A Wollongong husband and wife celebrated a staggering 74 years of marriage on 20 September as part of a diocesan Mass to honour matrimony milestones.
They joined six couples celebrating 25 years of marriage, 22 couples celebrating 40 years, 24 couples celebrating 50 years of marriage, 12 couples celebrating 60 years of marriage, and six couples celebrating 61, 63, 64, 65 and 68 years respectively.
The total is an astonishing 3406 years of marriage.
“If you want to know the secret to an enduring marriage, just ask any one of these couples,” said the Bishop of Wollongong, Bishop Peter Ingham, who invited each couple to renew their vows during the Mass at St John Vianney’s Co-Cathedral, Fairy Meadow.
“They are an inspirational and powerful witness to love and faithfulness, enduring even through the tough times.”
One couple celebrating 50 years of marriage this year is Bill and Ardell Sharpe, who met after Ardell’s father invited Bill to Ardell’s end of school party.
“Ardell was a student at St Mary Star of the Sea College so the opportunity to meet boys at that age was limited,” Bill recalled.
“Ardell’s dad took on the role of asking some boys to the party and I came with Ardell’s cousin. That was December 1961 and so our love story began.”
Fifty years on, the couple partly attribute their successful marriage to the Worldwide Marriage Encounter program.
Twelve years into their marriage, the cracks had begun to show.
“We were growing apart, hurting each other,” he said.
“I was working three jobs and Ardell was caring for the children and our home.
“We were basically living a singles lifestyle.”
Then friends invited them to a Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekend and they found their way back to each other, Ardell said.
“From that weekend we learned what God’s plan was for us and for our marriage and the grace that was available to us through our marriage.”
The couple has now been involved with Worldwide Marriage Encounter for the 38 years and have helped hundreds of couples revitalise their marriages.
One couple, Damien and Michelle Duncan, celebrated their 25th anniversary at the same Mass after meeting through Antioch.
“There was an instant attraction for both of us,” Michelle said.
“Over the next few months we lost touch but I sent him an anonymous Valentine’s card. He found out that I had sent it to him and he asked me out.”
Both couples said making time for each other is the key to a strong marriage.
When asked about the secret to staying together, Bill and Ardell said, “Relaying thoughts and feelings to each other and listening with your heart and not just your head has helped us immensely. You need to let go of anger and not turn away from each other.”
Damien and Michelle said, “From the early days of having children, we made sure that we spent time alone together, whether it be for a coffee, a date night, bush walking or a weekend or night away together.”
And what advice would they give couples starting out?
“Be gentle with yourselves and kind to each other and try not to compare your life to others – everyone has their own journey,” Damien and Michelle said. “Don’t be possessive of each other. Allow your spouse to fly. Most importantly, find lots of reasons to laugh.”
Bill and Ardell’s advice was simple and sweet.
“Never let a day go by without telling each other how much you love each other, whether it be by word or action; do things together and enjoy life together.”
Bishop Ingham also commended single parent families, guardians and foster carers, and married couples unable to have children.
“There are many challenges facing marriages and families today,” he said. “I am particularly humbled by the sacrifices of love which single parents make for their children, and the generosity of couples and families in the work they do in the wider community.”