medal. At our Mass, my mother handed us a lily to present to Saint Joseph, and John’s mother and father gave us a rose to give to Our Lady and the Holy Family. Inviting our families into these dedications, alongside this image my dad had painted, symbolized a blending together of families and our devotions to create a new family.

The Nuptial Mass was truly grace-filled, with so many friends and family members serving through readings, gift bearing, altar serving, and music. It was especially beautiful seeing how all of this love and grace was only possible through the love of the Holy Family.

Our reception was a wonderful celebration highlighting the many people we are so blessed to have in our lives. It took place at the Biloxi Visitors Center, with a gorgeous view of the gulf and Biloxi lighthouse. A jazz band from New Orleans played many of our favorite songs. John was a section leader in the Notre Dame Band, so many of his fellow band members helped us select jazz pieces for background music. They, along with many of our ND friends, family members, and childhood friends hit the dance floor after a delicious traditional coastal meal of jambalaya and gumbo.

I think we will always treasure our first dance to "Fly Me to the Moon," and the dances we shared with our parents. The band led us in an Anniversary Dance where my grandparents, who celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary this year, won for longest marriage. When asked their advice for a long and happy marriage, my blessed grandfather said something along the lines of, “She’s always right.”

Immediately after John proposed, our friends serenaded us with “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” I helped John conduct our friends in another rendition of the song, and we finished the night with a second line taking us down the stairs and out to our car, covered in shaving cream courtesy of John’s brothers and groomsmen. Our families sent off fireworks from the beach across the street!

There is a poetic line in Luke’s Gospel that has often struck me in times of great joy: “And Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Our wedding day was filled with graces and moments of true joy that, like Mary, I have treasured in my heart.

We not only felt the peace that comes from fulfilling the vocation God had in mind for us; we also felt a taste of that heavenly wedding feast where love and joy have the final word over sin and death.

To feel the support of so many incredible people, including those loved ones who joined us only through the mystical communion of the Eucharist, was a reminder of the abundant and gratuitous love God has for each of us. Since John and had dated for over five years and been engaged for two, there was no doubt remaining about the call to love and devote ourselves to each other’s spiritual and physical well being that God placed on our hearts.

When I said my vows out loud, it felt as natural as the sun rising each morning.

It was just a day, but also a sacrament that has given us the strength to live every day after, for the rest of our lives, in fidelity and selflessness. That doesn’t mean that now we bend over backwards to empty the trash or fold the laundry, but there is a grace through the sacrament to face this crazy world as a team, bound together.

The image of the Holy Family which now hangs in our bedroom reflects the truth that God uses the family to bring about salvation. That it is through the sacrifices we make within that unit, and together as a unit for the outside world, that God’s mercy is shown. The sacrament of marriage, and the graces that come from responding to the call God places deep in our hearts, fill us with joy and strength to be images of that mercy.

Through prayer we continue to discover the beauty of our vocation to love each other for life, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, and for better or for worse.

Photography: Julie Holmes Photography | Church: Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Cathedral, Biloxi, MS | Wedding Reception Venue : Biloxi Visitors Center, Biloxi, MS, | Liturgical Music: Jacqueline Coale and Terry Maddox | Reception Band: Dr. Jazz and the New Orleans Sound  | Flowers, Catering & Wedding Coordination: Fountain Events | Cakes: Torta Dulce Bakery | Makeup: Ashley Mills | Hair: Salon Rouge | Dress: Marie Gabriel Couture | Bridesmaid dresses: Bella Bridesmaids | Suits: Studio Suits  | Bridesmaid shirts: Lettermix Studio on Etsy | Rings: Windsor Jewelry | Invitations: Minted

Editors' Picks | Vol. 12: Favorite Love Stories

At Spoken Bride, we love a good book, a good meal, a standout statement necklace, a heel you can dance in, and the list goes on. And when we make those discoveries, we want to tell everyone. So every month or two, we're sharing our latest and favorite finds in everything engagement, wedding, and honeymoon-related.

The best romances direct our earthly emotion and longings to the Holy One, the beloved of our souls whose love is bottomless. Today, we're sharing the love stories that inspire us from literature, movies, TV, and the lives of the saints.

