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Program helps revitalize troubled marriages

Members of the Retrouvaille board of directors pray before starting their planning of the June 2-4 meeting. They are (from the left corner, counterclockwise): Paul Satterfield, Tony Tomasich, Jackie Tomasich, Teresa Hale-Lespier, Tracy Satterfield, Sonia Louisa and Ryan Louisa. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JOE MCSORLEY

by Marc and Julie Anderson

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Between 1990 and 2015, the divorce rate among adults in the United States age 40 to 49 rose at least 14 percent.

That’s according to a recent article by the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C.

Paul and Tracy Satterfield, parishioners of Holy Spirit Church in Overland Park, are determined to help couples rediscover the joy of marriage. They serve as coordinators of the Kansas City Retrouvaille community, which helps couples struggling in their marriages.

Five years ago, while in their late 40s, the Satterfields were at a breaking point.

“We had the divorce papers filled out, and we started talking to lawyers,” Paul said.

The court encouraged them to make one last reconciliation attempt.

“He convinced me to go to Retrouvaille,” Tracy said. “That became a huge healing point for me and him — individually, and for us as a couple.”

The Satterfields said their weekend experience in October 2012 brought them hope. Plus, they discovered other couples face similar struggles.

“Everybody there has been broken,” Tracy said.

During the weekend, three presenting couples shared their stories of finding hope, forgiveness and healing. As an attending couple, the Satterfields were not asked to share, but worked on their own marriage.

“You work together with your spouse on your challenges,” Tracy said.

“Loving is a decision,” Paul said. “When we said, ‘I do,’ we didn’t say ‘I do until I’m tired.’”

Tracy said she forgot to rely on Paul.

“I forgot to let my husband take care of me,” she said. “We all need to be needed.”

Ryan and Sonia Louisa, members of Prince of Peace Parish in Olathe, said they, too, had forgotten to live life together.

In 2013, the couple had been married around 15 years. Ryan was 37, and Sonia was 36.

“Over a period of time, we had started to lead a ‘married singles’ life,” Sonia said. They separated for about three months.

“I started going to a therapist,” Ryan said. “At that point, we had gone through divorce proceedings, including two court dates. The therapist said, ‘Ryan, you need to try Retrouvaille.’ I brought it up to Sonia.”

Sonia reluctantly accompanied Ryan on the weekend.

“I didn’t think Retrouvaille would work. I had never heard of it,” Sonia said.

She and Ryan were proven otherwise.

Ryan learned he was supposed to protect his family.

“We are the protectors of our family. We are the providers for our family, and we go out and try to do that,” he said. He had made sure everyone’s material needs were met, he continued, but he forgot about communication.

“I learned that weekend of being able to put my thoughts together collectively and tell my wife my feelings,” he said.

Sonia said she, too, learned more that weekend than she ever thought she would.

“With Retrouvaille, you realize you both have played a part in the marriage going wrong,” Sonia said.

“It’s learning to work with each other’s greatest assets and not their deficiencies. You are on the same team, and you forget that after being married so long,” Ryan said.

Most importantly, the couple realized God had called them to this vocation.

“We’re here for each other,” Ryan said. “We came together for a reason.”

Harry and Teresa Lespier, also members of Prince of Peace, said their initial Retrouvaille weekend started their healing. During the post-weekend sessions, they learned to work together.

Married in 2004, the couple was in turmoil four years later.

“We’re a little different than most couples,” Teresa said. “We are both on our second marriages, and we have a blended family.”

Both Harry and Teresa brought children to their marriage, and they also have a child together. Parenting proved to be challenging.

At the time the couple attended their weekend in 2008, they had been in counseling for more than two years.

“Counseling did not help us to become the cohesive, strong couple we needed to be. That is the one thing Retrouvaille gave us,” Teresa said.

After their weekend, the Lespiers started attending the six post-weekend sessions.

“There is a specific session called Family of Origin,” Harry said. “It focuses on the family in which you grew up and how it can influence you individually as well as your marriage.”

As a result of that session, Harry knew he needed to change some of his behaviors.

“Being a man, you’re very reluctant to have someone tell you that you should do something,” he said. “I think I was one of those individuals. That was a myth. I feel totally different today.”

For Teresa, the biggest advantage she sees to Retrouvaille is a sense of community.

