Marriage prep: 'It's really important' Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Kevin Wondrash, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016 -- 12:00 AM

darnell family
Marriage preparation couple John and Tara Darnell with their two children Kateri, two, and Rosemary, eight months. (Catholic Herald photo/Kevin Wondrash)

MADISON -- Married couples, the Diocese of Madison needs your help.

If you want to share the blessings of your marriage or are looking for a way to help strengthen the marriages of couples just starting out, think about and pray about joining the Diocese of Madison Marriage Preparation Team.

The Marriage Preparation (MP) program is in need of committed Catholic couples who are willing to share their marriage and faith with newly engaged couples.

Couples are fully trained to lead either of the two MP programs, Real Life, Real Love or God’s Plan for a Joy-Filled Marriage.

You can also support the program by becoming a host couple that works behind the scenes.

There is no need to be an expert.

The diocesan Marriage and Family Program will help provide all the resources you need to be effective in marriage prep ministry.

One couple’s example

Tara and John Darnell from New Glarus are one such couple who heard and answered the call to help other couples about to start their lives living out the vocation of marriage.

The Darnells, married for four years, are members of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Belleville. They have two children, Kateri, age two, and Rosemary, almost eight months old.

They met and began dating while attending the University of Notre Dame.

Careers, a growing relationship, and engagement would follow them to the Madison area and they were married in September of 2012.

They were inspired to consider becoming a marriage prep couple following their own marriage prep experiences.

Tara noted most of the couples on the team during their retreat were much older than they were.

Training for new
Marriage Prep couples

Friday, Jan. 20, 6 to 9 p.m., Holy Name Heights, 702 S. High Point Rd., Madison
Real Life, Real Love (relationship skills)

Friday, Jan. 20, 6 to 9 p.m. and Saturday, Jan. 21, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Holy Name Heights, 702 S. High Point Rd., Madison
God’s Plan for a Joy-Filled Marriage (theology of marriage)

• For more information or to register, contact John Joy at 608-821-4517 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

• Register by Friday, Jan. 6.

“[It] meant they had a lot of great experience, but we were coming from different places,” said Tara. “One of our rules is, if we as a couple or as a family have a critique of a program, then we have to fix it or we have to volunteer to try and change that.”

The Darnells filled out a feedback form following the retreat saying that they would be interested in becoming a marriage prep couple themselves following a couple years of marriage -- which is standard in the diocese for married couples, “so you can actually live the married life and have some experience to share,” said Tara.

Earlier this year, after three years of marriage, the Darnells began the training to be a marriage prep couple.

The training involves going through the marriage prep presentations again, but “through a lens of ‘I would present this to people,’” said John.

Helping new couples

Tara and John are part of the God’s Plan for a Joy-Filled Marriage program, which covers the theological aspects of marriage.

The other program is “Real Life, Real Love,” which touches on relationship skills.

Prior to presenting, the Darnells were given all the materials -- DVDs, talk transcripts, and workbooks -- to go over as a guide to make their own presentations from them.

They typically run sessions with another couple, and split the talks, each couple doing three.

They have been able to pick where they are presenters, within driving distance of their home.

There have been about 20 to 25 couples in each session.

“In our brokenness and imperfections, it’s amazing to see what God can do through us,” said John.

Tara added that they do share some personal details of their marriage, but MP couples only share as much as they prefer.

“Putting yourself out there can be pretty nerve-wracking, but we’ve only gotten great responses,” she said.

“A lot of couples we run into don’t have exposure to what life is like as a married couple that’s open to life,” she said. “Us, having two little kids and being still really active in our parish and doing things we both love to do, and just sharing that . . . We’ve heard from a lot of couples that’s just not something they are familiar with.”

Importance of marriage prep

Every time the Darnells give a presentation “it holds [us] accountable to are we really living this out in our marriage?” said Tara. “We’re telling these people this is the truth and we’re being reminded of it every time we tell and teach this.”

“It is great just to be reminded of what you’re called to be in your own marriage,” she added. “You’re going to benefit just as much as the people sitting in the chairs in front of you.”

“It’s really important,” John added. “The family is the cell of our Catholic faith. We as a Church need to help people become great husbands and wives and fathers and mothers. To have any hand in that is an honor and a privilege. It’s really important. It’s nice to be part oaf something.”

Join the team

The next training sessions for Marriage Prep couples are in January.

See the above information box for more information, or contact John Joy, marriage and family coordinator, at 608-821-4517 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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