Jiza, Co-Founder + Creative Director

Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe from the Anne of Green Gables series: Oh, where to begin?! There is something about Anne and Gil that will always give my stomach butterflies or make my heart skip a beat. I love Gil’s devoted pursuit of Anne and that he loves her for who she is, even when she is absolutely stubborn and unreasonable. From their early rivalry to their friendship to their eventual marriage, this fictional romance is one of my all-time favorites.

Chiara Corbella Petrillo and her husband, Enrico: Chiara is a young Italian wife and mother who died in 2012 of carcinoma. When you read her biography, Chiara Corbella Petrillo: A Witness to Joy, written by her friends Simone Troisi & Cristiana Paccini, the beginning delves a great deal into Chiara and Enrico’s roller coaster courtship. Their marriage, too, was also not short of great suffering and sacrifice up until her death. Their relationship is real, gritty, and painful, yet still full of joy, trust, and redemption. In a world that idolizes the appearance of a curated, blissful marriage, I find great consolation in Chiara and Enrico and their absolute surrender to always serve God and do His will, no matter how much it hurts.


Andi, Business Director

Jim and Pam from The Office: this has got to be one of the most down-to-earth, relatable love stories out there (you know you cried at their wedding!). From the start I loved how Jim and Pam were friends; their relationship just slowly grew from there, and the show drew it out over a few seasons because real life is messy and doesn’t always happen on our schedule. Jim was so patient and it was worth it in the end!


Mary and Joseph: As I recently prayed the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary, I was reflecting on the theological virtue of hope, and Mary and Joseph came to my mind. Saint Joseph shows us so much trust in the Lord when he decides to marry Mary, despite the unexpected news of the Word becoming flesh in her womb. They both show us hope by trusting in God’s plan for their marriage and family, even with all the unexpected circumstances they had to endure.

Ella and Kit from Cinderella (2015): I had very low expectations going into this Disney remake and ended up blown away by the tenderness and affection that grew between Cinderella and Prince Kit. So much depth, personality, and actual motivations were given to these characters, and it made them so real! I think my favorite aspect of their relationship is the purity it’s portrayed with: neither had the intent to use the other for their own purposes, and neither felt worthy of the other, allowing real love to grow.


Stephanie, Co-Founder + Editor in Chief

Kitty Scherbatsky and Konstantin Levin from Anna Karenina: Tolstoy’s novel is most famous for its portrayal of a love story gone off the rails, via the affair conducted by the title character. So I found myself surprised, as well as incredibly moved, when I read the book for the first time and discovered that in contrast to Anna’s infidelity and emotional caprice, the story also traces the development of another relationship, one rooted in constancy and personal growth. The romance between Kitty and Levin matures as each grows in awareness of human nature and suffering, culminating in one of the most beautiful proposals I’ve ever encountered--fictional or real.

Saint Gianna Molla and her husband Pietro: Saint Gianna, to me, is a woman of vocation. She embraced all the Lord called her to in both gladness and trials; her decision to give birth to her fourth child at the cost of her own life embodied our ultimate call, as Christians, to lay down our lives. Her sacrifice is heroic, yet what stands out to me most is the ordinariness of who she was, in the best way: a 20th-century working mother, like so many of us, who desired to create a joyful and peaceful home for her family. The number of canonized married saints is few, so I am grateful for the poetry and encouragement I’ve found in the letters exchanged between Gianna and her beloved husband, Pietro. They cared for one another with a beautiful regard for one another’s spiritual well-being, with a sweet tenderness, and even a holy boldness--feeling certain of her devotion to Pietro, who was the shyer of the two, Gianna was the first to say I love you, expressing her desire for a lifelong commitment and family!

Tami and Eric Taylor from Friday Night Lights: I consider myself emotional when it comes to love (read: crying over practically every Spoken Bride wedding submission), but I’m not easily swayed by shallow sentiment or sweeping gestures. I find the real and the messy romantic, because that’s who we, as humans, are. It’s what I love in the relationship between Coach Taylor and his wife. I truly can’t think of another TV marriage that is so realistically and positively portrayed: one rooted in abiding trust and good will, even when frustrated by life and work’s demands, one that doesn’t blow problems out of proportion for the sake of drama but confronts them with honesty and respect, and one with expressions of endearment and physical affection that feel so unaffected and true to life.