“You will find a community that totally supports marriage and acknowledges that marriages have rough spots and that you can get through those,” she said.

The community aspect also appealed to Greg and Kelly Wekowitch, members of Church of the Ascension in Overland Park.

The couple, married for 22 years, credits Retrouvaille with saving their marriage.

At one point, Greg was deployed to Iraq for 14 months while Kelly, at home, took care of their two daughters.

The two communicated via email, letters and phone calls. According to Greg, it was almost as if they were dating again, but their lives were changing.

“I stopped being a wife while he was gone,” Kelly said. She became involved in numerous volunteer activities at the church and at her girls’ school.

After Greg returned home, the couple reconnected, albeit, briefly.

“When he came home, after a few weeks, it was back to a normal busy life,” Kelly said, adding she continued volunteering.

“None of that stopped when he came back,” she said. Now she feels as though she didn’t take time to be Greg’s wife.

Meanwhile, Greg worked long hours.

“There was lots of separation, both emotionally and from a time perspective,” Greg said.

One day, in 2007, Greg packed a bag. Neither knew if he was coming home. Kelly made a life-changing phone call.

“I called our priest, Father Joe Cramer, and the first word out of his mouth was Retrouvaille,” she said.

The two attended a weekend as soon as they were able.

“Kelly and I really had a chance to share in a way that we hadn’t in a long, long time. We asked for and received each other’s forgiveness,” Greg said. They also each received the sacrament of reconciliation.

“I had hope that God was there, guiding us, and Retrouvaille was giving us the tools to rebuild the brokenness of our marriage,” Kelly said.

During the post-weekend sessions, the Werkowitches said they, too, worked on communication and conflict management.

“If someone tells a guy, ‘You need to communicate more,’ you don’t always know what to do,” Greg said. “Part of what you learn in Retrouvaille is what that means in practical terms.”

The couple also studied the Catholic Church’s vision for marriage.

“I remember thinking, ‘Wow! This is what I actually want for marriage,’” Greg said. That vision showed him a beauty [to marriage] “that I hadn’t given much thought.”

During their study, the two learned birth control was a barrier to physical intimacy. They stopped using contraception. They now have three boys referred to as their “Retrouvaille babies.”

The couple now often serves as a presenting couple during post-weekend sessions. One of the talks they’ve given is about sexual intimacy and intimacy. Calling it the “most uncomfortable talk to give,” Kelly said she hopes other couples have learned from it.

Kelly has given up most of her activities, choosing instead to focus on their marriage and ministering with Greg through Retrouvaille.

Greg said, “We knew staying involved would ultimately help us.”

Staying involved is also important to Katie and Adam Haag of Burlington. The couple said the monthly support meeting is a priority. They seldom miss it.

Members of St. Francis Xavier Parish, the couple has been married nearly six years. A few years ago, the two separated. Katie and their son moved to Wichita. Without Retrouvaille, they said there is no way they would be living under the same roof.

“I heard about Retrouvaille from a priest in confession,” Adam said.

That was in 2015, while attending the annual Men under Construction retreat.

“When I read about Retrouvaille, it was like an answer to a prayer that I had had for the last year,” he said.

Long before the couple’s son was born in 2013, Adam said he was not steering his life in a positive direction. Often feeling despair, Adam said he “spiritually was not there.” He is a lifelong Catholic, but he was not spending spend much time in prayer or faith formation.

In 2014, after a particularly tense evening, Katie walked out, taking their son.

It wasn’t necessarily something new, but this time, Adam said, felt different.

After she left, Adam did some soul-searching. He read and prayed about what it meant to be a husband and father, spending time with other Christians and was led to that men’s retreat.

Eventually, he and Katie met to talk. Katie informed him of her impending move. In order to protect his parental rights, Adam filed for divorce.

The court imposed a visitation schedule. Every other weekend, Adam and Katie met so Adam could spend time with their son. One weekend, he approached Katie about Retrouvaille.

“I wasn’t quite ready yet,” she said, although she agreed months later to give it a try.

The weekend was a new start. Katie learned Adam wasn’t the only one to blame.

“I had to take responsibility for my part in it,” she said.

The couple attended the post-weekend sessions and continued to hone their new skills.

“It sounds cliché. We’re a team now,” Katie said.

“Mother Church has an answer for people who are hurting. That is so beautiful to me,” Adam added.

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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