Catholic Weddings

Uniquely Catholic Brides and Brides-to-Be: On Planning a Catholic Wedding featuring Ginamarie Shaffer

Welcome to Uniquely Catholic Brides and Brides-to-Be on Something to Behold! I’m so happy you’re here! Let me quickly introduce you to our bride-to-be for today: I don’t remember exactly how I met Ginamarie, it may have been through a class we both took, a mutual friend, or seeing each other at many campus ministry events. But I do remember being in a women’s fellowship group called Gratia Plena with her; each week women gathered to study Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body together. I remember Ginamarie’s commitment to these teachings, her strong curiosity about how one can truly give themselves in love, and her desire to discern God’s will. When I started this series, I knew Ginamarie would be a wonderful contributor to speak on behalf of discerning a Catholic marriage and how the wedding can truly focus on the sacrament! Welcome, Ginamarie! 

Tell us a little about yourself!
I am a graduate student at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family pursing a master’s degree in theology and interning at the USCCB Pro-life Secretariat. I graduated from The Catholic University of America this past May with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and minors in philosophy, theology, and family studies. I grew up in Southern New Jersey (Atlantic City area) and am the oldest of three children. I enjoy deep conversations, chocolate, the Philadelphia Eagles, long walks on the beach, and spending time with my friends eating quality food and wine!


Tell us about your fiancé, how you met, and your love story!
This is a longggg story. 

We’ve been dating long distance seven years on and off since we were 15. We both belong to the movement Communion and Liberation (CL), an ecclesial movement within the Church. We met on a CL vacation for high schoolers. I went because my aunt was a part of CL and wanted me to see what it was. Evan had gone the year before, and it was within the Movement that he had his conversion. We met on the summer vacation of 2008, and while there were no sparks then, we kept in contact as friends. Soon we were talking on the phone for two hours every night and writing letters back and forth.

We “dated” for four months at 15  without seeing each other again until the winter vacation in 2009 where we shared our first kiss. After talking to our adult friends, I realized that I didn’t feel for him the way he felt about me, and so I broke up with him. We spent high school walking a very fine line of cultivating our friendship while keep ourselves romantically detached. Of course, for me this was easy to be detached, but Evan, who was in love with me, continued to pursue me in this new friendship, even at risk of his own heart. As the summer before we went to college rolled around, he visited my house for my 18th birthday party and sparks flew. We hit it off and for the first time it felt natural for me.

Of course I, being the cautious person that I am, still wanted to be “free” going into college. We were going to separate schools (him at UMASS Amherst and I at CUA in DC) and I didn’t want us to “hold each other back.” I wanted to experience all of college, and how was I at 18 supposed to commit to a long distance relationship? However, before Evan left my house that weekend, in the face of everything I said, he said “Okay Gina, if that’s what you want, that’s okay. I love you and I’m going to pursue you, and if you don’t want to be with me, that’s okay. We don’t owe each other anything, but let’s follow what we desire.” (He’s always loved and respected my freedom so much!)

By October of freshman year of college, acknowledging where we were emotionally, we decided to call the relationship what it was: an exclusive relationship. We dated for the rest of freshman year. When next August rolled around, I broke up with Evan; this time for real. I had had a heavy heart, feeling an inner restlessness. I talked to the mentors I had grown up with wondering why I felt this way. Was it Evan? Was marriage not my vocation? I was 19 and felt that it was crazy to commit myself to someone so far away if I wasn’t sure that this is what I really wanted. I had so many doubts. Why did I not get butterflies every time he stepped off the plane? Why don’t I feel like he is my everything, like I couldn’t live without him? I totally could! I thought being in love took away your freedom so that the only thing you desire is that other person. But I still had my freedom. I still had my sound mind; I wasn’t addicted to him. I loved him so much as a person and as a friend, but compared to what it’s supposed to “feel” like, I wasn’t there. It would seem that I wasn’t in love with him. I broke his heart once, and I did NOT want to do it again. But I knew I must; I knew I had to figure this thing out that was happening in my heart, and I knew he deserved my honesty no matter how painful. So we stopped talking for the first time in 4 years.

