Jim and Gina Kadera of Holy Redeemer Parish in North Portland pray together in their living room. Married since 1966, they will be coaching couples in the region to lead seminars that get couples praying together and deepening their marriages. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
Jim and Gina Kadera of Holy Redeemer Parish in North Portland pray together in their living room. Married since 1966, they will be coaching couples in the region to lead seminars that get couples praying together and deepening their marriages. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
During 52 years of largely happy marriage, Jim and Gina Kadera eventually learned to handle the inevitable quarrels by praying through them.  

Graces followed: Their defensiveness melted. They perceived each other’s wisdom. Their common goals rose to the top. The Kaderas, members of Holy Redeemer Parish in North Portland, credit the Holy Spirit.

“We’ve had hard times like anyone and we had times when we had lots of heated arguments,” says Jim. “But we have always come back to God to put us together and show us we need to work on this together.” Aware that the Spirit works through other humans, they also got counseling when needed.

“Our faith has always been central to who we are as people and as a couple,” says Gina. “We realized that is a gift.”

The Kaderas, parents of five and grandparents of many, want to share what they know about marriage. They have that in common with their Christian charismatic community, the People of Praise, which has 40 years of experience praying together, doing good works, communicating, having fun and settling disagreements.  

The People of Praise outreach comes in the form of a ministry called Marriage in Christ, which includes five-week seminars and a push to have couples pray and talk together every day.

Joel Kibler, a longtime leader in the People of Praise, is one of the authors of Marriage in Christ. He and his colleagues noted all the good marriages in the community and wanted to create a simple way for couples to transmit their wisdom to the world.

Key to the project, says Kibler, is the notion that the Holy Spirit is still at work in the world as a helper, as Jesus promised. Couples receive grace from the Spirit at the altar, but many tend to forget about it. Marriage in Christ is a reminder, Kibler says. “What we are doing is telling people, ‘Wake up! There really is grace in marriage. There is God.’”

The Kaderas met as teens during faith formation classes at a Minnesota parish. Each came from a large Catholic family and was at ease when speaking with the opposite sex. They became friends, which they say formed an ideal basis for marriage. They dated for five years before their wedding. He was in the Navy; she was a nurse.

Early on, their marriage was strengthened by being near family, other married friends and their parishes. Later, the People of Praise community offered encouragement.

The Kaderas realize that today, most couples don’t have a cloud of supporters. Though the divorce rate has been dropping since a peak in the 1980s, about 45 percent marriages in the United States still end in divorce, according to census data.  

That’s why the Kaderas stepped up to help lead Marriage in Christ seminars and are trying to spread them to parishes in western Oregon.  

“This is our way of paying it forward,” Gina says. “The church has a responsibility to reach out because marriage is so fragile.”

Jim, a retired medical device researcher, points out that a good marriage helps children learn how to relate well. That gradually will help families, then neighborhoods, then cities, then nations and the world, he says.

Gina says one of the graces of the sacrament of marriage is the ability to be selfless, a Christlike way of living.    

The Kaderas say Marriage in Christ is for married couples who want to deepen their relationship. It’s not a way to repair a marriage in trouble, they explain. A Catholic program called Retrouvaille offers that.

Organizers want Marriage in Christ to be simple and achievable. Seminars include two-hour gatherings each week. In general, about 10 couples take part, sometimes meeting all together, sometimes couple-by-couple, sometimes in gender groups.

After the seminar, couples develop a daily practice of prayer and reflection, brief but steady. From friendship with the Lord, Gina says, many practices can spring: a kiss goodbye every morning, pouring a cup of coffee for your spouse, going for a walk together after dinner or making sure to get to bed at the same time.  

“You are trying to get people to form a habit,” says Jim.  

Ideally, couples who met in the seminars become friends and form ongoing small groups for prayer, discussion and fun.  And funny things do happen. At one training, a leader was trying to suggest that the morning kiss goodbye should last 10 seconds, but said “10 minutes” instead.

Marriage in Christ and the small group model is being promoted by Jason Kidd, director of the Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Archdiocese of Portland. Kidd has suggested that couples be encouraged to join Marriage in Christ right after the wedding.

“Marriage in Christ has helped couples grow in friendship with each other and in the power of the Holy Spirit,” Kidd says. “This strengthens their marriages and gives a hopeful witness to other married couples.”

Marriage in Christ has been in place for two years in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis with the blessing of Archbishop Bernard Hebda. Jean Stolpestad, director of the Office of Marriage, Family and Life for the Minnesota archdiocese, calls the ministry a “welcome tool.”

“It has proven to be a wonderful way to follow up with newly married couples and provide some very practical support in how to develop healthy habits that make marriages thrive,”  Stolpestad says. “The seminars also have helped to address the need every couple has to belong. Establishing trustworthy friendships with other couples from the parish draws entire families into a deeper relationship with Christ.”

In total, about 1,400 couples have attended Marriage in Christ seminars in 15 states and three countries.

In the Archdiocese of Portland, supporting marriage is one of Archbishop Alexander Sample’s pastoral priorities. Auxiliary Bishop Peter Smith, a member of People of Praise, says Marriage in Christ “holds great promise for enriching almost all marriages.” Bishop Smith, who has worked in the part of the archdiocese that handles annulments, says the practical home activities will keep many couples from drifting apart.

“The seminar is theologically sound and consistent with the rich Catholic teaching on marriage,” Bishop Smith says. “Most importantly, it’s realistic.”

The pilot program in western Oregon includes seminars at Holy Redeemer and Holy Cross parishes in North Portland, Our Lady of the Lake in Lake Oswego, St. Mary in Corvallis and St. Mary in Albany.

The Kaderas are looking for couples in each parish who would be willing to be trained to lead Marriage in Christ seminars. In the Portland area, the Kaderas will do the training.

In the mid-Willamette Valley, Terry and Sally Aman of St. Mary Parish in Corvallis have stepped forward as trainers.

“I wish we had been exposed to Marriage in Christ when we were younger,” says Terry, who grew up in Mount Angel. “We had a good marriage but we were missing out on some things.”

“An important part is to be open to and aware of the Holy Spirit,” Sally says.

The Amans, parents of four, have been married 50 years. Still, they learn new things about each other during their Marriage in Christ daily prayer. A guidebook offers suggestions for prayer, readings and discussion.

“It’s made us more attentive to one another,” Sally says.

In the end, the Amans say, the Marriage in Christ seminar and daily prayer help them see each other as God sees them.

“But it’s not just about our own marriages,” says Sally. “You want to reach other marriages, to give people hope.”