51 couples, 2,393 years: And they said it would last!

By Peter Finney Jr.

Members of The Good Timers social club – a group of 13 Catholic couples who gather monthly for food, music and fun – can get serious when they want to, and Aug. 4 at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Destrehan qualified as a profoundly spiritual moment.

The Good Timers’ original 13 couples – plus another 38 couples who are their friends or relatives – gathered for Mass to celebrate a combined total of 2,393 years of married life. Twenty-four of the 51 Catholic couples, who came from across the Archdiocese of New Orleans, have been married for at least 50 years.

The Good Timers got the idea to host a group marriage celebration as the members plotted out what they might do to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the club.

“My wife (Jeanne) and I presented the idea of trying to get enough couples together to celebrate 1,000 years of marriage,” said Jesse Melancon, one of the marriage event co-chairs. “Our original 13 couples represented about 650 years of marriage. But once people started talking to other people, we got to 2,393. It’s so gratifying to see how excited they all were.”

Special touches

The planning committee, which included Claudette and Tom Nenos and Judy and Herb Hecker, thought of special details. Each wife was handed a red rose as she walked into church. Couples were asked to bring a framed photograph of themselves on their wedding day, and a photographer took photos of them holding their wedding pictures.

After the homily, Father Joseph Krafft, the principal celebrant, asked the couples to stand and face each other as they held hands and renewed their wedding vows. After Communion, the couples came forward and placed the red rose in front of a framed image of the Blessed Mother altar as cantor Kitty Cleveland intoned the “Ave Maria.”

“They all made a little prayer asking Mary to continue to pray for them as they make this life journey together,” said Father Krafft, who is director of pastoral formation and professor of pastoral theology at Notre Dame Seminary. “It was a celebration of the sacrament of marriage, which is a sacrament of service. They demonstrated the gifts of doing what it takes to serve one another for 2,400 years of marriage.”

Social group meets monthly

Most of the events the Good Timers plan involve social outings, such as tours of the Old Ursuline Convent and Avery Island, a paddlewheel ride on the Natchez and a day at the races at the Fair Grounds.

Some of the men play golf together, and the couples often take group cruises and vacations together. Several women have formed a rosary group. Members also collect money to buy Christmas presents for needy families, and if a member falls ill or has other needs, they help out by cooking meals, Melancon said. The group has no “leaders” – they get together every month and plot out future activities.

Melancon, who worked with his wife for many years in Marriage Encounter, said he has been inspired by Pope Francis, who has urged the church to make a “more responsible and generous effort to present the reasons and motivations for choosing marriage and the family, and in this way to help men and women better to respond to the grace that God offers them.”

Older couples point the way

“Marriage has been getting a bad rap in the news, especially when celebrities are the role models for our youth,” Melancon said. “Today many young people are delaying making a lifetime commitment to marriage. We don’t think the economic climate is the major factor. We do believe the stronger influence is the social norm rooted in the fear of making a lifetime commitment.”

The Mass was concelebrated by Msgr. Harry Bugler, Father Bo Majors and Father Mike Mitchell.

The three longest-married couples who attended the Mass and luncheon were Dianne and Leo Sanchez (59 years), Judy and Herb Hecker (55) and Peggy and Nolan Rome (55).

Not a disposable commodity 

“We both feel too many young couples today treat marriage like something that came from Walmart,” the Sanchezes wrote in the Mass program. “If it’s broken, bring it back. We learned that the sacrament of matrimony is a gift from God to both of us. If it’s not working, fix it and know that God will be there to guide you in the repair. ‘Love never fails’ (1 Cor 13:8).”

The Heckers offered this advice: “Surround yourself with friends who have the same Christian values as you do. Always hold on to the good of each partner and do not focus on the bad. Build on each other’s strengths.”

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at pfinney@clarionherald.org.

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