Love prevails: Matrimony and Baptisms during the coronavirus pandemic

by Susan Moses

North Texas Catholic

May 1, 2020

Gina and Austin MulcahyGina and Austin Mulcahy
When Gina Circelli Mulcahy married her husband, Austin Mulcahy, on April 18, her wedding dress was locked in the tailor's shop, so she wore a dress she'd purchased at a vintage store three months earlier. (photo by Zach Ashcraft)

FORT WORTH — Gina Circelli Mulcahy admitted she became a “major planner” when she got engaged in September 2019. Within short order, she made arrangements for a reception, flowers, and all the details for a wedding with 200 guests.

When the big day arrived, she married her husband, Austin Mulcahy, at St. Patrick Cathedral on April 18. But that was about the only thing that happened according to plan. Even her wedding dress was locked away behind closed doors at the tailor shop, shuttered because it was not an essential business.

Given the stereotype that even a regular wedding can transform a sensible lady into “bridezilla,” how did Gina, and other couples who married in the last six weeks, respond to a rapidly changing, unprecedented upheaval of plans? With equanimity, gratitude, and love.

Gina admitted the restriction of having only the couple’s parents, two attendants, and a priest at their wedding helped her stay calm and peaceful, without the stress of managing a big event. “It put things into perspective, what the event was about: the sacrament of Matrimony. The celebration is secondary,” she said.

Like wildflowers among the grass, several weddings and Baptisms took place in the Diocese of Fort Worth during the shelter-in-place restrictions, providing pockets of joy and hope in a socially isolated environment.

At Our Lady Queen of Peace in Wichita Falls, Father Alexander Ambrose, HGN, officiated a wedding on March 21, just two days after Governor Greg Abbott declared a public health disaster in Texas.

Abigail and Victor Wattigny
Father Alexander Ambrose, HGN, officiated the wedding of Abigail and Victor Wattigny just two days after a public health disaster was declared in Texas. (photo courtesy of Abigail Wattigny)

The bride and groom, Abigail and Victor Wattigny, had made their first Holy Communion together at the parish as children. Their relationship developed after they became friends in the parish’s youth group in 2010.

In the days leading up to the wedding, the couple began growing concerned as they heard reports of various community events being cancelled and schools closing.

Abigail, Victor, and Fr. Ambrose met the Friday before the wedding and the pastor explained the implications of the new civic and health directives on the ceremony. She remembers they all got emotional.

Fr. Ambrose’s explanation of the diocesan restriction to 10 people was “hard for him to tell us, and hard for us to hear,” she admitted.

But the couple quickly adapted. “God has a reason for all of this, and He carried us through,” said Abigail. “It wasn’t specific to us — everyone was experiencing it and we had to roll through this change.”

At their wedding the next day, Fr. Ambrose experienced a full measure of happiness, even with the limited attendance. He said, “It’s a joy to celebrate weddings at all seasons of the liturgical calendar, especially in the time of the pandemic. God is good, even in moments of difficulty and uncertainty. God is great. It’s a moment of hope.”

A few weeks into their marriage, the couple is glad they didn’t postpone the nuptials to a later date when they could have hosted the large ceremony and reception as planned. “Everything else is part of a day,” Abigail explained. “This [the sacrament of Matrimony] is a lifetime.”


At the end of the day

Natalie Riding-In and Keith Kasparek married at Our Lady Queen of Peace Church on April 25.

Engaged on April 24, 2019, the bride and groom had planned a big celebration. Natalie said, “Every girl dreams of her wedding day. They imagine what they want it to be. We had this perfect day, 300-person wedding planned out.”

As the pandemic unfolded and shelter-at-home became the norm, Natalie and Keith realized the event they had prepared had to be abandoned. “It made me a little upset, but we got through it together, for sure,” she said.

However, they did not entertain the thought of rescheduling. “Marriage is between a man, a woman, and God. It’s not for the whole big show. That’s what meant the most to us, that we could fulfill the sacrament together, for each other,” she said.

According to Natalie, the hardest lesson was “letting go and letting God.” With the situation developing rapidly, the couple spent a lot of time in prayer and put the wedding in God’s hands.

Amy Riding-in with great grandmotherNatalie with great grandmother
Natalie Riding-In shares a special moment with her 100-year-old great grandmother, Josephine Bearden, before the wedding. (photo by Carla Blanchard Photography)

When the day arrived, Natalie was thrilled her 100-year-old great grandmother was able to attend. In fact, Natalie wore the wedding band that her great grandmother received 82 years ago.