During that time, I spent so much time in the chapel. I laugh looking back now. It was a difficult time, I cried almost every night; but it was also a refreshing time. Without texting him all the time or talking every night, it allowed me the clarity to see what was really happening. And Evan, respecting, loving, and trusting my freedom, freely let me go. As the months went on, things slowly became clearer to me. Part of the things I thought were wrong (not getting crazy butterflies) were just my personality! And my fear about not being in love enough was partly due to a false conception of love. It would be unhealthy if I was “addicted” to Evan.  My friend Elise told me something that was very decisive for my vocation. She said, “God puts people and things in our lives and gives us the ability to say yes or no to them and blesses that decision.” Ooohhh, so love is a choice! God doesn’t take away my freedom but requires me to use all of my freedom to make a free and deliberate choice, so that even in the relationship with Evan, I don’t lose my freedom but continue to remain free. Love is a free gift to be given and received. This was a whole new world for me. If love is not defined by a compelling feeling, then maybe I’ve been in love this whole time!

As the Fall went on, I became more certain. A pivotal moment of my discernment occurred when I heard of the massacre at Sandy Hook elementary school. I remember that night, and the feeling of not knowing how to make sense of such evil. The only person I wanted to be with was Evan, not for the sake of consolation, but because I want to face the deepest mysteries of life with him, next to him. I didn’t know what to make of Sandy Hook, but I wanted to face it alongside him.

Christmas came and went, and soon we were both in New York City for the New York Encounter, a cultural event that happens every year on MLK weekend. We knew we’d see each other again there and so although unspoken, we knew it would be the first time we talked since we broke up. There was a presentation happening when he arrived. I could see the back of his head and coat; my heart beat incredibly fast. How was it that the one time I wanted to be rational, I was so giddy? When we agreed on a time to talk, we went to a nearby diner. I was smiling like an idiot. He looked pissed. I twirled my fork and smiled. Finally he said “So we’re over and done with for good?” I tried to contain myself, even my smile when I told him “Actually, I’m discerning a vocation with you…” He was in disbelief. I pulled out a piece of paper on which I had written over the course of those months a list of reasons why I was considering a vocation with him. He ripped it out of my hands and stared at it in disbelief: “You’re serious?” We spent the rest of that two-hour conversation talking about what had happened and what we could foresee for us. Obviously, we weren’t getting back together right away, but we decided we could start talking again and build a friendship. 

Flash forward to March, we still weren’t officially together; we were both working on ourselves in different ways. He had told me about how his fall semester went, and I was devastated at some of the decisions he had made, for my sake and also for his. He wasn’t living up to be the man he wanted to be. I remember telling him how I just wanted to see his face in person. That even though I knew it wasn’t possible, we were both in school, his face was the one that heals me. 

One night we were on the phone. I was in a bad mood, and Evan asked what time I was waking up the next morning. I snarkily replied, 8:00am. (It must have been late at night so I was probably also pissed I wasn’t going to get a lot of sleep). He, in his kind way, just wished me a good night and suggested that tomorrow would be better. I grumbled something unkind and went to bed. The next day at 8:00am sharp, Evan called me and asked me how I was. I must have slept well because I told him how I woke up before my alarm and how I had a great sleep. He was happy for me and replied, “Well I’m here, I’m at CUA, at the law school. It’s 55 degrees so you should put on a coat and come over and say hello.” I was shocked and surprised and in disbelief. So I quickly put clothes on, brushed on some mascara, and ran to the law school. He was there! With coffee! He had planned it out with one of my guy friends and took an overnight train to surprise me. I ran up and hugged him and kissed him! I was so happy to see Evan! And it was wonderful! For the first time, I saw my own reaction, unplanned, unthought, just my natural response to Evan. Yes I loved him; I should have known all this time.

