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Couples celebrate marriage at both ends of spectrum

COLUMBIA—Marriage is still brand new for Irene and Howard Chambers of Charleston, who tied the knot in late October in Baltimore.

Paul and Rita Thiel of Irmo, meanwhile, first said their vows 64 years ago in Wisconsin.

The two couples, balanced at different ends of the marriage journey, joined hundreds of others who renewed their vows and celebrated the sanctity of the sacrament at the annual Marriage Anniversary Celebration Feb. 15 at St. Peter Church.

Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone celebrated Mass and his homily focused on how important loving sacrifice is to a successful marriage.

The event was bilingual for the first time. It drew more than 150 couples from 25 parishes, said Kathy Schmugge, director of the diocesan Family Life Office, the sponsor.

Bishop Guglielmone had the couples stand and then asked how long they had been married. He gradually had them sit down as their numbers came up. The Thiels were the last ones standing.

They married in Wisconsin in 1952 and shortly after started two decades of moving around the country to follow Mr. Thiel’s job as a salesman for a construction equipment company. Eight children arrived in 10 years.

“We used to joke we had a baby every time we moved,” he said.

The couple now also has 13 grandchildren and 13 great-grands.

Together, the family climbed glaciers in Colorado, took ski trips, swam in the Great Salt Lake and visited tidepools on the California coast near San Francisco. Smaller, quieter memories meant a lot, whether it was getting all the kids ready for bed at night, participating in activities like Scouting or just enjoying family meals.

“When we got married, it meant something to us and it still does,” Mr. Thiel said. “It was a lot of work. We look back on it now and ask ‘How did we ever do it?’ The important part of keeping the family together is doing things together. We loved our family and we enjoyed our family and we still do.”

Mrs. Thiel, 86, said one of the things that made her marriage work was learning how to manage a large family. She said it’s important that children know they have a responsibility in helping a household run smoothly.

“I let them know that I didn’t expect to do everything in the house,” she said. “The kids had to make their own beds, cut the lawn, help with laundry, things like that.”

Faith, of course, also played a big role over the years. The Thiels moved to Columbia in 1971 and are one of several families who helped start Our Lady of the Hills Church. He served as an usher and worked on parish committees, and she spent many years bringing Communion to the sick as an extraordinary minister.

Seeing dozens of couples like the Thiels drew awe and respect from newlyweds like the Chambers.

“It’s a very powerful statement when you have so many people there who have been married for all those years,” Irene Chambers said. “To have marriage honored as a sacrament, as something ordained by God in your life, is a really powerful reminder of the greatness of the sacrament.”

The couple, who are both in their 50s, met four years ago when Irene, a journalist who has worked in Catholic radio, moved to Washington, D.C., and rented a house from Howard. They discovered they both had similar interests and started dating. He joined RCIA and came into the Church at Easter in 2013. Mr. Chambers has four children from a previous marriage, which was annulled.

Mr. Chambers said the marriage celebration helps couples realize the importance of their vows.

“You have to know and understand it is a sacramental ideal, and you have to follow that,” he said. “Marriage is something that is meant to last for the rest of your life.”

Mrs. Chambers said after only three months of marriage, she has some ideas on how to fuel a long life together.

“Learn how to listen, give each other a pass on some things because everybody has shortcomings, and never go to bed angry,” she said.

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