When Pat Plucinik and Rachael Rose decided to get married in the Catholic Church, they assumed they’d have to go through some sort of classes or preparation. But they weren’t exactly sure what such a program would entail.
Their uncertainty didn’t lift when they learned last winter that they’d be working through the Fully Engaged program, which meant they’d be completing questionnaires asking each of them to express agreement or disagreement with more than 100 statements about such topics as communication, conflict resolution, Catholic identity, finances and intimacy. After separately completing their questionnaires — which are also known as "inventories" — Plucinik and Rose met jointly over a series of several weeks with Mike Miller, pastoral associate at St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Palmyra and Macedon.
"Pat and I have been dating for five and a half years, so we were (wondering) what are we going to talk about that we haven’t already talked about?" mused Rose, who will marry Plucinik Oct. 24 at St. Katharine Drexel Parish.
Rose and Plucinik soon were surprised to find they not only enjoyed the program, but found it very beneficial.
"When I first heard about it … I thought it was going to be something that I wouldn’t have enjoyed doing, but in the end I felt like it was really worth our time," Plucinik added.
Their reactions mirror those of other couples with whom Miller has worked, according to the pastoral associate, who has brought four couples through Fully Engaged. After receiving the tabulated results of the couple’s questionnaires, which indicate areas of agreement and disagreement between the two partners, Miller usually meets with each couple four or five times to discuss the program’s various topics, which include communication, family of origin, conflict resolution, Catholic identity, finances and Catholic parenting.
Before becoming trained as a Fully Engaged facilitator last summer, Miller previously had worked with between 25 and 30 couples using the Facilitating Open Couple Communication, Understanding and Study marriage-preparation inventory, more commonly known as FOCCUS.
In 2000 the Diocese of Rochester began requiring couples planning to be married in diocesan parishes to complete FOCCUS, according to Mary Dundas, diocesan coordinator of evangelization and sacramental catechesis. This process began for each couple with an inventory or questionnaire containing more than 100 questions for each prospective spouse to complete on his or her own. These questions covered such topics as lifestyle expectations, friends, interests, religion, values, parenting and family issues. The results were sent off to a diocesan facilitator to be scored, and then trained facilitators at the couples’ own parishes met with them to discuss the results of the couples’ inventories.
The process worked well, but in the spring of 2014 the diocese learned that FOCCUS Inc. USA planned to republish its marriage-preparation inventory, meaning that parishes would have to stop using their existing FOCCUS materials and purchase all the republished ones, including questionnaires and facilitator manuals.
"We felt at that time it was reasonable to look at other inventories out there," Dundas explained.
FOCCUS is a nondenominational inventory with a Catholic component, but diocesan officials were pleased to learn that the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Cloud, Minn., had created its own fully Catholic inventory, called Fully Engaged.
"I think by having the Catholic perspective in every single area of discussion brings the couple maybe to a new understanding of where the church stands on the sacrament of marriage, … and that the church wants to be there to support you," Dundas said.
FOCCUS also had a section for already married couples who wanted to have their marriages convalidated, or recognized by the church, but Fully Engaged has a separate inventory for such couples, Dundas added. This inventory covers most of the same topics as the standard inventory for engaged couples, but it does so from the point of view of an already married couple.
Like FOCCUS, Fully Engaged also has Spanish-language and online components, but Fully Engaged also includes a couple’s workbook containing a wealth of information about church teachings pertaining to each topic, Dundas said. The workbook carries a nihil obstat and imprimatur, or permission to print, from church officials, including Bishop John F. Kinney of the Diocese of St. Cloud.
The workbooks are great resources for couples who may at a future date have questions about church teachings, since they keep their workbooks after completing the program, but the materials also encourage couples to learn about those teachings before they’re married, Dundas said. The section on infertility and adoption, for example, includes information about the Catholic Church’s stance on various assisted reproductive technologies, and it’s a good idea for Catholic couples to digest this information and discuss it before they’re married, she said.
"Don’t wait until the moment of real sadness comes to a family when they find out they’re infertile," she added. "Why leave a conversation like that, that is so fraught with emotion, for the time you’re actively in it?"
A useful tool
The Fully Engaged inventory is intended to spark beneficial and meaningful conversations between engaged partners, Miller noted. Although the questionnaire looks like the sort of standardized tests students take in school, he always reassures couples that Fully Engaged is not a test at all.
"This is a communication tool. It helps to identify what your expectations are in these particular areas, and if your expectations are moving in the same direction," Miller explained.
Talking about expectations before the wedding helps couples avoid the frustration, anger, disappointment and hurt feelings that might occur if they’re unexpectedly confronted by conflicting expectations after they’re married, he said. The section on finances, for example, encourages engaged couples to talk about how they plan to handle their finances after they’re married. One partner might assume both people will deposit their paychecks into one shared bank account and share one checkbook with which to pay bills. The other person, however, might assume they will maintain their separate bank accounts and split household expenses while each partner still maintains control over "my money," Miller said.
"Those are very different ways of handling money, and money is very important to people," he said. "It doesn’t matter which way you do it, but you better both be on the same page, and you better talk about it now, six months before the wedding date."
Even though couples may discover that they have differing expectations, such differences usually don’t present insurmountable problems, he added. Couples usually can modify their expectations and come to a "reconciliation of ideas" through love for one another and loving dialogue, Miller said, noting that such dialogue is the program’s goal.
Rose and Plucinik said the conversations they started during their Fully Engaged sessions with Miller opened their eyes to a lot of topics they hadn’t discussed, and they usually continued their discussions over dinner after their sessions with Miller. Both said they enjoyed the program and would wholeheartedly recommend it to other engaged couples.
"I felt like we both got a lot out of it. The topics that we talked about were things that we didn’t even think we would need to talk about in regards to our relationship, … but are good to talk about now instead of having issues arising later," Plucinik said. "In the long run I feel like it’s going to strengthen our relationship."