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Newlyweds say ‘I do’ while navigating pandemic restrictions

Neil and Kaitlyn Haas thought that if they postponed their wedding from April 25 to July 25, the pandemic would be over. They were wrong. Rescheduling everything in a short amount of time made things difficult, but the couple leaned on their faith to get them through it all. Photo by Shana Wooley with W the Studio

by Marc and Julie Anderson

Weddings. They can be stressful to plan in an ideal world, let alone in a world turned upside-down by a virus. Recently, three newlywed couples shared their journeys to the altar amid a backdrop of ever-changing restrictions.

‘Just glad to get married’

Their wedding was originally scheduled for May 29 at Most Pure Heart of Mary Church in Topeka. But when Rob and Jesse Gutierrez had to postpone their wedding until June 19, they decided that no matter how their wedding was going to have to look on that day, they would  move forward with it — even if it had to be just them, two witnesses and the celebrant.

The couple’s wedding day had been long in the making. In 2012, although separated by 1,300 miles, they connected via social media. After that, the couple talked nearly every day.

Three years ago, Rob, a veterinary assistant, moved to Topeka for work while Jesse attended law school at Washburn University. The wedding was scheduled a few weeks after Jesse’s graduation, a ceremony which never took place.

And if that was not disappointment enough, when Jesse called the wedding reception venue about a month out, she learned the venue had canceled their reservation.

Another venue was secured but, by that time, social distancing restrictions began impacting their wedding in a major way. First, due to gathering limits in effect, the couple had to cut their guest list from 200 to around 90.

Jesse and Rob Gutierrez had to cut their guest list in half to adhere to social distancing requirements. They also had to move their wedding date from May 29 to June 19. Photo courtesy of Rob and Jesse Gutierrez

“It was incredibly difficult,” Jesse said, and not just the winnowing process itself. The situation changed almost daily, so it was hard to know what to expect on their actual wedding day. But the couple wanted to give people as much advance notice as possible to adjust or cancel travel plans.

They were surprised, however, at how well their “uninvited” guests took the news.

“Everyone was really nice about it,” Rob said.

In the end, fewer than 90 people came that night, most of whom was family. Due to its large size, the church easily accommodated the guests with the social distancing restrictions The reception venue, on the other hand, had arranged to divide one room into two, allowing for two groups of 45.

Then, there was the issue of the celebrant.

“There was a mix-up with the time,” said Jesse, laughing.

“He thought it was an hour later. So, the church had to pull in Father [Ratma] Swamy at the last minute. . . . I found out beforehand, but Rob didn’t find out until the ceremony.”

By that point, Jesse said, “It truly was, like, ‘Whatever.’”

Rob agreed.

“I was just glad we were able to get married that date. I was just all excited and wrapped up in it,” he said.

Jesse said Rob’s laid-back, go-with-the-flow attitude definitely helped her.

Many times, she said, she cried over the disappointments of her canceled law school graduation and the coronavirus wreaking havoc on their wedding.

“Rob was always there to remind me what was important is that we were getting married,” she said. “That’s all that mattered.”

Not ideal, but what God had in store

A few weeks ahead of their July 25 wedding at Church of the Ascension in Overland Park, Josh and Libby Schmitz thought most of their planning was done. They were wrong.

Although they met at Benedictine College in Atchison, it was only in 2018, after they both started teaching at Hayden High School in Topeka, that they developed a friendship.

“There were five of us who were new teachers, fresh out of college, and we all hung out a lot together,” Josh said.

By November 2019, the couple was planning its nuptials.

“And then we had to change all the plans,” Libby said. “We literally planned two weddings.”

A few weeks before the wedding, the couple’s reception venue, a venue they had booked months in advance, told the couple they would have to limit the reception to no more than 45 guests after previously telling them there were no size restrictions.

Libby and Josh Schmitz said the pandemic made it so they literally had to plan two weddings. Libby, a planner by nature, had to let go of her inclination to organize everything down to the last detail, while Josh reminded her that it was all in God’s plans. Photo courtesy of Libby and Josh Schmitz

The couple scrambled to find another venue that could accommodate the size of their reception better, but still adhere to all public health guidelines.

“We ended up changing to the other reception venue we had, and it was outside, more open and spacious,” Libby said. “And then we had to coordinate all the different vendors. The original venue had a bar package included and a DJ and all those kinds of things. We had to quickly find people to take those places.”

Within the first two weeks of July, they recall making numerous phone calls as they scrambled to plan the reception all over again. Thankfully, though, the couple said they were spared tough choices surrounding the guest list.

“Thankfully, [the guests] scaled themselves back,” Libby said.

“A lot of people were not able to make it due to various circumstances, so we ended up not having to cut anybody from our guest list. . . . It was very fortunate, and we’re very grateful for that,” she added.

The couple tried to think of everything — like masks for all their guests in case anyone forgot theirs.

But those weren’t the only changes.

“No one could sing at Mass, our bridal party had to walk down separately and you had to seat people in every other row,” Libby said. “Our caterer had to change the way he was going to serve the food because it had to be separately plated. People couldn’t use the buffet style we had planned, so then we had to do a whole lot more with seating and plating.”