Did we include your favorite couple on this list? Share the love stories you love in the comments and on our social media.

Engagement + Newlywed Retreats, Part II | How to Plan Your Own Personal Retreat

This post is the second of a two-part series. Find Part I, our regional guide to the best retreats for Catholic couples, here.

If you and your beloved crave a respite from wedding planning or life’s busyness--quite literally, retreat--yet your time, travel, or financial circumstances aren’t suited to a more formal, sponsored retreat, it’s still possible to create your own day(s) of contemplation and fruitful discussion.

Here, our tips for planning a DIY retreat.

 Photography: Dominick Tardogno, seen in How  He Asked | Caty + Ryan

Photography: Dominick Tardogno, seen in How He Asked | Caty + Ryan

Choose a destination.

A shrine, monastery, cathedral, or other holy site in your area (or within day-trip distance) are good potential retreat locations. If you live in or near a city, consider planning a day of pilgrimage to several shrines or chapels. This directory of Catholic sites in the U.S. is a handy starting point for your plans.

Seek out the sacraments.

In the real presence of the Lord, the sacred beckons. Allow time in your day and travels for Mass, confession, spiritual direction, and/or Eucharistic Adoration.

Bring materials for introspection and prayer.

As deeply as we all desire quiet and rest, once we find it, it’s easy to feel...restless. The fruit of our perpetually connected, phones-at-the-ready habits. It’s alright if you struggle to focus during longer periods of prayer; persist, asking the Father to remove distractions from your heart and draw you into himself.

Moreover, come prepared, and allow time to practically and spiritually renew your relationship. Plan for at least one, and up to several, periods of Adoration or quiet prayer before the Tabernacle during your day of retreat. Designate a time for structured prayer, reading, or other devotions. You might consider…

Lectio divina (read Spoken Bride vendor Liz Escoffery’s tips for praying with your wedding vows here) | Spiritual reading on love and marriage (find our recommendations here) | Beloved, a video series on Catholic marriage | The Culture Project International’s lecture series on St. John Paul II’s Love and Responsibility | a talk from the National Forum on the Theology of the Body | How-To Catholic, a podcast on liturgical living and the daily life of the faith, hosted by a husband-and-wife duo | Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire podcast | Leah Darrow’s Do Something Beautiful podcast | Dr. Gregory Popcak’s More 2 Life podcast, focused on relationships


Discuss the thoughts and insights borne of your prayer, reading, or listening. If questions surface--from the fun to the serious--ask them. A Q+A book for Christian relationships, like this one from the author of The 5 Love Languages, can spark your inquiries. Should particular issues arise that invite further probing and communication, pray about whether pre-marital counseling or spiritual direction can benefit you.

Plan a date.

End your day of retreat with dinner, a long walk or hike, or favorite hobby. For movie buffs, Christopher West’s The Cor Project offers a free, downloadable guide to “Theology of the Body at the movies” when you subscribe to their mailing list.

As Christ is transfigured atop the mountain, a vision of heavenly glory, his friends desire to linger there. Yet, he gently reminds them, they aren’t meant to stay forever at the summit; it’s back on the ground, amid the world, that they’re called to be his witnesses.

And so it is with a retreat, just as with marriage: some moments are so elevated, so glorious, we never want to leave. In the times we’re back in life’s trenches, when the crosses feel heavy, when our hearts cry out, it’s those memories of transcendence that sustain us. May you find true peace and rest during your time of retreat, re-entering the world remade and brought to life.

Maggie + Ryan | Vineyard Brunch Wedding

In the vocation to marriage, blindness is overcome by a true seeing and removal of the veil.

At a fundraising gala on the feast of All Saints--aptly named the Night of Hope--Maggie saw Ryan for the first time. But it wasn’t the first time he’d seen her: a few hours earlier, she’d been the reader at the Mass he’d attended. As she began reading, says Ryan, “everything closed in around me.”

He could hardly believe it when they were seated next to each other at the gala. They talked that night about Maggie’s hopes of becoming a FOCUS missionary and about Ryan’s childhood blindness that had influenced his feeling of being called to optometry. Both of them heard the Lord speaking to their hearts that night: Ryan called his father on the way home, telling him he’d just met the girl he would marry. At the same time, Maggie told her mother she knew who her future husband was.

