Mike Phelan, who helped organize the marriage conference, enjoys a moment of levity with his wife Sharon and Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted Sept. 28.  (Jeff Fuentebella/CATHOLIC SUN)
Mike Phelan, who helped organize the marriage conference, enjoys a moment of levity with his wife Sharon and Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted Sept. 28. (Jeff Fuentebella/CATHOLIC SUN)

Hundreds of couples packed into Founders’ Hall at Xavier College Preparatory Sept. 28 for the first-ever marriage conference organized by the Diocese of Phoenix.

They began the day with Mass at nearby St. Francis Xavier Parish, where Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted encouraged them to live their sacrament.

“I pray that the Lord will deepen in the hearts of each of you an ever more profound trust in His love for you and for every member of your family,” Bishop Olmsted said. “I also pray that you will seek and accept from Him the grace to ‘hand over’ your life to Him and to those whom He gives you to love.”

The conference featured a slate of noteworthy speakers who each shared their perspective on the beauty of marriage and the Church’s teaching on how husbands and wives should relate to each other.

Dr. Helen Alvaré, an associate professor of law at the George Mason University School of Law, spoke about the institution of marriage vis-a-vis recent legal developments.

Dave and Deidre Wilson, parishioners of St. Thomas the Apostle who attended the conference, have been married for 11 years and are expecting their fifth child in February. They said they accept the Church’s teaching on marriage and now want to take action to foster it.

“As Helen Alvaré was saying, the law isn’t going to save us,” Deidre said. “Marriage used to be an institution in our society and now it’s being deinstitutionalized.”

Dr. Alvaré told conference attendees that the laws once recognized that marriage wasn’t created by the state, but that it was created by God and was sacred.

Mike and Sharon Hutchins made the four-hour drive from Snowflake in order to attend the daylong conference.  A deacon had given Mike a flyer advertising the event, but it was Sharon who persuaded him to attend.

“I’m a cradle Catholic and she’s a convert,” Mike said. “She’s been an inspiration to me. I didn’t know my faith but I started learning it through her.”

The Hutchins said they enjoyed the keynote address given by Greg and Julie Alexander, a couple from Texas who at one point were on the brink of divorce.

The Alexanders shared their story of how they met in college, had two children and focused their lives on their work and the pursuit of wealth. Little by little, they became alienated from each other.

“We shared a house and a checking account, but we were spiritually divorced,” Greg said. A marriage counselor told them they didn’t belong together.

Julie said her parents were devout Catholics and she worried how they might react to their daughter’s impending divorce. Hoping for an annulment, the Alexanders decided to consult a priest who happened to be the judicial vicar. He challenged them to first learn the Church’s teaching on marriage.

Once they did, Greg said, it became apparent that they were not living marriage the way God intended.

Julie related how, after the birth of their second child, her physician recommended sterilization. After studying the Church’s teaching on marriage, Greg had his vasectomy reversed and the couple welcomed five more children into their home. They now travel the country counseling couples and sharing their story of faith and conversion.

Bill and Sharon Kalber, of St. Mary Parish in Chandler, have been married for 27 years. They said that like the Alexanders, they once struggled with their marriage too. At the conference, they handed out brochures about Retrovaille, a program that helps couples in troubled marriages.

“We benefitted from the program ourselves many years ago and we want to share it with as many people as possible,” Bill said. “The more we get the word out, the more people we can help.”