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Marriage celebration a family affair for daughters, parents

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More than 1,100 people came together this month during the archdiocese's annual marriage celebrations - a family affair that this year included twin sisters celebrating 40-year anniversaries and their parents, celebrating 65 years of marriage.

Joining about 300 people at the Sept. 15 event at St. Mary Church in Norfolk were Carla and Arnie Arens, members of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish, and Carol and Barry Caster, members of St. Stephen the Martyr Parish, both in Omaha, and their parents, Paul and Dorothy Schnieders, members of St. Jane Frances de Chantal Parish in Randolph.

The Casters were married Aug. 4, 1973, the Arens just two months later.

And it wasn't the first time the family celebrated anniversaries together - the sisters attended a marriage celebration with their parents at St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha 15 years ago.

"To be able to attend with our parents was pretty special," Carol said.

About 800 people attended a similar celebration Sept. 8 at St. Cecilia Cathedral. Each event included a rosary, Mass celebrated by Archbishop George J. Lucas, a renewal of vows, a blessing and a reception.

Starting with couples celebrating five-year and 10-year anniversaries and moving to those celebrating 25, 40, 50, 55 and 60 or more years of marriage, Archbishop Lucas asked couples at the cathedral to stand or raise their hand and be recognized.

God's gift of love is personified in the sacrament of marriage, Archbishop Lucas said, with couples promising to love each other just as God loves everyone, in good times and bad, for better or worse, in sickness or in health.

"You become a living sign of God's faithful love for us," Archbishop Lucas said.

Seeing all the couples - young and old - together in prayerful unity is a highlight for many people, said Valerie Conzett, director of the archdiocese's Family Life Office. Couples busy with the day-to-day activities of married life take time and draw strength from the many other couples gathered at the celebrations, and they come to be inspired by Archbishop Lucas' reminder of the importance of their vocation, she said.

"It's a really powerful witness," Conzett said.

Carla and Carol said they were inspired by their parents, who stressed the importance of family and modeled the faith that can form the foundation of a strong marriage. The sisters said they and their three siblings in Randolph prayed the rosary daily with their parents during Lent, attended Mass together each Sunday and went to the parish school, which has since closed.

The Arens and Casters also live their faith by volunteering at their parishes. Both of their husbands usher at Masses, while Carla helps prepare funeral meals at St. Robert Bellarmine and Carol helps sell gift cards as a parish fundraiser at St. Stephen the Martyr.

And now the Schnieders inspire not only their children, but also their 13 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren, by showing kindness and respect to each other, praying the rosary together three times daily and sharing a weekly holy hour.

Dorothy said she is pleased her daughters appreciate being raised in a faith-filled home. But said she and her husband never consciously modeled that behavior to their children, she said.

"It's just something that ought to be part of your life," she said.

Spending time together as a family continues to be important, and more than 30 family members attended a recent reunion in Omaha that included golf, bowling and a potluck meal while watching a Nebraska football game, said Carla, who will celebrate her wedding anniversary Oct. 27.

Another get-together is planned Nov. 15 as family members arrive in Randolph to celebrate the Schnieders' anniversary at their home.

"It's just part of our family to be together at all the special occasions," Carla said.

And it all comes back to faith, which helps provide guidance and perspective through the ups and downs of a relationship, raising children and other challenges and celebrations in life, the sisters and their mother said.

"It's essential to marriage," Carla said.

Attending the marriage celebration is a special way to give thanks for that faith and all the blessings her family has received, and to reflect on 65 years of marriage, Dorothy said.

"There have been hard times, but so many more good times," she said. "It's just nice to think back."

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