By Tony DeGol
Throughout 41 years of marriage, Barry Cooper has surely given his wife, Mickie, some incredible presents.
Mickie, however, gave Barry a gift that is truly priceless: the Catholic faith.
When the two met and were married, he was Protestant and she was Catholic.
In 2002, after years of witnessing his bride’s wonderful relationship with Christ, Barry formally converted to the Catholic faith.
“To be able to have the Eucharist in my life every day is just a joy,” he remarked.
“It has been fantastic because we have been going to church together, and he has joined the choir,” added Mickie. “We do a lot, and just that togetherness in the Church has been fantastic.”
The happy pair, members of Saint John Vianney Parish in Mundys Corner, were among the hundreds of husbands and wives on hand for the annual outdoor Mass for married couples on July 18th at the Our Lady of the Alleghenies Shrine in Loretto.
Sponsored by the Family Life Office of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown and celebrated by Bishop Mark, the Liturgy included an opportunity for couples to renew their sacramental commitment to each other.
The Mass is a newer tradition in the diocese, and one that seems to be more popular each year.
It is a moment for the Diocesan Church to show its support for married couples on their journey, and a reminder that God is a key part of every matrimonial union.
Basilica of Saint Michael the Archangel parishioners Michael and Cynthia Hanlon, who were also present at the Mass, recognize how integral the Lord is in their 39-year marriage.
“God has to always come first,” insisted Cynthia. “It takes three to make a marriage, and Jesus always has to be within that triangle of a marriage.”
In his homily, Bishop Mark stated that marriage is to be a mirror image of the love, care, and devotion that Christ has for all.
“This evening we give thanks to God for all married couples – those whose lives are peaceful and in good order, those whose hearts are filled with God’s merciful love, those who are experiencing the heartache of the lack of empathy that Christ shows us as a way to remain in his love and to remain in love with each other,” the Bishop said. “We give thanks to God for all of you married couples today – for the beautiful vocation God has given to you. Thank you for living that vocation and for being that example of love and empathy in our world.”
As they live their vocation, the Coopers and the Hanlons have some advice for other couples.
“Don’t go to bed mad at each other,” recommended Michael.
“Never let the sun go down on your anger,” echoed Cynthia. “A lot of forgiveness, and not being afraid to say ‘I’m sorry.’”
Noted Mickie: “I think going to Church and being together will help them hold on together through the hard times and the easy times.”
Diocesan Director of Family Life and Missions Andre McCarville thanked the married couples for their presence at the Mass and for their witness to the beauty and sacredness of married life.
“When you leave here, your home is going to become a missionary outpost of the Church,” he stressed. “You are going to take the Gospel to the world – that first place where people are going to encounter the love of God and the hope of the Gospel will be from you.”
[Photos: (Top and First Inset) Barry and Mickie Cooper, members of Saint John Vianney Parish in Mundys Corner. (Second Inset) Michael and Cynthia Hanlon, members of the Basilica of Saint Michael the Archangel in Loretto.]