Although the majority of guests couldn’t attend, Natalie said, “I never felt so loved by people. Although we couldn’t celebrate in person, they were there in spirit.”

When the newlyweds left the church, Natalie was surprised and moved to tears by a parking lot full of well-wishers who had decorated their cars with signs.

She said, “Under the circumstances, it turned out so much better than I could have imagined. Even with a big wedding planned, this was a blessing in disguise because Keith and I didn’t lose focus on anything, other than we love each other and get to give each other the sacrament of marriage.”

Natalie now laughs about the “multiple breakdowns” she had in the month leading to her wedding. “We definitely learned a lot about what’s important in life, and at the end of the day, that’s my husband and God,” she said.


Hold on to joy

Oliver and Emelia Davila had overcome a few obstacles as they planned for their April 17 wedding. As the coronavirus snowballed and businesses closed, they had to find new vendors to provide flowers and other wedding day services. Oliver rebounded quickly from each setback. “I’m a Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C person,” he said.

Oliver and Emelia Davila with Fr. Jim GigliottiOliver and Emelia Davila with Father Jim Gigliotti
Oliver and Emelia Davila kneel in front of empty pews at St. Andrew Parish. Oliver calls Father Jim Gigliotti, TOR, "Superman" for volunteering to officiate their wedding when their previous parish cancelled 10 days before their April 17 wedding. (photo by Innova Dream)

But 10 days before the wedding, an unforeseen obstacle arose. Their Arlington parish cancelled the wedding, recommending the couple postpone it indefinitely.

The pair went to Adoration, as was their habit, and prayed about the situation. “My wife wanted a Mass with her wedding. Everything else was second,” Oliver explained.

They left Adoration with the resolve to move forward with their plans for marriage.

Oliver called Father Jim Gigliotti, TOR, pastor of St. Andrew Parish in Fort Worth, whom he had known from the priest’s years at St. Maria Goretti Parish. Fr. Gigliotti agreed to be the officiant and offered to hold the 10-person nuptial Mass at St. Andrew on April 17.

Despite resorting to Plan D, the couple is delighted. “In moments of trouble, we have to hold on to joy and happiness,” said Oliver.


Welcome to the family

Father Khoi Tran prefers to baptize individuals during Mass, so that they can be welcomed into the family of God by the entire congregation.

However, due to the pandemic, the youngest members of one family had a private Baptism.

The family and godparents watched a livestreamed Mass in the parking lot of Christ the King Parish in Iowa Park from their respective cars, then entered the church after Mass for the Baptism.

“It was a joyful experience, wonderful,” the priest recalled. Because the parents and older siblings are in RCIA, Fr. Tran explained each step of the rite to them as he baptized the two youngest siblings.

“I was very happy to be able to experience it one-on-one with them. It was a more intimate experience and an opportunity to affirm the faith and the reasons why they want to become Catholic,” he said.

Maria Thomas and baby Isabella
Maria Thomas holds baby Isabella on her Baptism Day, April 25, 2020. (photo courtesy of Maria Thomas)

Thomas Joseph and Maria Thomas, parishioners at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Keller, had a grand Baptism planned for their daughter, Isabella. When this long-awaited first child joined the family of God, relatives and friends from both coasts were planning to rejoice together the last weekend of April.

The sacrament was important to the parents. Maria said she was thinking, “I want to get my baby baptized and enter into this religion, enter into faith, enter into this journey with Christ.”

In the weeks preceding April 25, the parents communicated frequently with Miguel Chaidez, the liturgy assistant at the parish, to stay abreast of the dynamic situation and changing directives. Maria was informed there was a strong chance the Baptism would be postponed.

However, Deacon Larry Sandoval baptized Isabella on April 25, with only her parents, grandparents, and proxy godparents present, all wearing gloves and masks.

“It was a little heartbreaking to see the empty pews and the silence,” said Maria, who usually attends daily Mass. “But on the other hand, I prayed to God, ‘Thank you for giving me this chance to come back into the church and the sanctuary.’ I felt my child was very blessed to be able to do this.”

The restrictions on the Baptism’s attendance were not enough strong enough to constrain the parents’ joy. Afterwards, the parents celebrated by dropping off food and goody bags at the doors of local friends and family.

Gina Circelli Mulcahy with husband, Austin

FORT WORTH — Gina Circelli Mulcahy admitted she became a “major planner” when she got engaged in September 2019. 

Published (until 5/1/2037)