Lay movement aims to support marriages

Sharon and Ted Elsesser are members of a marriage enrichment group called Teams of Our Lady. Teams of Our Lady is a lay movement focused on enriching Catholic marriages. (Record Photo by Jessica Able)

Five couples in the Archdiocese of Louisville have experienced the ups and downs of marriage together over the course of several decades through their involvement in Teams of Our Lady.

Teams of Our Lady is an international lay movement focused on enriching Catholic marriages through small faith-sharing gatherings.

Bill and Carole Sanders, parishioners of St. Peter the Apostle Church, are one of the founding members of the local chapter that has met since 1980.

In that time, Carole said, she has seen her marriage grow into something deeply profound, rooted in Christ and the church.

The couple was introduced to Teams of Our Lady by Father Joe Merkt, a now retired priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville. Father Merkt still serves as the group’s chaplain and regularly attends meetings.

“I’ve seen them grow and develop and witnessed how they’ve been wonderful ministers to the church,” Father Merkt said in an interview last week.

What makes the group so successful in their ministry to one another, Father Merkt said, is their affirmation and support.

“My hope is that the group is able to come together and that couples are able to share on a more personal level with each other,” he said. “It’s a protected space where you can sit down and talk about your fears and hopes as a couple.”

It’s been his desire, he said, that the couples face life’s daily struggles in the presence of prayer.

Ted and Sharon Elsesser, parishioners of Our Lady of Lourdes Church, have been involved since 2007.

Ted said he values the ability to discuss “important topics” beyond sports, the weather and the like.

“So much conversation in our culture is superficial, it’s nice to take part in a mature level of sharing of things that are really of value, particular to our faith,” he said.

The group follows a school-year schedule and meets monthly, rotating between members’ homes. The gathering begins with a meal and moves into a sharing portion, when the group takes part in prayer and discussion.

Throughout the years, the group has read various books, studied papal encyclicals and exhortations, watched Bishop Robert Barron’s “Catholicism” video series and participated in lectio divina, a contemplative way of studying Scripture.

At the end of the year, members evaluate their experience and decide whether they wish to continue their participation.

The Louisville group moved to virtual meetings in the spring with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through the years, the couples have experienced life’s ups and downs. They have seen each other through pregnancies and births. Now, the couples have supported each other through retirements, illnesses and helping each other cope with the loss of parents and other family.

Carole Sanders said the group has had a “profound influence” both on who she is and her marriage.

“When I look back on it, this group has helped form who I am as a mature Catholic. What I have become has been deeply influenced by ‘teams,’ ” she said.

The international movement was formed in 1938 in France by parish priest Father Henri Caffarel, and came to the U.S. in the late 1950s. The movement aims to help couples fully live their sacrament of marriage, according to the organization’s website. The cause for canonization for Father Caffarel is currently being considered.

Sharon Elsesser said participation in the marriage spirituality group has led to a deeper understanding of her faith as well as a closer connection to her spouse.

“It’s a meeting with like-minded people who are on a spiritual journey, a journey that deepens your marriage,” she said.

Deacon Stephen Bowling, director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Family Ministries Office said the Teams of Our Lady is exactly the type of marriage enrichment program he’d love to see other couples in the archdiocese replicate.

“The beauty of this program is that it’s all about marriage enrichment,” Deacon Bowling said.

Typically, marriage enrichment activities, such as retreats, last for only a day or so. What makes this unique, Deacon Bowling said, is the group’s commitment to meet regularly through the year.

Interested couples should be in good standing with the church and regularly participate in the life of their parish.

Teams of Our Lady is not intended as a marriage therapy group. It is for couples who wish to strengthen an already healthy marriage.

Couples interested in learning more about forming a chapter of Teams of Our Lady may contact Deacon Bowling at 636-1014 or family@archlou.org.

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