Josh and Libby had originally planned a honeymoon to the Bahamas, but a week out, their travel agent called and said the resort they booked was closing until November. Still, they were able to spend a week in Texas where they enjoyed hiking and sitting by a lake.

Libby noted that the whole effort challenged her natural inclination to organize everything down to the last detail.

“I’m not good at letting go of control, and this is something I had almost no control over,” she said. “It’s not what I would have put in my plan if I had had the option.

 “I’m very much a planner, and I like things to go the way I want them to go.”

Prayer, she said, helped.

“It was so hard,” she added. “It took so much prayer. . . . I think I prayed a whole bunch of novenas. I love novenas because they give me a lot of time to think, even just for peace, comfort or trust.”

She prayed less, she said, for outside events to change, and more for her to be able to deal with whatever came her way.

“It was more internally with myself,” Libby said, “trying to let go of control, trying not to stress out. And I think that helped a lot.”

In addition to prayer, Josh’s constancy comforted her.

“I kept reminding her that no matter what, even if it’s not like what we view as ideal, it is what God has in store for us,” Josh said.

“We’re so blessed to be able to celebrate in the way that we did,” he continued. “It was perfect for us. Even if wasn’t exactly what we had planned, it was perfect for us.”

‘Felt very lucky’

Setting a new wedding date, Neil and Kaitlyn Haas said, was definitely a challenge they never expected to face when they planned their wedding for April 25.

In March, the couple said, it became apparent that their long-awaited wedding day would have to be postponed, mostly due to the limits placed on gatherings at the time.

“At that point, we were just over a month out,” Kaitlyn said. She and Neil called Father Tim Haberkorn, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Topeka, first. Then they called all their vendors and guests to inform them of the delay.

“We thought that by July 25, this whole thing would be in the rearview mirror. At that time, we just had no idea,” Neil said.

Postponing their wedding meant a lot of extra work they definitely had not anticipated earlier this year. From rescheduling a reception venue to making sure the florist could still deliver all the arrangements to canceling honeymoon plans, the couple said they definitely made a lot of phone calls in a short period of time.

And like the other newlyweds, Neil and Kaitlyn said their Catholic faith helped them ride the waves of uncertainty.

“We feel like we just had to give it up to God,” said Kaitlyn. “We feel like we would go through weeks where we’d start to get optimistic that things were looking up. . . . Then, you’d hear news in the media, and there were a lot of ups and downs.”

“I don’t deal well with rapid-fire changes and stuff like that,” she continued. “So, at the end of the day, we truly had to come back to the reality that what is meant to be is what is going to happen.”

Neil was her touchstone on that, she said.

“Neil said one day,” she recalled, “that if we don’t have the wedding we originally planned and if it’s ‘guest-less’ and full of restrictions, then God didn’t intend us to have the wedding we originally planned because that wasn’t his plan.

“So, that’s what I kept coming back to when I would have hard days and hard weeks. I’d say to myself, ‘You know, this is all working according to God’s plan, even though it’s not my plan.’”

“You get so caught up in the planning process,” added Neil, “that the actual marriage sacrament can get lost in all the details. When all the details get thrown out the window, it forces you to go back to focus solely on why you’re doing it — what the sacrament is and [that] the only people who matter are the two of us and God on that day.”

“It really forced us to put things in perspective — which in the end was a good thing,” said Kaitlyn.

Besides the date, the biggest change they made in arrangements focused on seating.

“We ended making a pretty detailed seating arrangement to comply with the restrictions,” she said. “We fit as many people as we could in there. We maximized space as well as we could. We had planned for 150 people to attend.”

Ultimately, some guests, including Neil’s grandparents in Florida, were unable to attend the wedding. For that reason, the newlyweds chose to live-stream their wedding Mass, along with part of the reception.

Of course, they made a slew of adjustments to their reception plans, and included face masks, multiple rooms and social distancing.

But they still worried about their guests.

“For the two weeks following it, we were just praying that no one got sick,” Neil said.

“We felt so blessed that we were still able to have such a memorable day,” said Kaitlyn, “and that everyone was healthy.

“We felt very lucky.”

About the author

Marc & Julie Anderson

Freelancers Marc and Julie Anderson are long-time contributors to the Leaven. Married in 1996, for several years the high school sweethearts edited The Crown, the former newspaper of Christ the King Parish in Topeka which Julie has attended since its founding in 1977. In 2000, the Leaven offered the couple their first assignment. Since then, the Andersons’ work has also been featured in a variety of other Catholic and prolife media outlets. The couple has received numerous journalism awards from the Knights of Columbus, National Right to Life and the Catholic Press Association including three for their work on “Think It’s Not Happening Near You? Think Again,” a piece about human trafficking. A lifelong Catholic, Julie graduated from Most Pure Heart of Mary Grade School and Hayden Catholic High School in Topeka. Marc was received into the Catholic Church in 1993 at St. Paul Parish – Newman Center at Wichita State University. The two hold degrees from Washburn University in Topeka. Their only son, William James, was stillborn in 1997.

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