It was 1990 when we received a letter from Fr. Syl Taube, the Director of the Family Life Office in the Archdiocese of Detroit. That was four years after we attended a program for troubled marriages in July of 1986. We were on the brink of divorce and papers were already filed with the Court. The name of that program was “Look Again” and we were one of many couples who received the letter from Fr. Syl. He had decided it was time to establish Retrouvaille in the Detroit area and reached out to the couples who had attended Look Again to seek their help, hoping they would be willing to serve other troubled couples.
He invited all of us to attend a meeting to talk about Retrouvaille, and several of us showed up to hear what he wanted to share. By the end of the meeting, many of those couples expressed an interest in attending the training weekend in order to make a decision if they might be willing to bring Retrouvaille to Detroit. Some time passed, maybe 2-3 months and Betty called Fr. Syl to ask if a date had been decided. It wasn’t long after that when we received a letter inviting the interested couples to attend the training.
A couple from Youngstown, Ohio, and a priest from Minneapolis were the Leaders and the weekend unfolded providing all of us an opportunity to share the pain we experienced during our times of trouble. We were hooked because when we left that weekend, we realized the gift we had received. It was an opportunity to talk privately to each other about the affair that was tearing us apart. We also learned how to share that pain with the other couples who attended.
So as Fr. Syl shares the story years later, he asked God to give him ten couples to start Retrouvaille. Instead there were five who said yes. Besides ourselves, the other couples were Denis & Jean Egan, Jack & Angelica Bride, Dave & Vickie Murray and Nick & Virginia O’Shea. More than two decades later at Fr. Syl’s 50th Anniversary of His Ordination to Priesthood, we all told Fr. Syl that God gave him ten people, not ten couples and that maybe God didn’t hear him correctly. As we worked together we had exactly what we needed, three weekend program presenters and two post program presenters and a Priest, Fr. Syl. We all got busy writing the presentations, 13 for the weekend and 12 for the post program. Our first weekend was scheduled for July 12-14, 1991, and we worked hard together preparing.
The word got out and after serving 12 married couples at the first weekend, by 1995 there were weekends where 50-76 couples were being served. We were holding the weekends in a small retreat center in Clawson, Michigan, at Guardian Angel Church. Outgrowing the conference room and sleeping rooms, we moved the weekend to the Hilton Hotel in Southfield. The six Post program sessions following the weekend were held in local churches. We increased the number of weekends being offered each year from 3 to 4, and then 6! In 2001, 313 couples attended Retrouvaille.
Eventually the Training Weekend was renamed to Formation Weekend and more couples were invited to join as Servant Leaders. The Presenting Teams grew which helped us serve many more couples. Especially remarkable were the years that the Detroit Community offered two weekends simultaneously in one hotel with two sets presenting teams. The meals were staggered in order to be able to feed everyone. Another time, one of the presenting teams presented one set of talks in one room and another set in the other conference room. And even more remarkable was the time when there were 3 simultaneous weekends with 3 sets of teams, 2 in one hotel and the third in another hotel, with a total of 76 couples in attendance. All were served together for the post program in a large parish hall.
In 2005, with the loving support of Fr. Al Blonigen and Mark & Betty Squier, the Detroit Community decided to develop a Spanish Retrouvaille program. Searching for Spanish-speaking couples to help was a challenge, but a challenge worth the effort. The first couple who offered to help were Carlos & Teresa Salcedo, who approached their pastor, Fr. Sean Sylvester, for ideas to help couples who approached them in church for marriage help. Fr. Sean contacted Fr. Blonigen and the project to offer a Spanish program was off to a good start. Fr. Francisco Restrepo, who had experience with the program while in Texas on a previous assignment, and more couples and Priests agreed to help. They are: Sadot & Lety Cruz, Paul & Raquel Antrim, Chon & Lety Zarate, Gonzalo & Graciela Mena, Jarl & Pat Nischan, Arturo & Hilda Sancen, Fr. Jaime Hinojos and Fr. Marie-Elie Haby. It is with much appreciation that we honor these people for their commitment and dedication to the Retrouvaille ministry. Although the Spanish Retrouvaille program started from humble beginnings, and also experienced some challenges along the way, it is a now a vibrant Community of Disciples serving the Southeast Detroit Spanish-speaking Community.
Serving the couples who decide to attend the Retrouvaille program has been an absolute gift to ALL of us who decided to serve. We all find that we receive more than we give! As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”