Aiken marriage program to break new ground

AIKEN — Marriage preparation classes in Catholic parishes vary in intensity and scope. Some involve sessions only with the resident pastor or other minister; others bring in members of the RCIA team. The classes may last hours, days or weeks.

St. Mary Help of Christians will institute a workshop called “Marriage for Life” on Jan. 24 that will be among the most comprehensive anywhere in the nation.

Deacon Bob Pierce, who with his wife Donna heads up the program at St. Mary, called the project ambitious and substantive.

While the 16 contact hours of instruction are designed as a pre-Cana-type preparatory effort, the parish team hopes to attract married couples with offerings on married love, communication skills, marriage as a sacrament, the Christian view of sexuality and family dynamics.

“The workshop was prompted by Father LeBlanc’s vision of providing more comprehensive programs for engaged and married couples to explore their own relationships as well as the church’s teachings on marriage and family life,” Deacon Pierce said.

Father James L. LeBlanc is the pastor at St. Mary and also the diocesan director of Family Life. He said that his parish believes that it must support parishioners “living their married lives centered in Christ and his teachings.” The parish will open the workshop to any interested couples and sacramental preparation ministers from other parishes as well.

“We will provide a course of instruction and discussion, led by married couples … spread out over three Saturdays, and all arranged so that men and women preparing for marriage and those already married will have enough time and occasion seriously to reflect upon marriage and the sacrament of matrimony,” the priest said.

Deacon Pierce said that the team for “Marriage for Life” was carefully selected and trained. That team is the pastor and five marriage partners with a total of 105 years of married life. All team members are committed to Catholic teaching on marriage and family, according to Pierce, and to the “Theology of the Body.” The “Theology of the Body” is Pope John Paul II’s on-going, integrated vision of the human person, involving encyclicals, homilies and discussions. This content cannot easily be absorbed in single sessions or in one compressed weekend.

“Many of the subjects covered in the workshop require time for the couples to discuss their beliefs, values and intentions for their marriages,” the deacon said.

St. Mary will offer the “Marriage for Life” workshop one Saturday a month for three successive months. The seminal offering will be Jan. 24, Feb. 21 and Mar. 20; the second will begin in May and the third in Sept. The Benziger Press series called “Christian Married Life, A Sincere Gift of Self” will be the text and framework for the course.

Information, reservations and babysitting arrangements are available at the parish (St. Mary Help of Christians, P. O. Box 438, Aiken, SC 29802) or via the parish Web site ( The cost for the entire workshop, including lunches and materials, is $80 per couple.