Couples find creative ways to scale back weddings during COVID-19 pandemic

| March 31, 2020 | 0 Comments

Tony and Annie Eicher celebrate the conclusion of their wedding ceremony in the empty chapel at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul March 17. COURTESY MARK BROWN/UNIVERSITY OF ST. THOMAS

Because of her devotion to St. Joseph, Anne Spinharney wanted her wedding to be on his feast day, March 19. But when she and her now-husband, Jordan Spinharney, were planning their 2020 wedding, they noticed the feast fell on a Thursday.

“I was like, ‘No way, I’m definitely not getting married on a Thursday,’” she said. “Then, throw in a pandemic, and before you know it, you get married on a Thursday on the Solemnity of St. Joseph in the middle of Lent.”

Such is the way the coronavirus has impacted couples planning weddings in the next few months.

Jordan and Anne Spinharney walk inside the church of Holy Family in St. Louis Park on their wedding day. COURTESY KATZIE AND BEN PHOTOGRAPHY

The Spinharneys had originally selected April 18 for their wedding Mass at Holy Family in St. Louis Park. But, like some other couples in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, they moved it up due to restrictions on large gatherings imposed by both the state and Archbishop Bernard Hebda.

Anticipating the eventual suspension of public Masses in the archdiocese, they made a hurried decision March 13 to move up their wedding to March 19.

In addition to the restriction on gatherings, they were concerned about Jordan’s father, Robert Spinharney, who has advanced cancer and is experiencing a steady decline. They were wondering how he would be doing April 18, and that became another reason to move the wedding up a month.

“It was really hard to let go of all our plans and hopes,” said Anne, 30. “We had a very large wedding planned. We had over 300 guests invited. And, we wanted it to be really big and happy and Catholic. Jordan’s brother, who’s a priest, was supposed to be our celebrant. And, it was just a lot to give up, and there was a lot of sadness. … But, in the midst of that, one thing that we just kept returning to is we think the Lord’s hand was in this (change).”

John and Catherine Braun pose for a picture while wearing masks after their wedding ceremony at St. Francis Xavier in Buffalo. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

Likewise, John and Catherine Braun saw God’s intervention as they, too, decided to move up their wedding, which was held March 21 at St. Francis Xavier in Buffalo, the parish where the groom grew up.

Their original date was April 25, and they scrambled to put together a scaled back wedding that included just 10 people inside the church, in keeping with the state’s recommendation at that time to keep groupings to 10 people or fewer. Both sets of parents, a maid of honor and best

man, plus Father Kyle Kowalczyk made for an intimate gathering that gave the event a special flavor.

“It was really quite great, honestly,” said John, 25. “It took some of the distractions out, on a practical level. We could really just pay attention to each other because we didn’t have 500 eyes on us.”

The hardest part for Catherine, 27, was not having all of her immediate family there. She said she is very close to her four siblings, and one of her strongest desires was to have them there during the ceremony.

Instead, her brothers and sisters waited in the parking lot and listened to a livestream of the ceremony, then cheered and waved when she and John emerged outside newly married. She had to keep her distance, of course, but tears flowed freely as she took in the sight of not only her siblings, but relatives and friends standing by to offer their congratulations.

“It was just overwhelming that so many people would drive out to see us just for a moment, because really all we could do was wave at them and pass by them and thank them for being there,” she said. “People drove between an hour and an hour-and-a-half to just say hi to us for five minutes. So, the outpouring of love that so many people came out to be with us and to celebrate was just breathtaking for me. I really just kind of lost my breath when I came out of the church.”

For Jordan Spinharney, one of the most beautiful parts of the day was a treasured moment he had with his ill father before the ceremony. He had feared Robert might not make it through the original wedding date.

“Having him there for me was a necessity,” said Jordan, 32. “I wanted my dad there, I needed my dad there. Before the Mass, I just had a moment with him. Really, it was just the two of us sitting in the church, when everyone (else) seemed to have disappeared. … I asked for his blessing and knelt in front of him, and he gave me his blessing. We wept together in each other’s arms and it just was a great moment of connection.”

Perhaps one of the smallest weddings during these times was between Tony and Annie Eicher, who chose March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, for their wedding at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. The two alumni exchanged vows in the chapel with just a priest, Conventual Franciscan Father Steven McMichael, and Annie’s parents present as witnesses, plus a few other people who helped with the ceremony. The couple decided just the day before to move up their ceremony from their original date of March 21. For them, the lack of guests did not diminish the meaning of the ceremony.

“It was a very special day. I don’t think we have any regrets (about) how it went down,” said Tony, 31. “It was just as special as we could ever have imagined it.”

In the end, the three couples had a keener focus on the sacramental nature of the event, something that was on their minds long before they tied the knot.

“One thing that John was saying to me in the days leading up to our wedding was, ‘What do we need? This is a vocation between you and God and I, and that’s all we really need,’” Catherine said. “It’s not about having a big party and having all these other people — even though we love them — be there. But, it’s about the vocation, and that’s what we’ve been preparing for the last seven months anyway.”

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