Samantha Slatina cried for about an hour after Joseph Sullivan asked her to be his wife.
The day began, inauspiciously enough, with breakfast at Berrima, followed by a trip to the Shrine of Our Lady of Mercy at Penrose Park, where the young couple attended Mass together.
Joe had organised a picnic where he had planned to “pop the question” and had asked Sam’s former parish priest to come down from Queensland, to give them a blessing in the event of Sam saying yes.
The priest couldn’t make it, and neither could Sam’s current parish priest.
Then, at the conclusion of Mass, something unexpected but strangely wonderful happened.
The celebrant at the shrine, a Pauline priest who they did not know and who they had not previously spoken to, approached them – apropos of nothing – to give them a special blessing.
Later that morning, in the green and picturesque grounds of the Shrine, the pair knelt down to pray the Rosary together.
Joe hugged Sam before kneeling down once again, albeit this time on one knee, to ask her to marry him.
“I think I cried for an hour because I was so excited,” Sam told The Catholic Weekly.
“On top of that, on the way home I was thinking, ‘How are we going to tell our families’ and Joe said, ‘It’ll be okay.’
“We got to my house and he had organised for both our families to be there and they surprised us, and I broke down again.”
Sam and Joe, who met at a Catholic youth ministry event, decided to tell their story in the lead up to the Catholic Singles Conference on 16-18 September, which is being organised by their friends at Catholic Youth Services.
Sam, 25, is a videographer for a Sydney university, and Joe, 21, is studying to be a high school maths and religion teacher.
They met in October 2014 at the Australian Catholic Youth Ministry Conference in Adelaide, in spite of living less than 1km away from one another.
“We had to sit in a semicircle and say where we were from and Joe mentioned that he worked in Bonnyrigg, and I thought, ‘Wow, someone from Bonnyrigg is here. I have to talk to this person’.”
They formed a strong connection over those first few days and a warm friendship over the following four months before deciding to officially start dating in January of the following year.
(The couple were engaged on 15 May this year, and are currently planning to get married in a year or so.)
“We actually spoke quite early on about (the nature of) our relationship and that we really wanted to get to know one another and form a good friendship first to see if going further was going to be what we wanted,” Sam said.
Joe went on a retreat in January and realised that he wanted to be with Sam.
“And that’s when we thought, ‘Okay! Yes!,” Sam said. “Let’s start our vocation to marriage.”
At the time of speaking to the Weekly, Sam was Sydney while Joe, who is a youth minister for St John the Baptist parish in Bonnyrigg, was in Poland attending World Youth Day in Krakow.
(The youth movement, Antioch, had also been a common denominator in their faith formation, although long before they had met.)
Asked what initially drew him to Sam, Joe spoke of her friendliness and how easy it was to talk with her.
“As I got to know her better, I began to see she was, and still is, a very humble person and I was always excited at the opportunity (to see) her.”
He was enamoured of her “humility, her kindness and her willingness to serve others ahead of herself in her day-to-day life” and her “love for serving Jesus and a love for Mary as well”.
Sam, for her part, said she fell in love with Joe’s kind-heartedness.
“He’s so easy to talk to and he’s friendly, and I can just talk to him about anything.”
She was also attracted to the fact that he was a practising Catholic and to the way he was like “a second guardian” to his five younger siblings, after his father.
“It was a big tick for me, that he was Catholic. That was something I was definitely looking for in a potential partner. He attends Mass all the time and it’s great that he’s someone I can go to Mass with.”
They say that this time of engagement is the happiest they have ever felt, but that they are also getting on with preparing themselves for marriage, including in the most practical of ways, in organising their reception and finding a place to call home once they are wed.
Speaking via email, Joe said that dating and getting engaged to Sam had been a reminder of true, authentic love and beauty, and also of the importance of virtues such as purity and chastity in the love that he has for his future bride.
He was also excited at the prospect of them having their own family in the future and of passing on the faith and a personal love for Jesus to their future children – “God willing”.
Sam, who had prayed for her future spouse in the two weeks before meeting him, said she was also looking forward to the journey ahead.
“I’m full of so much joy that I’ve found this person, and to comprehend that I’m going to spend the rest of my life with this person,” she said.
“I’m a little bit nervous as well because it is a new journey and a big change in my life, but I really feel like it’s happening in God’s time, so I’m ready to embrace it and to take the next step in my life with Joe.”
For information on the Catholic Singles Conference and other youth and young adult events, visit catholicyouthservices.org