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Mike Koley, right, and Murphy Lierley discuss FOCCUS materials in their archdiocesan office in Omaha. PHOTO BY JOE RUFF

Marriage preparation tool to include more Scripture, catechesis, technology aids

Preparing for marriage is about a lot more than dresses, tuxedoes and wedding cakes.
 
It’s really about building a relationship that will last a lifetime and helping couples get to heaven, said Murphy Lierley, manager of the archdiocese’s internationally-used pre-marriage inventory known as FOCCUS and trainer of facilitators who help couples use that tool.
 
And as men and women prepare for marriage in the Archdiocese of Omaha, they should be aware that faith-filled and helpful changes are being made to that inventory, and the resources that back it up.
 
Over the next two years, more Scripture will be added for engaged couples to ponder and more resources will be available on the Catholic Church’s teachings about marriage and family, evangelization and catechesis.
 
A more compelling website with a wider variety of content is on the way, one that will be readily accessible on iPhones, tablets and laptops for the ministry widely known as FOCCUS, the acronym for Facilitating Open Couple Communication, Understanding and Study Pre-Marriage Inventory, at foccusinc.com.
 
Murphy, who has been with FOCCUS for about 18 months, and FOCCUS Inc. USA’s new executive director, Mike Koley, are excited. 
 
A member of Holy Cross Parish in Omaha, Koley has 20 years of experience in strategic planning, project and business development with Omaha-based companies First Data Corp. and Giftcertificates.com. And he is active in his faith as a longtime leader in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, teacher of religious education and extraordinary minister of holy Communion.
 
“It was hardly a decision, I was so excited,” Koley said of taking the position in January.  “The potential of being able to bring my business skills into a faith environment was a great opportunity.”
 
While still meeting the needs of couples from all faiths or little religious background, some changes, such as more Catholic teaching and Scripture resources, will be added to the inventory and the FOCCUS website as they become available – even as early as this summer – with the help of theologians, priests and other experts. Other changes will take up to two years, Foley said.
 
“2020 is a big year for us,” he said. “It will be a two-year website process; we’re laying the framework and where we want to go.”
 
Mobile technology will help the ministry founded in 1985 reach more millennials, and foundational materials for healthy marriages will include videos and links to other sites on topics ranging from finances to papal encyclicals. Currently the FOCCUS website is largely limited to the pre-marriage and marriage enrichment inventories, as well as details about the ministry, Koley said.
 
“FOCCUS has had a 30-year run, it’s been very successful,” he said. “But it was created in a paper world,” and changes in technology have been profound and continue to evolve, he said. And there have been increasing calls for FOCCUS to place greater emphasis on the fact it is a Catholic-based ministry, and to offer more Catholic resources, Koley said.
 
HOW FOCCUS WORKS
But the foundation of FOCCUS has not changed, and it continues to help couples prepare for the joys and challenges of marriage, Koley said.
 
The pre-marriage inventory is taken by couples separately online or on paper, but discussed together with the help of a specially trained facilitator such as a priest, deacon or lay minister.
 
It is not a test, and there are no right or wrong answers.  The inventory is designed to facilitate discussion, and help engaged men and women communicate, problem solve and understand each other’s views on a variety of topics. Those subjects include religion, family and friends, careers, cohabitation, parenting, sexuality and finances. In the Archdiocese of Omaha, couples are encouraged to complete the inventory at least six months before the wedding. 
 
Separate FOCCUS packages – each with 150 or more questions – are designed for use by Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Christians and people who do not declare a specific faith. In addition, special content sections are available as needed for topics including interfaith marriages, remarriages, cohabitating couples and couples with children.
 
And more will be added, such as honing in on the unique needs of military couples because they often become separated by service and reunite under changed circumstances, Koley said.  
 
And there is REFOCCUS, introduced in 1988, that married couples can use without a facilitator. It is designed to strengthen marriages by helping couples study, understand and communicate about their relationship. REFOCCUS often is used in retreats and other group settings. 
 
THE SCOPE
Since FOCCUS was developed, more than 1 million Catholics and couples of other faiths have taken the pre-marriage and marriage enrichment tests. Early records are spotty, and the number could be closer to 2 million, Koley said.
 
The inventory is used across the country, with FOCCUS mandatory in the Archdiocese of Omaha and about one-third of all other U.S. dioceses. About 95 percent of all dioceses in the United States use FOCCUS to some extent, such as an entire diocese or one or more parishes within a diocese, Koley said. 
 
It’s also used by people and organizations in more than 30 other countries, including Australia, England and Hong Kong. Versions are available in Spanish, Vietnamese and Chinese, as well as English. 
 
FOCCUS’ success might be measured in part by the fact revenue from the ministry is shared with other ministries in the archdiocese’s Center for Family Life Formation, including Hispanic Marriage and Family Ministries, Family Life Span and Bereavement and the Respect Life Apostolate.
 
There are alternatives around the country to FOCCUS’ marriage preparation inventory. But FOCCUS enjoys a strong market presence because it delivers an effective inventory based on faith, has strong customer support and is assisted by facilitators.
 
MEETING A NEED
FOCCUS was developed as marriage around the world began to lose its attraction and divorce rates climbed, said Lierely, a member of St. John the Apostle Parish in Lincoln, who also coordinates his parish’s religious education program and is working toward his master’s in theology at the Augustine Institute in Denver. Currently, about 17,000 facilitators work with FOCCUS around the globe. 
 
Not only can the inventory and materials that support it help form solid foundations for strong marriages, they also can be part of the new evangelization, strengthening the faith of Catholic couples or bringing Catholics who might have strayed from the church to a greater understanding of their faith and church teaching as they prepare to marry, Koley and Lierley said.
 
“We want to deliver a message, so they feel welcomed back to the church, just by the questions they are being asked,” Koley said. 
 
“By its nature, pre-marriage preparation has to be catechetical,” Lierley said. “And we can put more catechesis in it.”
 

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