Couples make marriage a team sport

Paula Antonacci of Good Shepherd Parish, Shawnee, is surprised by her husband Dave with an early Valentine’s Day rose and some words of appreciation at a recent Teams of Our Lady gathering. All the men at the gathering did the same for their spouses. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JOE MCOSRLEY

by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — One is good. But two is better.

It says so in the Book of Ecclesiastes: “Two are better than one: they get a good wage for their labor. If the one falls, the other will lift up his companion” (4:9-10).

That power of joining forces is something many couples have discovered in a movement in which they can grow deeper in faith together, strengthen their marriage and draw on the support of others who are on the same journey.

Strengthening marriage was a top priority of Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann’s mutually shared vision that was announced in 2015.

But since 1947, a program begun in France, called “Teams of Our Lady,” has been doing just that.

Nadia and Ryan Schroeder, members of St. Agnes Parish in Roeland Park, had been searching for something like this soon after becoming parishioners.

“Initially, I wanted to start a newly married group at the parish,” said Nadia. “I wanted us to get to know other couples and parishioners, and have some sort of support for our marriage.

“Both my husband and I were involved in Bible studies or groups on our own, but we hadn’t figured out how to do things with other couples or have a joint married prayer life.”

“We were both doing Christian activities,” she continued, “but not together. . . . We wanted to figure out how to have a joint faith life.”

One day Nadia was talking to her sister Danielle Blosser, from Atchison, about her desire to join a couples group. It just so happened that Danielle and Jamie Blosser were the sector couple for Teams of Our Lady in the Atchison area. They encouraged Nadia to bring the movement to St. Agnes.

With the blessing of their pastor Father Bill Porter, Nadia and Ryan began to form a team.

How the teams work

Teams of Our Lady are often associated with parishes because they must have oversight by a priest, but a team is not a parish ministry. The teams consist of five to seven couples, and the couples can range from newlyweds to empty nesters.

New teams go through a 10-month “piloting phase” facilitated by a couple that has been in Teams of Our Lady for at least two years. Usually, this is the “sector couple,” which coordinates team activities in a given geographical area.

The team meets in one couple’s home once a month. They have a simple meal and share what has been going on in their lives for the past month.

After the meal, they gather in the living room to read some Scripture and pray. Next, they discuss some study materials. The evening ends with praying the Magnificat.

Couples must be faithful in attending the monthly meetings. If one spouse can’t make it, the other spouse attends anyway.

Sometimes team couples will do “deep pooling.” At this time, a couple can share some good news or talk about a crisis, event, issue or burden. These discussions are private and not to be shared outside of the monthly meeting.

Beyond the monthly meetings, team couples are required to practice six “endeavors.” They are: a regular reading (or hearing) of Scripture; a daily period of individual prayer; daily prayer with one’s spouse; a monthly sit-down conversation with one’s spouse; an annual team retreat; and drawing up and implementing a “rule of life,” an individual program of spiritual and personal improvement.

Reaping the benefits

Joe and Veronica Quinn, members of Good Shepherd Parish in Shawnee, have participated in Teams of Our Lady for 10 years. They are the sector couple for the Greater Kansas City metropolitan area.

“It has increased the amount of prayer time my wife and I spend together,” Joe said. “Our monthly sit-down is not quite a date night. It’s more intentional than that. We discuss issues in our marriage, family and church as a couple.”

Some couples may find the sit-down challenging at first.

“I wouldn’t deny that,” said Joe. “I readily admit if there is a pressing, negative issue in your marriage, it can be intense. But every marriage has its ups and downs. If you’re at the crest of a hill, it can be a very positive experience.”

Has Teams of Our Lady strengthened the Quinns’ marriage and faith?

“That’s an easy one to answer: Yes, it has,” said Joe. “There are times I don’t want to go, and think I’m not going to get anything out of it.

“But you discover that maybe one of the other couples needed help, and you don’t find out until you get there.”

Ed and Sally Henry, members of St. Monica-St. Elizabeth Parish of Blue Rapids, have been members of Teams of Our Lady for 11 years.

“The biggest thing about it is it challenges you to have a deeper prayer life,” said Ed. “It is phenomenal for fellowship with others on your team, and it also keeps you as a couple talking to each other. It requires daily prayer and a monthly sit-down, which guarantees we’ll talk to each other for at least an hour a month.”

Pastor support aids growth

Teams of Our Lady came to the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas when Jim and Moogie Roeder moved from California, where they were involved with the movement, to Annunciation Parish in Frankfort. With the assistance of then-pastor Father Jim Shaughnessy, they founded the first three teams in 2007. Another team began at Good Shepherd Parish in Shawnee in 2008.

Since the establishment of the first Team of Our Lady, the movement has experienced growth spurts in 2014 and 2017, according to Nadia.

Today, there are 30 teams in the archdiocese, and the growth has caused the team to divide the archdiocese into three sectors.

Two factors have contributed to this growth. One is word of mouth, couple to couple. The other is promotion by enthusiastic pastors.

One such pastor is Father Pat Sullivan, now at Sacred Heart Parish in Shawnee. He learned about the teams when he became the pastor of parishes in Frankfort and Blue Rapids.

“I agreed to be a chaplain immediately [at the first team meeting] when I saw its purpose and format,” he said. “I eventually became chaplain of four different teams because I loved it so much.”

Father Sullivan thinks the teams are so effective because its structure and format demand discipline from couples to undertake activities and take up practices that enrich marriages and build spiritual discipline.

“The teams help couples realize the importance of a Catholic, Christ-centered marriage,” he said. “It helps couples to begin praying together. And it creates a small community of like-minded people who have the same goal — having a healthy, Christian marriage that produces fruit for the kingdom of God.

“This community of like-minded people,” continued Father Sullivan, “is also a support network. They become a circle of friends that pray for each other and help each other.”

He said he has found it “so refreshing” to see couples who took their relationships seriously and put in the work to make their marriages work.

“I saw the fruit of this and the joy in people’s lives,” said Father Sullivan.

“Marriage is a lot of work,” he added. “You don’t have to be in a marriage to know that. When you remove Christ from the equation, and the spiritual help the church provides, and stop exercising those spiritual muscles, then things can go down south very quickly.”

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