Alumni couples who found love at St. John’s University returned to alma mater to celebrate the beginning of their relationships while renewing their commitment to each other at the annual Blessing of the Couples Mass.
Held on February 12 at St. Thomas More Church on the Queens, NY, campus, this was the first in-person Blessing of the Couples Mass celebrated by University President Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P.
Traditionally held on a Saturday near Valentine's Day, the event recognizes alumni couples who met at St. John’s, married, and have maintained a strong relationship with the University.
Mark A. Andrews, Director of the Office of Alumni Relations, who helps organize the event, noted this was the thirteenth such celebration. “The stories of how they met—the emotions, and the love these spouses have for each other and collectively for St. John’s, is so moving and beautiful.”
Couples married between one and more than 50 years were on hand, including two couples who became lifelong friends at St. John’s and were in each other’s wedding parties. Robert W. Bala ’62C, ’78MBA and wife Catherine ’63Ed, ’64GEd, ’82PD, and Raymond Russo ’60C, ’62G and wife Marian ’63Ed have enjoyed an over 60-year friendship that began on the first day of school in September of 1959. Mrs. Russo was looking for the bus that would take her up Homelawn Street to the Queens campus, and Mrs. Bala encouraged her to accompany her and her friends.
The Balas met in a music class at St. John’s, while the Russos met in a history class in which Mr. Russo was a graduate assistant. The couples became fast friends, and when the Russos got married soon after graduation, the Balas were in their wedding party.
Mr. Bala asked his future wife to marry him at the Russos’ wedding reception. “Love was in the air,” he said with a smile.
“As we boarded the flight for our honeymoon, a message was sent to the plane that Bob asked Cathy to marry him,” Mrs. Russo recalled.
“Through all the thick and the thin, we have been together,” Mrs. Bala said. “We have such a soft spot for St. John’s.”
The youngest married couple (less than a year) were Patrick Gordon ’13C, ‘17G and his wife Anna ’15C. Mr. Gordon is a part time Music Minister in the Office of Campus Ministry and served as organist at Mass, while Mrs. Gordon served as a lector at Mass, and is in the choir, where the couple originally met. “It was inspiring to be around so many couples who are so committed to one another and the mission of St. John’s. They’re our inspiration,” Mr. Gordon said. Several of the younger couples present were married in St. Thomas More Church.
Robert Guida '85CBA and wife Mary Ann '85CBA, '91MBA met as members of a co-ed bowling team that existed at St. John’s during that time. “Mary Ann was the only woman on the team,” Mr. Guida noted, fondly. “We would meet in the morning for breakfast at St Albert Hall,” Mrs. Guida recalled. “We didn’t have many classes together, so we would communicate by leaving notes on the windshields of our cars, since there were no cell phones then!” She added, “We only lived about a mile apart in Queens, but it was St. John’s that brought us together.”
For Andrew Mussalli '99C and wife Diane '99P, “Our first date was a Chappell Players production in the Little Theatre,” he said, adding that he and his wife enjoyed many picnic lunches on the Great Lawn.
During his homily, Fr. Shanley reflected on four Beatitudes introduced by Jesus in Luke’s Gospel. “Jesus seems to be saying that poverty, hunger, grief, and persecution are somehow blessed,” he noted. “And there’s a sense in which he’s talking about a blessing to come—that those who are poor or hungry or grieving or persecuted will have a reward.”
According to Fr. Shanley, Jesus was saying this reward will not necessarily be a heavenly one. “These states are blessings even now,” he stressed.
The reading caused Fr. Shanley to consider the vows married couples make to each other: to be true to each other in good times and bad, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health. “I daresay you’ve all known both states,” he opined. “What you’ve learned if you are here today is to find the blessings in those difficult moments. It’s in those moments where we must work to find the blessing. We have to dig down to find where God is.”
He added, “You made an open-ended vow. You don’t know what the future brings.”
No matter how hard we try, we cannot control when and how those moments occur, Fr. Shanley noted. “As much as you try to avoid those difficult things in life, they come to us. The one thing you can trust in is God’s love for you and your love for each other. We’re stripped bare of all the illusions we have about control in our lives. You are here today to renew that trust in God and in each other.”
He added, “It’s in that bearing of everything we see what Christ’s love is like in our lives. Today we celebrate that you have found in difficult times God’s grace, God’s love, and God’s help—and have come to trust in that and in each other. You’re willing to make that open-ended commitment again.”
“I ask you today, maybe when you’re driving home, to reflect together on where you have found a blessing in the difficulties. Remembering where God was—and where you were with each other in the difficult times that you have gone through—is where you find hope for the future.”