Teams of Our Lady brings couples closer to Christ, each other

Nine years ago, Valerie and Joe Niemeyer found themselves slipping. Once committed to cultivating their relationship and faith, they felt distant from one another and from prayer, Valerie said. They wanted more but didn’t know what to do.
“I started praying an ‘Our Father’ before bed on my knees. It was all I could muster,” Valerie said. That’s when they saw an article about the presence in Omaha of Teams of Our Lady – a Catholic lay movement that encourages forming groups of five to seven married couples to pray, serve and grow together.
Founded in Paris in 1938 by a couple and their parish priest, Father Henri Caffarel, the movement has grown to nearly 13,000 teams worldwide, including seven in Omaha that consist of 37 couples and a widow.
Hoping to draw still more couples to the movement, the Omaha teams are holding a June 23 gathering at the Columban Fathers’ retreat center in Bellevue.
That kind of invitation led the Niemeyers to Teams of Our Lady, which focuses on helping married couples strive for love, happiness and holiness through what the movement calls endeavors: daily Scripture reading, personal and spousal prayer, monthly meetings with other couples on a team, and an annual retreat.  
“The endeavors were intimidating, but we wanted our lives looking like that, and we knew we needed help because we weren’t going to make it happen by ourselves,” Joe Niemeyer said. 
The movement’s deliberate tools help people grow in spousal sanctity, said Miriam Gutierrez, who with her husband, Deacon Omar Gutierrez, is a member of St. Peter Parish in Omaha and part of the team that includes the Niemeyers.
They and three other couples have met monthly for five years in each other’s homes. They begin with a meal, and everyone helps.
“Everyone shares. Everyone prays,” Miriam said. Women might find it easier, she said, but “it’s beautiful to see the men pray and support each other. It’s encouraged us to grow closer as married couples and as couples in our own homes.”
No one is obliged to share, said Joe, adding he is an introvert. “It’s an anxious time when you’re intimate with others talking about failures or successes. It’s also a great blessing. We’ve become a family.”
Team members are encouraged to support one another materially and spiritually. The Niemeyers and others in their group have helped with moves and brought meals when new babies arrived. Spiritually, they discuss readings and materials recommended by the movement. 
“We also go around the circle sharing intentions,” Miriam said. “That alone would be enough. There is real power for us praying for each other’s intentions. I think that’s the real support. We want to strengthen what the Lord has already joined … (our marriage) is a sacrament that is always spilling out grace. It’s a sign of God’s love for us … a good sign for a broken world.”
The support and shared practices change lives, said George Klosterman, who with his wife, Mary, formed the first Omaha team in 2005 after moving from Virginia. 
“Teams develop personal and couple spirituality, but it also develops lifelong friendships,” said George, a member of Mary Our Queen Parish. “My children, I think, have benefited. They’ve seen us in prayer and what God has done for us.”
The movement is intended to strengthen good marriages, “but they don’t have to be perfect marriages,” George said. “People may feel they are missing something. That something just might be God.”
The Niemeyers, members of St. Bernard Parish in Omaha, will mark their 14th wedding anniversary this August. They said they appreciate the movement’s structure and support as they stay busy with work and raising six children.
“We have a strong desire to keep God at the center of our lives. But life is messy, and we are all human,” Valerie said. “The endeavors give us something to aspire to. As a team member, you must accept limitations … we are not God, but we are called to keep pursuing the fullness of life with God.”
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