For couples who want to strengthen or enrich their marriage, there is a program available in the Diocese of Nashville called Retrouvaille.
Retrouvaille is French for rediscovery, renewal and finding again. Members of the Nashville community attribute it to saving their marriage. Virginia Schmidt, part of the Registration Couple team along with her husband Richard, calls it “the Red Cross or emergency room for marriages and families” and a “life preserver.”
“Retrouvaille is like a life preserver you throw to somebody who is drowning, and these couples are truly drowning in their misery and hurt and just trying to keep their heads up above the water,” Schmidt said.
The program consists of three components: a weekend retreat; six, four-hour long post sessions completed over a three-month period; and optional monthly support meetings called C.O.R.E., Continuing Our Retrouvaille Experience. There are two weekend retreats a year. The next retreat takes place March 6-8.
Attending couples learn communication skills and different relationship techniques. They are not required to share their stories. Anyone can attend regardless of where they live.
“We help them try to understand what they’re feeling,” said Nashville Community Coordinator Tony Carmona. “That’s one of the biggest problems. … We teach them how to express that in a respectful manner.”
Throughout the weekend, attendees hear from three presenting couples. After listening to the couple, those in attendance have a written reflection.
The presenting couples that tell their marriage story are those who have gone through Retrouvaille themselves, like Tony and his wife Ana. The two will be a presenting couple in March.
The Carmonas felt a shift in their relationship when Tony returned home after serving in the Army. Ana discovered Retrouvaille through an internet search and the two went through the program. They attended a few of the CORE sessions and went back two years later and began presenting. They became the Nashville Coordinator Couple in January of 2019.
“The fact that you can relate to where they are and how they feel, it gets to them,” Ana said, and commented that in her own journey she had to trust the process. “It touches them in a way that they want to do something themselves.”
The retreat and program are open to husbands and wives of any age who are on the brink of divorce, are separated, already divorced, or want to enrich their marriages.
“We have people who come who are happy, but want to be happier,” said Church of the Nativity Pastor Father Jerry Strange, who serves as the program’s clergy presenter. “They have a good relationship, but they want to deepen it on the other hand.”
As the clergy team member, Father Strange hears confessions and says Mass on the Sunday of the retreat. He also gives a presentation about things from his personal life and from his perspective as a priest.
“There’re couples that present and there’s also the priest who represents his spouse as the Church, the people of God,” he said.
Strange, along with presenting couples, underwent training prior to presenting. Couples write an introduction and detail what led them to Retrouvaille. After a discernment period they are sent to hone their writing as part of what is called Formation Weekend. Their talks are then approved by the community team.
The program started in Quebec, Canada, in 1977 and was based on Worldwide Marriage Encounter, which is a Catholic program. However, Retrouvaille is not exclusively Catholic. Members of other Christian denominations can attend as well as those who are not identified with a religion.
The Nashville Community was structured in 2007 at the request of the late Bishop David Choby. Communities are world-wide and the nearest one was in Louisville, Kentucky. With the mentorship of the Kentucky Community, the first Nashville program was held six weeks later. The Schmidts played a part in this expansion.
They became involved in Retrouvaille after tension that resulted from relocating across the country for work. Virginia was told about the ministry by a neighbor and the couple attended the program in Louisville.
“We try to, with God’s help, help these families rediscover the love that they had for one another when they first married and we try to give them the tools to make a new and happy relationship,” she said.
The Financial and Publicity Couple, Tom and Pat Akerman were part of the first Nashville retreat and program. They were three weeks away from a final divorce at the time.
“We met and decided we really don’t want to get a divorce,” Pat said. “We still loved each other, but we didn’t know how to fix it, and so Retrouvaille was our vehicle for healing.”
Registration is $300 and covers meals, lodging and materials given. There is no additional cost for the post sessions or CORE sessions, but there is an opportunity to donate on the Sunday of the retreat.
To sign up, visit www.helpourmarriage.org.