Several months later, Maggie invited Ryan to her senior thesis defense, which prompted so many questions he insisted on taking her out to coffee to ask them all. They soon began a long-distance relationship, Maggie serving in Nebraska with FOCUS and Ryan studying optometry in Arizona.  

The first year of Maggie’s mission, however, required a dating fast. This was to be a time of putting the Lord first, being radically available to her students and teammates, and praying seriously in discernment of her vocation. Knowing Christ would provide the strength and grace for their new relationship to endure this time of purification, Ryan joyfully joined her fast. They entrusted their relationship to the prayers of Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin, and their first year of dating unfolded over handwritten letters, weekly FaceTime calls, the counsel of good friends and spiritual directors, and prayer and fasting on each other’s behalf.

While watching a brilliant sunset in Ryan’s hometown, days after their fast ended, he and Maggie were able to fully discuss all the Lord had revealed during that year spent far apart--including their desire to pursue the vocation of marriage together. A few months had passed when Ryan invited Maggie to get her first eye exam at his school clinic. When she reached the smallest line on the vision charts, it read, Maggie Elizabeth, will you marry me?

From the Bride: Our early-morning wedding took place in Lincoln, Nebraska, where I had served two years with FOCUS. Many of our guests joked that Nebraska wasn’t quite what they pictured when they heard the words “destination wedding,” but we were excited to bring my family from Arizona, and Ryan’s from North Dakota, to the place where our relationship had unfolded.

When we started planning our wedding, one question drove our decisions: when else will we be able to invite all those we know and love to Mass, and to show them the faith we love as fully as we can?

We wanted to share the beauty, truth, and goodness of our faith to our guests through a beautiful liturgy, with the hope that Christ could use our wedding day not only to pour sacramental grace upon us, but to lead our guests to encounter him anew.

Ryan and I prayed a 54-day rosary novena before our wedding day, entrusting the conversion of our family and friends to the Blessed Mother. We chose a morning Mass and a brunch reception so we could celebrate in the daytime. The warm sunshine of early spring was so fitting for the Easter season. The Resurrection takes place in the light and joy of the morning.

When we woke up to pouring rain the morning of the wedding, I guessed that God might have other plans than sunshine. I will never forget feeling so much peace as we prepared and the surreal joy that filled my heart when we prayed together moments before the Mass, realizing the day we had hoped, prayed, and waited for was here. A gift from the one who had planned it all.

I remember ascending the steps to the altar (precariously! Ryan moved much quicker than I could in my dress) and being overtaken by being so close to the Tabernacle. It was as if the Lord was speaking to me in the first moments of our nuptial Mass, I’m right here. Be at peace, be at rest in this time. This is a gift I have prepared just for you.

I took in the beautiful music Ryan had planned--he’d even written new arrangements for our favorite hymns, offered by friends with whom he’d played and sung with in choirs and bands throughout college.

We said our vows while holding a crucifix, a gift from our priest the evening before. It’s a miniature replica of the crucifix in a chapel on Ryan’s college campus, where he had spent so much time in as a student. It was a sweet way to honor the sacred place where he had prayed in hope for his vocation, while standing in the place where I had spent hours praying for mine.

As the liturgy of the Eucharist began, a beam of sunlight seemed to burst through the stained glass image of Christ, brightening the entire church. The morning light of the Easter season t came in God’s timing. We brought a dozen white roses to Mary, and I remember asking her to bless us with 12 children! Growing up, I always wanted 12 kids, and had 12 as my number in sports. Ryan wore the number 12 on his jerseys, as well, and has always considered it his lucky number. He also put twelve diamonds total in my wedding and engagement rings. We’ll see if that wedding-day wish comes true!

We wanted the style of our wedding to reflect the light and joy of Easter. For our colors, we chose a light, almost-neutral blue, white, and gold, complementing our vineyard brunch. All of our flowers were white with lots of greenery. I loved the simplicity and light they brought to the day. I can’t recommend our florist, Avant Garden floral, enough!

I wanted big windows and natural light to fill our celebration, so our wedding party traveled in a trolley with the windows down as we danced, rapped, and sang the entire way to the reception! I loved being able to see the Nebraska countryside on our way to the vineyard. All of that dancing--plus the wind during the drive--definitely wreaked havoc on my updo, but ended up being one of my very favorite memories from the day.

