September 22, 2023

Couples share wisdom, faith following Wedding Anniversary Mass

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson shares a word with James and Barbara Vandygriff after they brought forth the offertory gifts during the annual archdiocesan Wedding Anniversary Mass on Aug. 27 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. The couple, members of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Franklin, celebrated 65 years of marriage. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson shares a word with James and Barbara Vandygriff after they brought forth the offertory gifts during the annual archdiocesan Wedding Anniversary Mass on Aug. 27 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. The couple, members of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Franklin, celebrated 65 years of marriage. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

James and Barbara Vandygriff first walked along the aisle together on their wedding day on Aug. 9, 1958.

Sixty-five years later, they walked along the aisle together again, this time bringing forward the offertory gifts during archdiocese’s Wedding Anniversary Mass on Aug. 27 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis.

Those 65 years have been filled with “humor, faith and lots of laughs,” says Barbara.

The Vandygriffs, members of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Franklin, were one of 130 couples who celebrated their marriage at the annual Mass, coordinated by the archdiocesan Office of Marriage and Family Life.

Combined, the couples represented 3,155 years of marriage, 361 children, 292 grandchildren and 76 great-grandchildren.

Among the couples were Stephen and Rita Sharp of Holy Angels Parish in Indianapolis, who were married in 1977. They met in 1968 as sixth graders at the parish’s school—and started dating the same year.

Alma and Walter Tapia of St. Anthony Parish in Indianapolis were also at the Mass. The couple was celebrating 20 years of marriage—and the faith that got them through several challenging times.

The Tapias, Sharps and Vandygriffs shared their stories, faith and marital wisdom with The Criterion at a reception that followed the Mass.

But first they listened to the words of Archbishop Charles C. Thompson’s homily—words like “accompaniment, mutual love and respect.”

‘His witnesses to the world’

Christian marriage is something not to be taken for granted, the archbishop told the couples and their families.

“With proper understanding of authority as service, Christian marriage involves the art of accompaniment in mutual love and respect,” the archbishop said. “It’s something we have to work on and develop—as you know better than I.”

He noted that, according to Church teaching, marriage “and every vocation involves the universal call to holiness and mission. …

“Those privileged to be here today, those celebrating especially 50 years or more [of marriage], have the responsibility and opportunity to be witnesses to others, just as you are to your families and your neighbors every day, uniting both the challenges and blessings of your vocation with the transforming grace of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection for the salvation of the world.

“Through word, sacrament and service, especially in the grace of the holy Eucharist, your marriage has a solid foundation to make a difference not only for your children, your grandchildren, your neighbors and friends, but for all you encounter.”

Archbishop Thompson emphasized the importance of the Eucharist, “the very real presence of Christ that sustains us and nourishes us daily in our vocations to carry out the rights and responsibilities, the privileges and the obligations of being his witnesses to the world.”

He closed his homily with words of thanksgiving for the married couples.

“Today we celebrate you,” the archbishop said. “We give thanks to God for your witness, and we say to you, congratulations, thanks and blessings.”

‘Marry a saint like I did’

Blessings are what James Vandygriff counts when considering his 65 years of marriage—and not just the blessing of six children, 17 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.

“Marry a saint like I did,” he offered as advice to future couples. “She treats me awfully good, better than she should.”

The couple met on a blind date to see a movie with another couple.

Barbara thought James “was good-looking.” James, though, was a bit more smitten.

“She was beautiful,” he said. “We had easy conversation, and we had a lot of fun. I couldn’t wait for our second date!”

The couple also shared a devout love for their Catholic faith—so much so that James proposed to Barbara in a church.

“I just wanted our marriage to start off right,” he explained. “We raised our kids in the faith, and that meant so much to us. Our parents were the same way, and that helped us along.”

Barbara agreed.

There were “lots of tough times—illnesses, accidents, problems,” she said. “Those are tough times that faith gets you through.”

But other things helped, too, like “humor and lots of laughs,” she said, looking at James with a bright smile. “You’ve got to laugh through the good and the bad times.”

