Though Caty and Ryan were in the same program at Franciscan University and shared mutual friends, Caty wasn’t even aware Ryan knew her name until he called to her from across a lobby, months later. As they spent the following semester abroad, she became determined to crack the shell of the mysterious, intelligent, curly-haired man with a sarcastic sense of humor. In London that semester, and on into the following academic year, their friendship grew. Both began wondering, cautiously, if they were meant to be something more.
Their first date was less than perfect, leading to the conclusion that Caty and Ryan were only meant to be friends. In the months to come, they spent their time attending daily Mass and praying together, bonding over their shared loves of philosophy, poetry, and food, and even discerning the consecrated life and the priesthood, respectively. The Holy Spirit had other plans.
In Ryan’s words: I had always wanted the woman I married to be my best friend. There came a point when I nearly gave up on that idea. Whether from my discernment of the priesthood or a loss of optimism, I didn’t think I would find that sort of relationship. In Caty, I had felt like I had finally found a true best friend, with whom I ultimately found myself discerning marriage.
In Caty’s words: Even as I prayed about a life of consecrated virginity, the reality of Ryan persisted in my heart despite all inner and outer turmoil. One evening, after studying for a comprehensive exam for our program, we confessed a mutual desire for a relationship. Knowing we were only months away from graduation, he and I resolved to spend time in prayer before making a decision.
On a rainy Holy Thursday, Ryan asked if I would “put out into the deep” with him and be his girlfriend. The question, which was spontaneous on his end, caught me off-guard. But the answer was already present within me: a Yes, one foreshadowing another Yes to come.
It wasn’t until Ryan and I started dating that I felt a true desire for marriage. Even though I had dated seriously in the past, suddenly marriage--not just as an abstract, but in the concrete--was something I wanted, despite my fears. Subconsciously, I was certain Ryan was the man I was called to marry.
A few weeks before we started dating, I had asked him, point-blank, “You know that if we start dating, this may end in marriage, right?” Very solemnly, he replied, “Yes, I know.”
That comment stuck with me through every month of our relationship, especially when things were less than perfect. By the time we talked seriously about marriage, deep down I couldn’t wait to enter into a covenant with this man.
Ryan: About five months into our relationship, I had realized that Caty was the one I would spend my life with. Despite a difficult long-distance summer, our love had grown stronger. It took some time for us to be on the same page, yet we were eventually able to talk seriously about marriage. Those conversations ultimately led to talks with each of our parents about my intentions. My parents were very excited, and not surprised. Caty’s father could not say yes fast enough. I was glad to have their support.
We also spent time looking at rings together, which was truly helpful, for I would have been like a lost sheep otherwise. I found a local jewelry shop and a ring that would be perfect for Caty. When it came to choosing a proposal date, there wasn’t much of a question: our first anniversary.
I enlisted Caty’s friends in my plan to surprise her that Lent. I asked her friend to make plans to attend Stations of the Cross at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America. That morning, I took an early flight to D.C. to make it to the Monastery. I’d put in extra effort to convince Caty that it was a normal Friday, with plans for a Skype date that evening. I spent the cold, rainy morning searching the city for flowers, hoping to find a dozen red roses for our 12 months together. Although I was miserably cold and nervous, there was still a joy that I felt, excited to ask my best friend to marry me.
Caty’s friend’s is a photographer whom I asked to help us capture the moment. He took me to the Monastery, where there is a beautiful Marian Grotto dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes, to whom we both have a great devotion. We were set to consecrate our relationship to Mary on the following day. As I arrived in my suit and the bow tie Caty had given me, waiting for the conclusion of Stations was the hardest part.
I waited in anticipation hidden by the Fifth Station: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry his cross. It felt fitting, for Caty and I will spend our lives helping each other carry our own crosses.
Caty and her friend began approaching the grotto.
Caty: I was so busy admiring the beauty of the grotto that my friend had to guide me down the right path to where Ryan had been waiting. It wasn’t until I made it down the first set of stairs that I saw Ryan standing there, calm and dapper, holding a bouquet of red roses. Nearly paralyzed with joy (and shock!), it took a moment for me to collect myself before I could walk over to my beloved. Laughter and questions tumbled out of my gaping mouth: “What are you doing here? Weren’t you supposed to be teaching today?” A proposal wasn’t yet on my radar at that point; I thought he’d shown up as a surprise for our anniversary. I embraced and kissed him, altogether unaware of the superabundance of his plans.
Ryan: Knowing I would struggle to get out the words coherently, I had prepared and practiced what I would say. Taking both of Caty’s hands in mine, I talked about our relationship and how far we had come, telling her of my desire to spend my life getting her to heaven and growing in my love for her. I expressed how I want to entrust myself to her, knowing she will do the same for my path to heaven.
As I opened the ring box, I was inspired by a mutual love of ours, Karol Wojtyla’s The Jeweler’s Shop. Taking words from the play, I asked Caty, “Would you like to become forever my life’s companion?” Overcome with surprise and joy, she replied with a resounding yes! I took the ring from the box and placed on its new home, my love’s left hand. As Christ is the foundation of our relationship, we walked over to a statue of St. Ann holding Our Lady, placing our relationship and engagement under their protection.
Caty: Our relationship has taken on two consistent themes: “Put out into the deep” and “Jesus, I trust in You.” While we were discerning the possibility of dating, Ryan one day revealed to me the one prayer that had become a constant for him: Jezu, ufam tobie. Jesus, I trust in You.
Being engaged and preparing for marriage doesn’t automatically make you or your future spouse perfect. Saying a wholehearted yes to your vocation doesn’t magically eradicate weakness, anxiety, or fear. But the reality of Christ working in our hearts is so much deeper than any fears I may have. Wedding planning has forced me to find refuge in the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts of Jesus and Mary, as well as the Most Chaste Heart of St. Joseph. I am learning continually not to “lean on my own understanding” and instead to rely on the providence of God, who has time and again surprised me. Saying yes to him sometimes involves sacrifice, but when it’s offered with love, it becomes a yoke that is sweet and light.
When the glow of newly engaged and newly married life wears off, I know two things will remain: our friendship and, more importantly, our commitment to Christ.
Ryan is a man who is, above all, committed to following Jesus and his Church. He is committed to loving me as Christ loves the Church. He is a strong and patient spiritual leader, continually challenging me in my prayer life.
This is the path of sanctification that Jesus has called us to. We will not be perfect in this life, but through His grace, we will reach the heavenly wedding banquet together. Above all, I know Ryan will be a true life’s companion on our journey to heaven.
Photography: Dominick Tardogno | Engagement Location: Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America | Ring: Maria's Fine Jewelry, Worcester, MA