Retrouvaille delivers lifeline for troubled marriages
When Glenn Hermes finally agreed to attend Retrouvaille International, a weekend retreat for struggling marriages, it was only because his wife, Bernadette, agreed to sign divorce papers after the weekend if he still wanted a divorce.
“That’s what I wanted. We were already separated, and in my mind, the marriage was over,” Glenn recalled. “I almost left on Friday night … but thank God I stayed because it changed our lives.”
Twenty-two years later, Glenn and Bernadette, parishioners of St. Vincent de Paul in Arlington, are not only still married, they are “best friends” and consider their marriage a “safe haven.” Now a presenting couple for Retrouvaille in the Diocese of Fort Worth, the couple says it changed them and their marriage in ways they couldn’t have imagined.
“Prior to the weekend, we didn’t communicate at all unless it was fighting,” Glenn said. “Retrouvaille gave us communication tools. We learned to communicate with each other in a different way and that changed us tremendously…we were able to talk about our issues without blaming each other and without World War III breaking out.”
The couple also learned to take ownership of their feelings.
“I constantly blamed Bernadette for how I felt,” Glenn said. “That was a big ‘aha!’ for me, that they are my feelings and I can’t blame her for the way I feel.”
“I changed my attitude toward Glenn,” Bernadette said. “Love is not a feeling. It’s a decision. Feelings change all the time, but I chose to make that decision to love Glenn every day, despite how I feel.”
The Hermes couple said the changes that began on their Retrouvaille weekend continued as they attended post-Retrouvaille sessions on six different Saturdays. They said the follow-up sessions are crucial to continue learning and practicing communication skills.
“Think about a brick wall between the two of you that’s causing you not to be able to communicate,” Bernadette explained. “Then the bricks come off that wall over time until there are hardly any bricks left on that wall.”
“We’ve been told that if a couple goes to all the post sessions and practices what they have learned, that the success rate is 80 percent,” Glenn added.
The couple is quick to point out that the presenters are not counselors.
“We just have been where they are,” Glenn said.
Bernadette added, “We let you know where we were, how we got to where we are today, and then we give you the tools to do it too.”
Retrouvaille, which means “rediscovery” in French, began in 1977 in Quebec, Canada as a ministry to heal broken marriages. Within a few years, the program was adapted into English and post-weekend sessions were created.
In 1984, Bob and Marie Pate and Father Jim Miller, then pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Arlington, introduced Retrouvaille to the diocese.
The Pates had been diocesan coordinators for Engaged Encounter, but when someone close to their family was on the brink of divorce, they realized the diocese had strong pre-marriage support, but did not have a ministry for struggling marriages. The Pates were a presenting couple for Retrouvaille until Bob’s death in 2001.
Fr. Miller worked with Retrouvaille even during his retirement from parish ministry, Pate said.
“His last Retrouvaille weekend was in April, before he died in December ,” she said.
The priests who currently support Retrouvaille are Monsignor Joseph Pemberton, pastor of Most Blessed Sacrament Parish in Arlington and Father John Pacheco, pastor of St. Mary Church in Gainesville.
Msgr. Pemberton joined the Retrouvaille team in 1990. He said in addition to offering Mass and the sacrament of Reconciliation, the priest also shares his own journey.
“The priest is married to the Church,” Msgr. Pemberton said. “There are times that it’s wonderful and there are times when you say ‘oh my, we’re having some rough times, me and my spouse.’ And so the priest talks about the ups and downs of that relationship.”
He said the weekend also focuses on marriage as a sacrament.
“The foundation of a marital relationship is Christ himself. Christ is the third party in the marriage,” he explained.
Both Msgr. Pemberton and the Hermeses say they frequently see “marriage miracles,” even with divorced couples attending the weekend.
“There’s always a message of hope,” Glenn Hermes said. “No matter how horrible you think your marriage is, it can be healed with God’s help.”
“Just look at our logo,” he added, referring to a cross with a life preserver. “Retrouvaille is a lifeline for broken marriages.”
Retrouvaille weekends for 2018 are January 19-21, April 20-22, July 20-22 and October 19-21. Though Retrouvaille requests a donation from each couple, the Hermes stressed that no one is ever turned away for financial reasons.