WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Couples at World Marriage Day celebrated Feb. 12 at St. Charles Church renewing their wedding vows.
Andy Johnson met Elsie at a dance in McLennan in late 1954. She had just graduated from nursing school in Edmonton and was serving her first year at the McLennan Hospital. He was a train conductor.
They liked each other enough to continue seeing each other. He even got transferred to Edmonton to be closer to Elsie.
"I kind of liked him," she recalled. "He was a good dancer."
The Johnsons dated four years and in October 1958 they tied the knot. They now have six adult children and nine grandchildren.
At the celebration of World Marriage Day Feb. 12, the couple was honoured for their lasting commitment.
The Johnsons had the longest lasting marriage – 53 years – out of 60 couples in attendance.
The archdiocesan Office of Family and Life and Worldwide Marriage Encounter Movement, led by Greg and Elly Gelasco and Oblate Father Mike Dechant, hosted the celebration at St. Charles Church.
Maureen Rooney and Paul Punyi of Rooney and Punyi Educational Theatre Productions treated participants to the mime Me & JC, an inspiring silent piece on living the sacrament of marriage in daily life.
Participating couples talked about marriage in small groups and then shared with the larger audience.
Dechant urged participants to be frisky in their marriage in a physical, personal and spiritual way. "(Friskiness) is an excitement that must continue to grow as life unfolds, even into old age."
Couples renewed their vows during a special ceremony, embracing each other tenderly and even kissing.
The Johnsons, who are members of St. Charles Parish, received a bouquet of flowers from the organizers in recognition of their successful marriage. The audience responded with cheers and a standing ovation.
What's their secret? The Johnsons clearly like each other and seem to laugh a lot together.
"You know, I think it's a lot of praying and a lot of sacrifices," Elsie said in an interview.
WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Elsie and Andy Johnson have been married for 53 years.
"We had bad times and good times but we always survived through prayer and understanding each other," she continued. "And you know, you have to give and take. And it's amazing what prayer does for a relationship."
The fact the Johnsons golfed together and served in the community together for years also helped to keep the marriage strong. They have being playing cards with neighbours and friends for as long as they can remember.
Understanding and patience also played an important role in the longevity of the Johnsons' relationship. "Elsie is a good caregiver; I received a lot," Andy said.
Elsie described her husband as attentive and caring. "He's definitely a good guy."
Merv and Therese Swityk have been married for 51 years and have three children, the oldest being 50.
Merv, a retired postal worker, met Therese through a cousin in Hafford, Sask., in 1959 and, after 18 months of dating, they married in June 1961.
Their relationship has had ups and downs, they said, but overall it has been good – filled with love, forgiveness and understanding. "You know, in those days you made a vow before God and you kept it," he said.
"It wasn't always good," added Therese. "There were always some rough times but that is in every marriage. We always worked things out."
Forgiveness was a big theme in their Swityks' relationship. "We made it a habit to never go to bed with a grudge," Merv recalled.
"I hate fights," added Therese, a retired interpreter for the deaf. "I hate fighting because it creates a distance."
Attending Mass together and being involved in St. Charles Parish as a couple has also helped, they said. "We've never missed Mass; even on holidays we go," Therese said. They are both acolytes at St. Charles and serve in other ministries.
Asked for their advice to young people today, Merv said perseverance and faithfulness are key words.
"You made a vow to God, you have to keep it. I'm not saying you have to be together at all costs but should go for counselling before you separate. There is help out there."
The Swityks went into counselling early in their marriage and are still reaping the benefits. "With God's help you can always work it out."
Therese recommended attending Retrouvaille when a marriage starts to go shaky. "My daughter and her husband did and their marriage improved."
Next year's Worldwide Marriage Day celebration will be held at St. Thomas More Church.