Picking up the pieces of a shattered marriage Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Kat Wagner, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009 -- 1:00 AM

CROSS PLAINS -- Frank and Julie  LaBoda are now the picture of a happy marriage: married 17 years with four daughters, the international coordinators of a marriage recovery program, and consultors to the Pontifical Council for the Family.

Frank and Julie LaBoda of Cross Plains, left, the coordinators for the international marriage-saving program Retrouvaille, meet with Pope Benedict XVI in Rome. (Contributed photo)

But things were not always perfect.

“We nearly divorced; our marriage was falling apart,” Julie said. “We were living what we’d call ‘married single.’”

Five years of marriage in, major problems, and they might have been another number in the divorce statistic. But on their sixth anniversary, they went to the Friday of a Retrouvaille weekend. Julie was reluctant: “I went to appease Frank,” she said.

The program saved their marriage.

“It was incredible,” Julie said, talking of the experience of hearing the team couples share their experiences. “One couple talked about alcohol and abuse, and they made it — and I thought, if they can make it, we can make it.”

The couple, members of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Cross Plains, serve as international coordinators of the Retrouvaille program. As their recent appointment to the pope’s Pontifical Council for the Family might indicate, they are strong believers in the importance of faith’s role in marriage. Their own experience testifies to it.

For more information on the marriage-saving Retrouvaille program, visit
Weekends are available in cities around the state and in Illinois. Upcoming weekends in Madison:
• January 15, 2010
• April 9, 2010
• July 16, 2010
Healing broken marriages

Retrouvaille is not for all marriages. The word, pronounced reh’-troh-vi with a long “i” sound, comes from the French for “rediscovery,” and it echoes what the program seeks to do with couples whose marriages are falling apart at the seams.

It’s not a retreat or marriage counseling or a marriage seminar. On a weekend program, the couples who come are not even asked what brought them there. The program leaders, a team of three couples and a priest (or, in Christian Multi-Denomination weekends, a Christian minister and spouse), share their own experiences of marital problems and provide practical tools for improving a marriage. Each presentation on conflict, trust, and forgiveness is followed by time to individually reflect and privately discuss with a spouse.

It’s not a miracle cure.  The weekend is just a beginning, with follow-up sessions and a lot of work to follow.

“In 54 hours, we try to start the transformation into a couple that’s loving, and sharing, and trying to communicate with each other,” said Frank.

“We’re peer ministers,” said Julie. “We’ve been there. We’ve been to hell and back.”

Their marriage was worth saving, Julie said. “Certainly, God was for my marriage. I got the message that a whole lot of people were fighting for our marriage. . . . You don’t get that message from the secular world. The message you get is that it’s for as long as you love, not live.”

Faith and marriage

While it began as a Catholic ministry, the Retrouvaille program has reached out to thousands of couples of all faiths and backgrounds in the more than 30 years since its founding. Its focus, the organization’s Web site, says, is on saving a marriage, not to convert to a faith.

But faith, in its treatment of marriage as a sacred institution, can be an instrument and strong support for healing a broken relationship.

Since their own Retrouvaille retreat more than a decade ago, the LaBodas have been involved in healing other couples’ marriages and discovered that sharing their experience was a way to heal their own relationship.

“Since our Retrouvaille experience, my faith binds my marriage and family together,” said Frank. “Believing God is so much greater than everything in my work and family.”

“God invented marriage,” said Julie. “God is for marriage; the Church is for marriage, they’re pro-marriage. People are invited to witness a wedding — we need to be witnesses for marriage; nobody else is going to stand up for it.”

Helping the stand for marriage

Though their term as international coordinators for Retrouvaille will soon be ending, the LaBodas will be taking on a new international role. They were named by Pope Benedict XVI to be consultors for the Pontifical Council for the Family.

The council, according to the Vatican Web site, is responsible for “the promotion of the pastoral ministry and apostolate to the family, through the application of the teachings and guidelines of the ecclesiastical Magisterium, to help Christian families fulfill their educational and apostolic mission.” Established in 1981 by Pope John Paul II, it also promotes and coordinates pastoral efforts related to responsible procreation and initiatives in defense of human life from conception to natural death.

The LaBodas are the only married couple among the 18 consultors for the council. They were informed of the appointment by a letter they received October 2, and though their responsibilities have not been outlined yet, they expect to be called upon to share what American married life is about, Frank said. Julie called the appointment “humbling,” and Frank called it “an absolute delight.”

“I think it’s another piece to our relationship puzzle,” said Frank. “It gives us another reason to work harder every day on our marriage — to walk the walk.”

“Now we’re accountable to a lot more people,” said Julie. “You want to live up to the commitment. . . . Our life in Retrouvaille will never be over. We’re marriage ministers — that’s who we are.”

“Personally, my mission is to save one marriage at a time,” said Frank. “If I can save one marriage, there’s a trickle-down effect. That’s my mission.”

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