By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published July 6, 2006
When Ralph and Lois Heim got married, she wore a traditional white dress.
The next time they made their vows she wore a pastel pink suit and a yellow corsage, and they were surrounded by dozens of other couples.
And though 50 years have passed since those vows first sealed them as man and wife, Ralph Heim said his wife looked just the same and just as beautiful as she did on their wedding day.
The Heims, parishioners at St. Gabriel Church in Fayetteville, were among 96 couples celebrating their 50th and 60th wedding anniversaries who renewed their vows at a special marriage anniversary Mass June 4 at the Cathedral of Christ the King.
Celebrated by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, the Mass was the first of what is to become an annual celebration for couples celebrating their golden and diamond anniversaries. This year, the event was especially significant as it coincides with the year Atlanta was named as the second diocese in Georgia, becoming independent from the Diocese of Savannah.
The Mass was held on the feast of Pentecost, a date that represents the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles. Wearing yellow corsages and boutonnieres, the married couples who filled the Cathedral to capacity represented a special spirit of their own, and many of them were accompanied by the fruits of their own unions—their children and grandchildren.
In his homily, Archbishop Gregory said that beginning a marriage could be likened to starting a church as they both start “by attempting to speak one language, by encouraging timid people to become courageous, by opening oneself up to the winds of change and the flame of love.”
The archbishop also spoke of making the anniversary Mass an annual event.
“Marriage is such a fragile and truly cherished gift that those who somehow manage to keep this treasure alive and radiant for any period of time are to be congratulated,” he said. “For those who managed to respect the treasure for 50 or 60 years, you deserve the rigorous applause and esteem of the entire Church.”
The Church, the archbishop said, is the bridegroom of Christ and thus becomes a reflection of His love.
“It is His love for us in fact that makes us beautiful—even when we ourselves might clearly recognize and see only our imperfections,” he said. “Have not our husbands and wives here present done the same for each other for lo these many years? Have you not seen one another through the eyes of love that have transcended the years of your youth and inexperience so that even this day, now many years after you stood starry-eyed before the Church’s minister, you appear more beautiful to one another than ever before?”
“Love has the ability to see in ways that the eyes simply cannot attain. So foolishly does our world sometime gaze upon outward physical beauty as the summit of all that love seeks.”
In a special way, the couples celebrating their anniversaries are celebrating God’s role in their lives, he continued.
“God has remained in your lives helping you to conquer the problems and difficulties that would have overpowered you had you dared to face them alone.”
Repeating after the archbishop, the couples then turned to face each other and renewed their vows, sealed with a kiss and enthusiastic applause and joyful tears from the congregation.
Following the Mass, the couples and their guests filled the parish hall for a reception, complete with cake and champagne, as well as a special toast by Archbishop Gregory.
“May the Lord live in all of your homes and hearts and may you rejoice this day and every day in God’s goodness.”
Mary Ellen Hughes, director of the Family Life Office, which coordinated the Mass, said she felt “in awe” of the presence of the Holy Spirit at the Mass.
“It was so moving to watch as the jubilarian couples and their families began to fill the pews. It was even more wonderful as they took note of each other, experiencing amazement from the presence of a packed Cathedral,” she said. “The Cathedral was throbbing with life, and love, and strength.”
Hughes also had words of praise for the concelebrating priests, especially Msgr. James Fennessy, pastor of St. Jude the Apostle Church in Atlanta, and Father Ed Thein, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church in Hapeville, both of whom have been actively involved in marriage ministry in the archdiocese.
“Seeing Father Fennessy and Father Thein concelebrating with Archbishop Gregory touched another area of gratitude for these two priests, and so many other priests, who have been so faithful to marriage ministry all these years,” she said. “I pondered how many of the couples in the Cathedral had been enriched by the marriage ministry of our priests.”
Frederick and Eva Newman, parishioners at St. Lawrence Church in Lawrenceville, were among 21 couples celebrating 60 years of marriage.
Frederick, now 88, had just returned home from five years spent serving with the Signal Corps in Italy and North Africa in World War II when the couple was married in 1946. Eva wanted to get married before her husband-to-be was drafted, but they waited until he returned home. Originally drafted to serve one year, that all changed on Dec. 7, 1941 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
Frederick said that they wrote letters while he was away and that he was able to call home just once.
Today, 60 years later, the couple has six children, 14 grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
“We’ve really been blessed,” Frederick said. “We had a wonderful time (at the jubilee Mass) and a great lunch, and we were able to converse with other couples who were also celebrating.”
The Newmans spend their days entertaining at nursing homes and other events. Frederick spent 10 years in an Atlanta barbershop quartet, and he and Eva sing songs to the residents, while Eva also tells stories and jokes.
“When we see someone smile, that pays us,” Frederick said.
Frederick also remains active by golfing. When asked about the secret to staying married for 60 years, Eva replied humorously, “I wish I knew. But we’re headed for another 50 years if he behaves himself.”
Ralph and Lois Heim were married 50 years ago in Lois’ hometown of West Palm Beach, Fla. Ralph grew up in Atlanta, though, and attended Christ the King, which was then a co-cathedral. Their eldest daughter was also baptized at the Cathedral, and Ralph said that having the jubilee Mass at the same church made it an even more special event.
“I’ve been through a lot of Masses where couples get up and renew their vows,” he said. “And a lot of times, the other people there aren’t really interested. But this Mass was all packed with couples who had the same intent as we did. To repeat the same vows I made 50 years ago was the first time it dawned on me that 50 years is a long time.”
“I was looking around and our oldest daughter and her husband and our two grandchildren were with us, and it was like our 50 years was condensed into one hour,” he said.
“It’s very hard for me to put into words what the Mass meant to me and to my wife. I will remember it forever.”