Retrouvaille offers hope and healing for marriages needing them the most

CHARLESTON­—The Diocese of Charleston plans to establish a Retrouvaille program for couples who are struggling in their marriage. The method offers resources and communication tools to help couples improve and strengthen their union.

Kathy Schmugge, director of Family Life for the diocese, said Retrouvaille is an intense program for couples who are encountering serious issues in their marriage. Spouses considering separation or divorce, or who already are, can also benefit from the program.

Retrouvaille is a nonprofit international program, Catholic in origin, that has existed for more than 40 years. It strives to help couples restore and rebuild their marriages regardless of their faith. Schmugge said the program differs from counseling or Marriage Encounter Weekends.

Each session centers on a weekend experience in a specific community presented and led by a ministry team composed of a priest and several couples. Schmugge said the couples that lead sessions have typically participated previously. Mass and a devotional service are offered during the weekend also.

Luann and Bill Roche first participated in Retrouvaille in 2002 and now are part of the ministry leadership team in Raleigh, N.C. Mrs. Roche explained that the initial experience is followed by six to 12 weekend afternoon sessions that expand upon the information they first learn.

The final phase features monthly small-group support meetings called Continuing Our Retrouvaille Experience (CORE). During this time, couples have the opportunity to meet more informally with others.

The program is for people at all stages of marriage and has many benefits. Mrs. Roche said anyone experiencing marital problems should attend. She emphasized that there is no mandatory sharing in the weekend sessions and that anonymity is very important.

“The greatest benefit of the program is to learn to communicate in a non-threatening way,” she said, adding that it is a lot of work but that “if you work the program … it brings back the feelings of love, respect and kindness” between spouses.

The communication tools and other information provided can be used in daily life, Mrs. Roche said, noting that she and her husband also continue as participants in the CORE program. That ongoing support is another benefit that contributes to its success.

Schmugge attributes Retrouvaille’s success rate to several factors, noting that “God being centered in it” and the overall emphasis of forgiveness and divine mercy helps each spouse succeed in healing individually and as a couple and, in turn, healing the marriage overall.

“The rate of getting back together is 80 percent,” she said. “You can go to the best marriage counselor and not have those same results.

“It takes divine intervention and mercy — mercy to be able to forgive,” Schmugge said.

Also, by calling upon God, the added benefits of the program become all the more evident, she said.

“There is great value in leading a couple to receive mercy and give mercy themselves, which is that extra step beyond forgiveness,” she said, emphasizing that it emulates the forgiveness that God grants to all who believe and follow Him.

The diocese hopes to have the program in place by July 2019.

“We would rather not have to send couples elsewhere,” she said. “The program works. Even if couples do not stay together, they are more amiable in their separation or divorce.”

Schmugge and Michelle Wall, family and marriage coordinator, initially will oversee the program for the diocese. They are now forming a team and finalizing the sites for the first event. Schmugge encourages previous participants to be part of the diocesan ministry team.

For more information about Retrouvaille or to volunteer, contact Schmugge or Wall at or 803-547-5063, or visit

By Maureen T. Feely/Special to The Miscellany