James agreed, noting that they “tease each other all the time” and “just have fun in life.”

Faith and fun were how the Vandygriffs celebrated their 65th anniversary.

“We had all the family in for Mass at St. Rose and a little reception after,” said Barbara. “And getting to carry up the gifts [at the Wedding Anniversary Mass] was so special. And getting to meet the archbishop.

“This was just a really, really unique anniversary this time around. It’s going to be hard to beat.”

‘There should always be three in a marriage’

In 1968, Rita Sharp’s family moved from the east side of Indianapolis to the west side. They joined Holy Angels and enrolled Rita in the sixth grade at the parish school.

It was then that she met the love of her life.

“I always did like Steve,” she said. “He was the manliest man at my school, and always a gentleman. And he’s not failed me yet being all of that.”

Steve liked Rita, too—although being a sixth-grader, he struggled to admit it in front of his peers.

“He told people in front of me and some of my girlfriends, ‘I don’t like that ol’ girl,’ ” Rita recalled with a laugh.

Steve grinned and admitted it was “a tough guy thing.”

Still, the two became a couple that year and married nine years later on June 11, 1977.

Forty-six years, five children and seven grandchildren later, their love is still strong. So is their friendship.

“You’ve got to be friends first” for a lasting marriage, said Rita.

“Got to be friends,” Steve echoed. “And you’ve got to be patient and know that everything can’t go your way all the time.”

Rita agreed, adding “patience, trust and communication” to the “ingredients” for a lasting marriage.

“We don’t always agree, but it’s good to talk about it and not go to bed with bad feelings,” she said.

“And did we mention the ‘c’ word—commitment? It’s a commitment to be married and a commitment to one another.”

And a commitment to faith, the couple concurred.

“They say that there should always be three in a marriage,” said Rita. “That’s you, your spouse and the Lord. We know it’s nothing but the grace of God that keeps us bonded and keeps us on a good foundation.”

A foundation that began decades ago between two sixth-graders in a Catholic school and still remains today.

‘Keep God in your heart’

Walter and Alma Tapia may have been married several decades less than the Vandygriffs and Sharps. But their 20 years as husband and wife are no less a witness to the sacrament of marriage—a covenant that was challenged just a few years after they married on Dec. 20, 2003.

“Marriage has it’s ups and downs, and we’ve been through a lot,” Alma admitted. “We were married only three years and were thinking of divorce.”

The couple had even started the divorce process and had a court hearing set.

But they first decided to go to a Catholic marriage retreat.

“We never showed up at the divorce court because we decided to do what we could do” to save the marriage, Alma said.

“Thanks be to God, we are now married 20 years,” said Walter. “I love my family.”

That love includes the couple’s 18-year-old son and 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter. The story behind the age gap is a testament to the Tapias’ faith and devotion.

For years after their son was born, “We prayed and prayed to get pregnant again,” Alma recalled. “We were afraid we wouldn’t have any more kids.”

So, when the couple learned they were expecting again after nearly 15 years, they considered the child a “miracle baby sent by God.”

But the couple’s prayers regarding the new little life were far from over.

“The doctor told us that the baby had a syndrome,” said Alma. “They said she had an extra chromosome, and they said I should have an abortion because my baby wouldn’t survive.”

She refused, but the doctor questioned the decision.

“I said, ‘If God gave us this baby, we are going to keep it, even if it only lives one or two days,’ ” said Alma.

Their daughter—Betzabeth Trinidad—was born at just 26 weeks gestation. She spent almost five months in a neonatal intensive care unit.

“We’ve been through a lot with her, but she made it,” said Alma, placing a hand on her daughter’s head. “And she is perfectly normal—there was nothing wrong with her.”

The couple’s faith saw them through their struggles and continues to be the center of their lives. Alma leads a choir at St. Anthony, and Walter sings and plays the piano.

Communication and trust are important in marriage, said Walter. But he noted something else as even more important.

“Keep God in your heart,” he said. “That way you respect your wife, your family, your kids.

“Keep God in your heart,” he repeated. “That’s the main thing.” †

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