Husband & Wife Articles


 

Holy Matchmaker

A wise priest, with a practical mind, led me to marriage

By Gerald Korson

My wife and I recently undertook the long drive from our Indiana home to Steubenville, Ohio, to pay our final respects to a man whom we credit for bringing us together in marriage.

Father Ray Ryland had been my advisor at the University of San Diego in the late 1970s. Then a permanent deacon, he was an Episcopal minister before converting to Catholicism along with his wife, Ruth, and their five children in the early 1960s. The first course I took from him — on Christian marriage — convinced me to make religious studies my major. He soon became my mentor in matters far more important than my academic career.

After graduation, I began postgraduate studies in theology and took a teaching position in San Francisco. I broke off a relationship to test a call to the religious life but quickly found it wasn’t my vocation. Subsequent dating experiences went nowhere, so I assumed I was meant for the single life. Yet I prayed that if God wanted me to marry, he would bring my future wife into view and make his will perfectly clear. My precise, less than pious request was that he would “hit me over the head.”

Meanwhile, Father Ryland had been ordained a Catholic priest under the 1980 pastoral provision for married former Anglican clergy. Around that time also, I began a career in Catholic journalism.

In late summer 1983, Father Ray suggested that I go on retreat on the grounds of a scenic California ranch, where a permanent deacon conducted a dynamic ministry. He noted that the deacon and his wife had a nice family and “a lovely daughter your age.”

Weeks later, the deacon’s wife phoned, and we made arrangements for my visit. The “daughter my age,” Christina, greeted me at the door, and we spent much time in conversation that weekend. We perceived an immediate and mutual connection, fueled in no small part by our profound love of the Catholic faith. This light of recognition was accompanied by a deep interior peace such as I had never experienced in any previous relationship. Could this be the “hit over the head” for which I had prayed?

Prudence required that we continue to discern, so before I departed Sunday night, we agreed to see each other again. My trips along Highway 101 soon became a weekly ritual as our relationship deepened into love.

I found out later that the Rylands were behind the whole scheme. When they visited the ranch earlier that summer, Christina had confided in them her own desire for marriage and her abiding trust that God would guide her to her future husband. Father Ray and Ruth decided privately that Christina and I might hit it off and arranged our meeting.

The Rylands were visiting the ranch again a few months later when we announced our engagement, and Father Ray celebrated our wedding Mass with exuberant joy the following June. Throughout our nearly 30 years of married life, Christina and I have been inspired by the Rylands in their faithful witness as spouses, as parents and as Catholics in love with their faith.

Last spring, after several years of Christmas-card contact, Christina and I made a point to visit the Rylands in Steubenville, where Father Ray had taught at Franciscan University before his retirement. Our stay was brief, but enough to achieve our purpose: To thank Father Ray and Ruth in person for their profound influence in our lives.

When Father Ray died in March at age 93, we trekked to Steubenville again, this time in mournful, bittersweet joy at losing an earthly spiritual father but gaining a blessed intercessor.

Would Christina and I ever have found each other without Father Ryland? We cannot underestimate divine providence. Perhaps we would have met — somehow, somewhere — with similar results as long as we cooperated with God’s will. But as things played out, Father Ray and Ruth were key instruments of the grace of God that led us to recognize and receive our vocation to marriage.

The message from our story is twofold. First, priests and married couples should be aware of their role as possible matchmakers, and approach the task in a prayerful, practical manner. Second, single persons in the process of discerning their vocation should place their trust in God and seek his will above all, yet welcome the aid of a trusted earthly intercessor. You never know when a “hit on the head” will come.

Gerald Korson has served as an editor and writer in Catholic media for more than 30 years. He and his wife, Christina, have 11 children and four grandchildren.