October 17, 2017 // Bishop

The secret to 60 years of marriage

Anniversary Mass takes place in Fort Wayne —

At a special Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Oct. 15 for married couples celebrating their 25th, 50th or 60th anniversary, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades expressed thanks and prayed for the witness of God’s love and fidelity in their unions. Seventeen of the couples present were celebrating their 25th anniversary, 19 were observing their 50th anniversary, and 11 had achieved 60 years of marriage.

Paul and Karen Helmkamp fall into the last category. The Helmkamps are parishioners of St. Vincent de Paul, Fort Wayne, and this year marks the 60th anniversary of their marriage. The marital journey of the Helmkamps goes beyond simply getting through the highs and lows of married life, though, as any married couple can attest, getting through all the highs and lows is no small or insignificant feat.

Couples pray during a Mass celebrated by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Fort Wayne, in honor of those observing their 25th, 50th and 60th wedding anniversaries. Mollie Shutt

Karen told of her early years, when she met her husband-to-be. She did not start out Catholic, but some time after meeting Paul, she decided to convert. It made her wedding day even more beautiful, she said, when she had her first Holy Communion that very same day.

From that point on, it was clear that faith would always be central in the lives of the Helmkamps. When asked why it was so important for couples to keep the Catholic faith, Karen was quick to share her thoughts.

“It is important (for couples) to have something to hold on to,” she said. “To see you through the good times and the bad times.”

Ultimately, it was their faith that kept Paul and Karen Helmkamp happily married all these years. When times were tough, they prayed that things would improve. When times were good, they prayed in thanksgiving. In both cases, faith got them both through, like a powerful adhesive that glued them together no matter what tried to pull them apart. Their reliance on prayer became visible in the mindset they carried throughout their lives.

“We grew up in a time where if something was wrong, you fixed it,” Karen explained. “So many people nowadays just throw it away instead.”

The mentality to repair and move on was and still is essential for the Helmkamps, as they try to maintain a strong marriage. Combining that with their faith seems to be a very effective recipe for success. With 60 years of marriage under their belts, it is hard to downplay their achievement.

For couples, new and old, looking to take on the rest of their lives together, there are lessons to be learned from the Helmkamps. Without doubt, they could give a plethora of advice on what to do and what not to do. After being married for so long, the stories start to stack up: some funny, some touching, some of disastrous hardships and some of small gestures that meant the world. But there is one piece of advice, in particular, that Karen found most important: Couples need to share their faith.

“They should go to the same church, as a couple,” she said. “They should go to the same Mass, too, with the children so that they can see their parents doing it and grow up modeling them.”

She added that she and her husband followed this principle as much as humanly possible, taking their children even when they were just babies. Going to separate Masses was as unviable an option to them as skipping Mass altogether. But it paid off in a big way, and she expressed how proud she was of all her children for keeping their spirituality alive and strong as they found their paths to success in the world.

There will always be bad times to accompany the good ones. The key to dealing with them, Karen said, is to have something to hold on to. The Helmkamps have a steadfast promise to never give up on one another. They have each other. Most importantly, they have their faith. So, it comes as no surprise they have been together for so long.

A second anniversary Mass for couples will be celebrated Sunday, Oct. 22, at St. Matthew Cathedral in South Bend.

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