Parishes seek to aid those dealing with divorce

By Glenn Rutherford, Record Editor

Everyone knows the dismal statistics about marriage in America these days.

The statistics kept by the U.S. Census Bureau and others say that one of every two marriages ends in divorce. So if you went to four different friends’ weddings this summer, the odds say that two of them won’t last. Of course numbers and statistics can also be misleading, and everyone knows people who have celebrated 50, 60 or more years of marriage.

But there is little doubt that divorce is taking its toll — and there are people in the Archdiocese of Louisville who are trying to make the burden that divorce can bring easier to bear.

There are parishes throughout the archdiocese that hold various programs intended to deal with divorce and its consequences. But the people and parishes in Region Seven of the archdiocese are taking an extra step.

According to Judy Montgomery of St. Bernadette Church, she became aware of the problem divorce often visits upon families when she was director of children’s formation for her parish.

“For the past several years our attention at St. Bernadette had been devoted to building our new church,” she explained. “But finally the church was completed and with what I had learned as children’s formation director, I knew we needed to do something to deal with this issue.”

So she contacted Michele Herberger in the archdiocese Office of Family Ministries, and “she gave to me a program to review.”

It was called DivorceCare, she noted, and some parishes outside of Region Seven are already using it. But Montgomery thought it would be a good thing to involve all the region’s parishes in the program because experience had taught her how much it is needed.

So she called Immaculate Conception Church in La Grange, St. Aloysius Church in Pewee Valley, St. Margaret Mary, Epiphany, St. Patrick and St. Albert the Great churches to gauge their interest in using DivorceCare in their parish.

“I found out that only one — St. Margaret Mary — had begun using the Divorce-Care program about a year ago,” she recalled, “but no one else was doing anything to address the problem. They were just like we were here at St. Bernadette; there was just nothing going on in that area.”

Dawn Della Bella, director of lifelong formation and education at St. Albert the Great, told Montgomery she was interested in learning more about the program — and soon others joined, too.

“What I’ve learned is that no one survives divorce unscathed even in the best of instances,” Montgomery said. “I know what it’s like to be the child of parents who divorced; I’ve seen the lingering effects.”

In a wedding for instance, does the father of the bride walk her down the aisle or the new husband of the bride’s mother? What do the children of divorced parents call those whom they’ve always known as grandmother and grandfather? And how do you deal with the sometimes complex pain that doesn’t end when the divorce decree becomes final; how do you deal with the pain of a family that’s now divided, sometimes unexpectedly.

The DivorceCare program deals with issues such as those and many others.

“I think by making the program a regional effort, we’re telling people not just in our part of town but all over the archdiocese that we care about you — that God cares about you and what you’re going through,” Montgomery said. “We can show people that they don’t have to face this hurt, this pain, alone.”

So far the group of representatives from the Region Seven parishes have had a meeting in which each church was invited to suggest people they thought were capable of leading the small DivorceCare groups.

“And now we have commitments from Immaculate Conception, St. Aloysius, and here at St. Bernadette, to take part in the program,” said Montgomery. “We know that Epiphany is very interested and St. Albert the Great had already started on their own. Holy Trinity and some other churches not in our region have expressed interest, too.”

Having a group of parishes presenting the program — which consists of sessions that deal with the variety of problems and emotions experienced by those who have come face to face with divorce — appeals to a broader number of people, Montgomery noted.

“Perhaps someone wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about their problems with those in their own parish,” she noted. “So they’d have a different parish to visit, to attend for the program.”

Also, parishes know how difficult it can be to find volunteers who can commit to the complete 13-week program. But with more parishes involved, there’s a larger pool of potential volunteers, she said.

“We can get someone to commit to two or three weeks of heading a small group, then have someone else step in until the program is completed,” she said.

Each DivorceCare session lasts two hours and includes a 30- to 40-minute video featuring “top experts on divorce and recovery subjects,” Montgomery explained. The videos include people talking about their real-life situations, various case studies and pertinent topics such as facing loneliness, financial survival, child care and others.

“It’s a Christ-centered program,” Montgomery noted, “and we feel like we’re off to a good start.”

There are even plans to offer a “Holiday Survival” session for divorced persons, who sometimes find that the holidays add to an already stressful situation.

Those interested in the program or those who might want additional information can call Judy Montgomery through St. Bernadette Church at 425-2210; Denise Ruiz, pastoral care director at St. Margaret Mary Church; or Joni Richter, pastoral associate at Our Lady of Lourdes Church.

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