We feasted on brunch foods with a waffle bar and bacon sampling, as well as delicious white and red sangria. Our cake topper and the on our dessert table reflected the lyrics of our first dance song, Ed Sheeran’s “Tenerife Sea.” It was one of the first songs Ryan sang and played for me on his guitar.

Our favors were cards featuring a quote by St. John Paul II: “There is no place for selfishness - and no place for fear! Do not be afraid, then, when love makes demands. Do not be afraid when love requires sacrifice.”

We wanted to share with our guests that sometimes love looks like bright mornings, dancing, and eating mini fruit-tarts, but we know the Lord will also give us challenges, ask us to sacrifice, and to be courageous in the face of what will attempt to eat away at our love for him and for each other.

It was an incredible day, and in the months since, we have been amazed at how those graces have been continually renewed and poured out upon our relationship with God and with each other.

The one thing Ryan and I were both overwhelmed with on our wedding day was how close the Lord was to us, in so many different ways. We felt the fulfillment of the promises he had made throughout our entire courtship: all of the days of long-distance brought to an end, his presence in the holy priests who had sacrificed and prayed for us as we prepared for marriage, the gift of saying our vows just feet from the tabernacle and receiving Christ immediately in the Eucharist. We saw him in the countless family and friends who traveled to celebrate with us. It was such a gift and blessing to experience intimacy with the Lord filling every moment of the day. Our memories have become a fountain we can always return to and draw from as we face new challenges in our life together.

Videography: Oculi Cordis Media

Photographer: Mel Watson Photography | Church: St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church, Lincoln, NE | Wedding Reception Venue : Junto Wine, Seward, NE | Floral: Avant Garden | Catering: Chef au Chef Catering | Dessert: Butterfly Bakery | Rentals: Uptown Rentals | Hair: Sweet Jane Salon | Bridesmaid Dresses: Azazie | Bride Dress: Ellynne Bridal | Groomsmen Attire: Halberstadt's, Fargo, ND | Rings: Golden Harvest Jewelry, Grafton, ND


Healthy Ways to Talk About You and Your Beloved's Pasts



Have you and your fiancé’s past relationships--and your actions within them--influenced your engagement?

Before our wedding, my husband and I spoke extensively about regrets from former relationships, in everything from physical boundaries to the ways we’d fought or solved problems with our exes. Our discussions generally felt constructive, and were probably aided by the euphoria of newer love, making us quicker to forgive and express empathy than we might have been otherwise.

  Photography:  Elizabeth M Photography  

It wasn’t until recently, several years into marriage, that the impact of the past hit home for me. My husband and I imagined what we would have thought of each other if we’d met at a younger age. With lightness, trust, and an innocent curiosity in my heart, I asked if I could read some of the messages he’d exchanged with an old girlfriend. That lightness turned heavy as I read through nicknames and jokes so similar to ones my husband had written to me. I quickly clicked the window closed.

I didn’t feel sad that he’d ever had feelings for someone else. It was the echoes of our own relationship I read in his teenage self’s words that unsettled me, making me feel as if our love were somehow less unique.

I should be clear in stating that I don’t blame my husband in any way for this. After all, we didn’t even know of each other’s existence at the time he’d written those words, and essential parts of who we are are consistent in every relationship, romantic and otherwise. Rooted deep in my soul is the knowledge that I have chosen, and been chosen by, a man entirely committed and faithful to me. But it hurt all the same.

What I know now is that my asking to read that correspondence was neither healthy nor constructive. Our relationship has thrived on honest vulnerability about our past mistakes, yet I’ve realized honesty and prudence aren’t always the same thing.

Having already known and discussed my husband’s thoughts and areas of growth from that relationship, my asking to know it in more detail than necessary was fruitless, inflicting fresh salt on wounds that had long ago been cleansed. I wish I’d been more at peace with not knowing. While, in my opinion, it’s important and good to gently reveal your past errors in judgment or sexual sins in a broad sense, I’ve also arrived at the opinion that delving overly into specifics often causes more hurt than healing.

As you and your beloved work through your own past dating experiences on your path to the altar, here are other habits that have helped me do the same.

