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 | By Natalie Burt

Marriage Mentorship Offers a Deep Dive into the Meaning of the Sacrament

When my husband and I were engaged, we were blessed to have a mentor couple with a strong marriage and family values. They were active musicians in my home parish, and I admired them for the love they had for one another.

When we were presented with the option of choosing a mentor couple for our marriage preparation requirement, we knew exactly who we wanted to ask. And as it turned out, they were already active volunteers in a marriage prep mentorship ministry. 

Fast forward to today — my husband Paul and I just celebrated our 30th anniversary, and we still chuckle at some of the things shared at our marriage prep meetings. At one particular session, the mentor couple sat us down and with a concerned serious tone, they disclosed our inventory results.

“We have never seen this before. You two scored 100% agreement on faith but 0% agreement on finances! What are you going to do?” My then-fiancé and I smiled at each other, half-jokingly shrugged our shoulders and responded, “Pray?”

We always share this story with engaged couples because it’s a perfect example that the marriage preparation we had 30 years ago was able to identify so accurately some strengths and weaknesses in our relationship. Our shared Catholic faith has always been our strong foundation, but not so much on how to manage money. This area that has been, and might always be, one on which we have to work harder to come to an agreement. I’ve had to loosen up; he’s had to tighten up. That is marriage in the day-to-day. We work together, and thankfully God looks upon us with mercy. His grace helps us in this journey.

Married in the Church

To be married in the Catholic Church, an engaged or civilly married couple must complete a marriage preparation course, also called Pre-Cana. Programs vary with offerings online, in-person, one-day, weekend or mentorship meetings with a married couple. No matter what program is selected, all cover much of the same subject matters: family background, expectations, finances, sex and sexuality, communication, sacrament of matrimony and couple spirituality. 

Every couple seeking marriage is very different and their needs are different. We frequently think of an “engaged couple” as in their 20s or early 30s, newly out of college, first time marriage, no children and ready to begin their life with each other. However, this stereotype does not fully represent those seeking sacramental marriage. 

In the past year alone I have worked with couples ranging in age from mid-20s to late 60s, first marriages, second marriages, civilly married or cohabitating for a long time, with children, without children, both Catholic, one Catholic, both non-Catholic and coming into the Church, English and Spanish speaking, American or from another country, students, professionals, tradesmen, athletes, active military — the list goes on and on.

With the increasing number of engaged couples coming from broken families or divorced parents, many young adults today have shared that they don’t even know what a good relationship and marriage looks like. 

In-home Marriage Prep

I’m the coordinator of the marriage prep class requirement for my parish, St. Philip Neri in Fort Mill. For the past year, we have piloted a mentorship program called In-Home Marriage Prep to see if it is something that we want to promote on a diocesan level. I am thrilled that the feedback we receive from engaged and mentor couples has been exceedingly positive.

In-Home Marriage Prep is a strong, Catholic, completely customizable marriage preparation mentorship program. Its authors, Lloyd and Jan Tate, have been involved in marriage prep for more than 40 years. While programs that are one-day or over a weekend present pre-Cana topics and talking points, they cannot be customized for individual couples. They also don’t cultivate an in-depth relationship with another couple.

Mentorship is an openness to share the ups and downs of married life while covering faith-related topics that impact how to live out this beautiful and holy sacrament. 

Mentor couple Anthony and Liz Zioli shared that talking one on one to a couple is much more valuable. “Questions get answered, bonds are built and a real sense of importance is given to the upcoming sacrament. This is not so easily felt in a group.”

St. Philip Neri members Matthew and Erin Garofalo completed In-Home Marriage Prep last August and were married on Sept. 22, 2023, in Ireland.

Erin shared that while there are always areas to improve on, the mentorship program helped her and Matthew highlight certain ones in which they could grow.

“I think we were pretty confident coming in. We felt good about this as a loving relationship and ending in a happy marriage, but now we have a lot more things that we can grow in, which is exciting,” she added.

“By doing the mentorship, it was really nice to have an extensive deep dive into marriage,” Matthew said. “It showed us how we need to be united in Christ and all of that we found really valuable.”

Natalie Burt is the diocesan coordinator of Marriage and Family Ministries. Contact her at 803-899-4946 or