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 http://www.julieholmesphotography.com | Church: Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Cathedral, Biloxi, MS https://nativitybvmcathedral.org | Wedding Reception Venue : Biloxi Visitors Center, Biloxi, MS, https://www.biloxi.ms.us/visitor-info/museums/visitors-center/ | Liturgical Music: Jacqueline Coale and Terry Maddox | Reception Band: Dr. Jazz and the New Orleans Sound http://www.drjazzmusic.com  | Flowers, Catering & Wedding Coordination: Fountain Events http://www.chezcharlesevents.com | Cakes: Torta Dulce Bakery http://www.tortadolcecakesandmore.com/ | Makeup: Ashley Mills http://www.makeupbyashleymills.com | Hair: Salon Rouge https://www.salonrouge-ms.com | Dress: Marie Gabriel Couture https://mariegabrielcouture.com | Bridesmaid dresses: Bella Bridesmaids https://www.bellabridesmaids.com | Suits: Studio Suits https://www.studiosuits.com  | Bridesmaid shirts: Lettermix Studio on Etsy https://www.etsy.com/shop/LettermixStudio | Rings: Windsor Jewelry https://windsorjewelry.com | Invitations: Minted https://www.minted.com