Ask yourselves the purpose of what you’re revealing.

The right sorts of disclosure--that is, the sorts that bring peace, restoration, and mercy--enable mature love to grow. If you choose to reveal parts of your past as solely as a means of feeling emotionally closer, as an occasion of pride that leads to feeling superior to your fiancé’s exes, or out of prurient interest, chances are these revelations will inspire more division than unity. Be real with yourselves about what purpose your inquiries and revelations serve.

As someone prone to nosiness, I’ve struggled in this area and have grown in greater wisdom and self-knowledge about why I might be asking about certain parts of my husband’s past. It takes ruthless honesty to admit to yourself that your intentions might not be the purest of heart, and to discern whether their fruits would be nourishing or bitter.

Get rid of all items from past relationships.

Though you haven’t yet made your wedding vows, engagement is a time of declared commitment that’s moving toward a specific end: your wedding day. In light of this gravity and forthcoming permanence, these months of preparation are an ideal time to get rid of any lingering possessions, gifts, texts, and emails from the past. Even if you and an ex have remained in each other’s orbit by choice or circumstance, it’s healthy to remove items with romantic significance from your life. It’s a gesture of faithfulness, and of turning forward in hope, to your fiancé.

Appreciate who you are now, not who you were then.

Conversion is a powerful thing. Saints are made along the path of reconciliation and virtue. Matters like past emotional entanglements and sexual sins, though, aren’t small; feeling their sting months and years later is normal. It’s valuable to keep in mind not just that the past is the past, but that who your beloved used to be--in all his or her weaknesses or poor choices--is also the past. Praise the Father for the gift of who your fiancé is, and for all the experiences that have brought you to the present.

If necessary, don’t fear professional assistance.

Premarital counseling or therapy doesn’t mean you’re weak.

Knowing when to invite the help of a professional shows great strength and dedication to your relationship.

If one or both of you have struggled with addictions and sexual sin, a Catholic counselor can provide spiritual and emotional tools to facilitate healthy communication.

And if one or both of you have been through any form of sexual abuse or assault, know, above all, that in the Father’s eyes you are nothing less than whole, blameless, and worthy of love. Working through these experiences together, with a counselor, helps cultivate trust, intimacy, forgiveness, and true peace.

Give every part of yourselves to the Lord.

If you struggle with aspects of your pasts, ask for the grace of healing. During a guided holy hour on a retreat I once attended, a priest advised asking Christ in prayer to reveal to us what wounds in our lives he desired to reveal. Sit with these wounds and confront them as they surface, he instructed, and then visualize giving them back to Jesus. Christ, the ultimate beloved of our hearts, desires so deeply to share our heartaches and, moreover, to redeem them.

Resolve to forgive, no matter what.

Forgiveness might take a long time. That’s alright. I encourage you and your fiancé, however, to promise one another that no matter what, you will eventually forgive all past wrongs. Grudges are poison; a source of doubt that limits true freedom. Trust in each other, and in your love, and you will reveal the Lord’s mercy to one another.

There have been times in our relationship where I’ve badly desired the will to forgive my husband and move on, even as I struggled to get my bruised heart on board. I feel thankful that even while upset, I’ve frequently sensed the Lord’s peace amid the storm within. In that peace, I have so strongly felt the certainty that I would forgive, even if I wasn’t ready at the moment. I never doubted I would, and prayed I could feel ready to do so quickly. Let me let go of this, I begged. Help me trust in this certainty.

Never lose sight of prayer for your fiancé, yourself, and your relationship. Prayers of agony, of asking for the grace to diminish or remove former sins from your memory, and even prayers of thanksgiving for the emotional weight of dealing with the past are all more than acceptable.

Our every prayer is a delight to the one who so ardently asks for our total trust: Jesus, I trust in you.

In the times I experience that deep conviction of forgiveness, I thank God for these gifts of trust. Gifts that have affirmed to me my husband’s deep goodness and the ways in which our hearts are so specifically suited to one another’s. I hope, truly, for you and your fiancé to be flooded with similar graces: filled with his peace, living examples to one anotherof divine love and mercy.

About the Author: Stephanie Calis is Spoken Bride's Editor in Chief and Co-Founder. She is the author of INVITED: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner (Pauline, 2016). Read more