Sacrament of Marriage – A unique gift from God

God provides unique graces and gifts for married couples to spend their lives together, serving as examples of hope for following generations.

In celebration of that commitment, each year Bishop Frank J. Dewane invites couples married 25, 30, 35, 40, 45 and 50+ years to a Mass in their honor as witnesses to a beautiful vocation. This first such Mass in 2024 was Feb. 3, at St. Leo the Great Parish in Bonita Springs. Present were 240 couples representing a combined 12,480 years of marriage.

“You have to feel a great accomplishment,” Bishop Dewane said. “Whether you are celebrating 25 years, 50 years or even 70 years of marriage, the grace you have lived out all those years continues to flow and be a sign of hope for many young people. It is the public intention of union and sacrifice given over, one to the other, where love is expressed, over and over again. That is the true reality of marriage.”

Bishop Dewane said in today’s culture there is a different mindset about the Sacrament of Marriage, but the example of the couples present, representing commitments lasting decades, are viewed by young people with awe.

“The grace that you have allowed to enter into you marriage reverberates God’s love within your relationship and is witnessed by others,” the Bishop said. “You give a silent homily by the life you live, day in and day out. It is a true vocation that is born through each of you, giving the gift of one’s self. It has endured and is admired.”

The 240 couples represented 25 Parishes and included 32 couples that have been married 50 years. The longest marriage by couples present was 70 years.

Steven and Violet (Vi) Hvasta, of St. William Parish in Naples, will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary on June 12. Thomas and Jane Brooks, of St. Leo the Great Parish, will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary on Dec. 4.

The Hvastas started out as great friends in high school. Steven dated Vi’s best friends, and she would date Steven’s friends, until the love bug hit! It seems they were made for each other. They spent their lives in Connecticut as small business owners, raising four daughters and are blessed with 11 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren. They bought a home in Naples 13 years ago and now split their time between Naples and Connecticut.

Thomas and Jane Brooks met while attending Indiana University in Bloomington. They fell in love immediately and are still very much in love to this day. They married while Thomas was on leave from the U.S. Army, causing Jane to quit college and follow her new husband on deployment in Germany. After leaving the Army, the couple settled back in Indiana where he was a lawyer for 62 years as they raised a family that now includes seven children, seven grandchildren, and 14 great-grandchildren. They have been coming to Florida since the mid-1980s.

Thomas Brooks said the couple’s advice to their children was that “once they became married, it is very important to stay with God. Also, they should always love one another, and never go to bed at night without saying ‘I love you.’”

During the Diocesan Mass, the married couples renewed their wedding vows. In addition, each couple was presented a commemorative certificate, signed by the Bishop, for their enduring commitment to marriage.

Following the Mass, lunch was served and there was the opportunity to have complimentary pictures taken with the Bishop. At the luncheon, several couples remarked about how wonderful it is to have their lasting marriage recognized.

Masses are celebrated each year in the northern and southern sections of the Diocese of Venice so as to accommodate the large numbers of couples wishing to attend. The second Mass is 11 a.m., Feb. 24, at Epiphany Cathedral, 350 Tampa Ave., Venice (registration is through the Parishes and walk-ins are welcome).