Catholic Sentinel photo by Ed Langlois
La Vonne and John Doherty are still in love after 49 years of marriage.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Ed Langlois
La Vonne and John Doherty are still in love after 49 years of marriage.
This is part of a series on family life.

John and La Vonne Doherty made it through hell.

But the couple, members of Holy Redeemer Parish in North Portland, are still deeply in love after 49 years of marriage.

They met on a blind date in Seattle in 1965. He was 21, she was 20. John, from upstate New York, was in the Navy and about to ship out on an aircraft carrier to Vietnam. La Vonne, who saw her vocation as motherhood, was the daughter of a carpenter in Yakima, Wash.

Within two months, they were married. The first of five daughters was born while John was overseas.  

“I would not suggest this schedule to anybody,” says John, indicating that when they wed, he and La Vonne didn’t know what they were getting into. Their marriage preparation had consisted of an hour in the priest’s office.  

After 10 years of marriage, several more daughters, and a move to Portland, they had troubles many couples have. They felt distant from one another; they had a tendency to blame each other when family life inevitably got stressful. John, the son of an alcoholic, was flat when it came to expressing feelings.  

“Marriage is not easy, especially when there is someone like me,” John says. “I grew up emotionally crippled. I was taught to be macho, not have feelings, not to cry.”

At church, they began to meet couples who had gone on Marriage Encounter weekends. These pairs had a spark they lacked. La Vonne asked John if he’d attend a weekend. Whatever he lacked, he was always open to new experiences.

On the weekend, they heard about the importance of communicating on a level of feelings. They learned the skill of listening with love and were advised on how to apologize and ask forgiveness They were told that real love is not the infatuation of those who have just met, but a decision spouses make day-by-day over the years. Mentoring couples said God must be part of the marriage for it to thrive.  

Over the course of the next decade, they worked on the practices. John slowly came around and La Vonne learned to listen better and love him for who he was.

“A lot of problems we had came up over how we thought about things,” John says. “When we got down to how we felt about things, a lot of problems went away.”

By 1986, they were asked to give talks at Marriage Encounter weekends and eventually would become head of the movement in Oregon.

“We’ve grown a lot in our commitments,” La Vonne says.  

Their marriage thrived, but there was still pain to endure. Some of their daughters suffered from addiction. One is imprisoned on drug charges and another died from narcotics use in 2004, leaving two children behind. John and La Vonne have raised the youngsters.

Tragedy has left the Dohertys more compassionate. “It has strengthened us to be there for family and friends,” La Vonne explains. They recently came to the aid of a couple whose son committed suicide.

“Our life now is 1,000 times better than it was in 1976,” John says. “Everything we went through would have torn us apart if it were not for Marriage Encounter and faith.”

They belong to sharing groups of couples who talk about relationships, feelings, joy and pain. They notice that couples who have not had the Marriage Encounter experience tend to talk about their new purchases and other trivialities.  

They know that, when it comes to relationships, society faces a challenge because film, television and music focus on the sex and thrills and not on the long, steady, loving work that is really important and satisfying.  

Partners in marriage became partners in business. The Dohertys own ASI Tax and Accounting, a firm they run together from the basement of their North Portland home.  

They just finished a stint as executive couple of Worldwide Marriage Encounter in Oregon. The new leaders are Jack and Jo Rich of Philomath, who say the Dohertys have helped guide them in marriage since they went on an Encounter weekend more than 20 years ago.

“They took us under their wing and made us feel welcome,” Jo says. “That was a big moment in our relationship.” Jo explains that the Dohertys have encouraged her and Jack, “empowering us to help us reach our potential in marriage and ministry.”  

Both the Riches and the Dohertys say that the number of couples attending Marriage Encounter weekends has dropped significantly in the past decades. When both parents work and children are involved in high-end sports or other activities on Saturdays and Sundays, there is little room. This makes the couples nervous and has led them and other Marriage Encounter leaders to offer a variety of schedules. In addition to weekends, couples can attend evening sessions and go over much material online at

Marriage Encounter is for couples who want to tune up their marriages. For couples seeking to overcome serious problems like instances of infidelity, there is Retrouvaille,