Couples bring faith to Valentine’s Day

Steve and Marguerite Hotovy of St. Leo the Great Parish in Omaha went to last year’s Valentine’s Day Dinner at St. Benedict Center near Schuyler – and they plan to attend the Mass and dinner again this year.

"We got married in the Catholic Church, and we try to put faith in Christ first," Steve Hotovy said. "Marriage is a sacrament and Mass is the high sacrifice. They kind of go together."

Before last year, the Hotovys hadn’t made a big deal out of the Feb. 14 secular celebration. Married in January 35 years ago, they spent most of their energy each year celebrating their wedding anniversary.

Then they heard about the Mass and four-course meal, with candlelight and wine, and thought they’d give it a try.

"The focus is on the Mass, and on the couple," Hotovy said. "I kind of like that."

Evenings in past years have included a faith-filled couple sharing their marriage experiences at different breaks during the meal, said Benedictine Father Thomas Leitner, center administrator. Eighty-two couples attended last year’s dinner, which, similar to this year’s event, centered on couples sharing a meal, he said.

Retreats, talks and other events at the center also offer couples opportunities to strengthen and reflect on their marriage, bringing Christ into their families and the wider society, Father Leitner said.

A focus on the sacred runs through all archdiocesan, parish and other church gatherings around Valentine’s Day – which began as a liturgical feast day honoring one or more early saints named Valentine and has grown into a cultural and commercial celebration around the world.

Celebrations planned by archdiocesan offices include a Feb. 11 retreat for couples titled the Seeds of Love, and for Latino families a Feb. 18 dinner, speaker and mariachi band, both in Omaha (see accompanying story).

Parish gatherings include a 6 p.m. to midnight Feb. 10 dinner and dance at St. Bernard Parish in Omaha that last year drew 225 people.

The evening costs $25 a person, begins with prayer and offers couples an opportunity to visit throughout the evening, said Natalie Griffith, a parishioner who helps plan the annual event.

"It’s a way for members of the parish to go out, have a date," Griffith said.

A tradition dating back at least 20 years at St. Joseph Parish in Constance involves the pastor blessing couples at the Saturday night Mass closest to Valentine’s Day, this year Feb. 11. In addition, the parish bulletin includes the names of couples celebrating significant anniversaries such as 25, 40 and 50 years, and the ladies’ guild presents every couple at Mass with a rose.

Father James Keiter, pastor of St. Joseph, as well as St. John the Baptist Parish in Fordyce and St. Boniface Parish in Menominee, said it’s important to celebrate marriage because couples and families are the building blocks of the church and of society.

"When marriages break down, families break down," he said.

Father Keiter said he has his own tradition of celebrating marriage, asking couples to let him know several months in advance of a major anniversary, so he can obtain a papal blessing.

Most recently, he presented a framed and matted blessing from Pope Francis to St. John the Baptist parishioners Jerry and Colette Koch for their 60th wedding anniversary.

"The whole family was there, the day after Christmas, in a big celebration," Father Keiter said.

Instead of offering a program for couples, Girl Scout Troop 43461 at St. Columbkille Parish in Papillion offers them a chance to get away.

The troop offers babysitting for a small fee – this year from 5 to 9 p.m. Feb. 11.

"It’s a fun time for the kids with crafts, games and snacks, and at the same time the parents get a night out to enjoy Valentine’s Day," said Father David Reeson, pastor.

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