Dec. 13 was date night for 10 couples from the Auburn area -- and Deacon Dennis Donahue.
The couples gathered with Deacon Donahue for Date Night With the Deacon: A Dinner Gathering to Build Covenantal Marriage. The evening was the first in what is intended to be a series of evangelization opportunities funded by a grant from the Everest Foundation for Family Enrichment and organized by St. Mary Parish in conjunction with many of the other Catholic parishes and institutions in Auburn. Each gathering will be held at the Auburn Knights of Columbus' hall on Market Street, where participants will be able to purchase drinks at the facility's bar and enjoy conversation over a catered dinner.
Deacon Donahue, who is coordinator of new evangelization at St. Mary, said the series grew out of a desire -- shared by the various Catholic parishes and institutions in Auburn -- to reach out and evangelize in the Auburn community in the hopes of attracting more people to church. It's not unusual for Catholics to drift away from the church until it's time for their children, or even themselves, to receive sacraments, particularly the sacraments of baptism, first Communion and marriage, he said. And these days many people -- especially young people -- have become so distanced from the church that Catholics must pre-evangelize before they even begin to evangelize, Deacon Donahue said. Peter Kreeft, a philosophy professor at Boston College, spoke about this phenomenon last spring at the New Evangelization Summit in Ottawa, which Deacon Donahue attended.
"(He) said today we must pre-evangelize to get people to honestly seek the truth before we can effectively evangelize," he said.
Instead of simply encouraging people to come to Mass, Catholic evangelizers must first show people how the church can be a resource for them and how it can help them improve their quality of life and face their challenges, he added. The "date night" format is one that a parishioner suggested to Deacon Donahue years ago when he ministered at Good Shepherd Catholic Community in southern Cayuga County
"The parishioner said, 'You know, Deacon, if you want to get us together, don't do something in the church basement. Do something at a local pub or eatery.' And so we did, and it was successful there, and then I moved on to St. Mary's Parish and we wanted to develop an outreach program as part of the new evangelization to support couples," he explained.
The Dec. 13 date night was geared toward couples who'd been married 10 years or less, and it attracted couples of all ages, he added.
"It's not about age. It's about years in the relationship," he said.
Ann Marie Heizmann said she and her husband, who have been married for 10 years, attended the Dec. 13 event because they were interested in improving their communication skills. They and the other couples talked with Deacon Donahue about different theories about happiness and shared tips about communication, such as not keeping a television in the bedroom.
"I personally loved some of the tips, because they were things I always like to do but I always get picked on by my husband and kids," Heizmann remarked with a laugh. "The one that I never heard before was that (bedtime) is a good time to communicate and talk because you know you're going to come together every day, no matter how busy you are, and even if you didn't eat dinner together that day."
Mary Decker-Mosley said she also enjoyed the communication tips that were shared during the evening. Couples were encouraged, for example, to put their cell phones in a basket during dinner so they could give their full attention to their spouses, which is something Decker-Mosley said she and her husband, Stewart, already do.
"They're plugged in and off to the side, because that's when you should sit and talk about your day and not focus on the craziness of the world," she added.
The date night provided a great way for couples to talk with others about challenges or minor issues they've been dealing with in their marriages, without the formality or intimidation factor of an official marriage counseling session, said Decker-Mosley, who has been married for two years.
"It was nice to have a whole roomful of people that had that same commitment (to their marriages). It's nice to see that there are other couples out there that you can talk to and meet that have that same commitment as us," Heizmann added.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The next in this series of pre-evangelization events will be a conversation about "Tapping Into the Wisdom of the Ages," which is geared toward millennials. For more information, contact Deacon Donahue at St. Mary Parish at 315-252-9545.