The next day we were eating lunch together, and Evan asked me about our relationship. What was it? While I was certain I loved him, certain of his love for me (which included many, many 10 hour bus trips to visit me), I still was hesitant. “Well, I don’t know, I’m nineteen, and how do I know what is good for me now, etc.” We were reading a text of Father Giussani for our weekly CL meetings, and Fr. Giussani spoke about risk and how risk is essential for faith. Faith is all about risking one’s self on a Person (Christ) and seeing how He provides. You’ll never know if something is true if you don’t take a risk on it. Evan asked me to take a risk on him that day. (I’m type A, taking risks are difficult for me), but in light of the experience of my heart in those past few months, I knew it was reasonable…and I wanted to. There was still fear, still uncertainty, but Evan called me to use my freedom to decide for him. And it was a pretty damn good risk.

We stayed together for the next two and a half years until he asked me to risk on him again on August 14, 2015. I learned my lesson; I said yes.

When you were dating, in what ways did you cultivate a faith life together?
Because we met so young, we were educated to follow the places/people through whom we first encountered Christ. For us, this was CL. We remained close to the friends and mentors we had who helped us see and recognize Christ in our lives. The faith life was a natural result of this. You want to see Christ? Beg him to show you His face. So we began saying a Memorare together every night. At particularly times in our relationships (namely in the summers) we’d call each other when we’d wake up to say morning prayer together. It was all very natural. We wanted to know Christ ; we wanted to know the Person who made our friendship even possible, so we prayed. We were also long distance through all of high school and college so we really had the beautiful opportunity to learn how to love without possession, to love from afar. I remember one Valentine’s day in college that we couldn’t be together and instead I went to the chapel for sometime to pray for him. I remember being really grateful for even the distance on that day because if it wasn’t for our separation that day, I probably wouldn’t have spent an hour in the chapel just praying for him. Now that we are physically in the same place and engaged, we try to go to Sunday mass together every week (which is so awesome!) It’s so clear that at this point in our relationship, we need Christ more than ever. I love Evan so much, but still marriage seems terrifying. How can I love this same, fallible person for my whole life? What if we fall out of love? What if our personalities change? What if he becomes grumpy?Marriage is such a crazy commitment, and I am aware of how much more beautiful marriage is if it is rooted in Christ.


How did he propose?
Evan caught me totally by surprise on August 14th, 2015 when he got down on one knee on Longport beach and asked me to marry him. The details are really blurry because for 48 hours I think I was in shock. It’s not that we hadn’t talked about marriage or weren’t planning on it, but I expected later in the fall, not two weeks after I returned from a summer in Italy. Evan remembered how I had always said that I wanted to celebrate my engagement with my family. While I was in Italy, Evan was ring shopping (who knew!) Apparently I had only one ring on my pinterest and Evan decided that that was the one he needed to find. (Grant it, I pin things that I don’t even completely like, so this was pretty crazy.) Of course I am in love with the ring! In fact, it was the only thing I could focus on for those 48 hours, because it all was so overwhelming.

We had planned to get dressed up (my idea) and go out to a nice place to celebrate my 22nd birthday, and Evan knew that I would want to celebrate our engagement with my family, so he knew that this weekend was it.  I had mentioned that I wanted to spend some time on the beach after dinner ( we often did this in the summers.) Evan to this day still says that I literally planned out my own proposal and didn’t know it. I was so certain that I wasn’t getting engaged that I didn’t even make time to paint my nails for our date. When we arrived at the restaurant, there was a 2 hour wait; so we decided to go to the beach first. Evan wanted to drive and was taking all these side streets, meanwhile I was like, you’ve seen all these pretty houses before, we’re in a time crunch, let’s park!” But Evan was buying time, he had to let my sister know that we were heading to the beach NOW; they had planned that she would be there to take pictures.

So Evan and I were walking along the beach and he kept looking around trying to find an isolated spot while being very romantic. Eventually he said he had a birthday gift for me and asked me to face the ocean; I noticed him reaching into his breast pocket. In my head I’m thinking maybe an Alex and Ani bracelet, since I had told him I wanted one. When I turned around, I saw that it was a smaller box. (So in my head I’m thinking maybe it’s earrings or something-it still didn’t click.) But then I saw his face, and asked, ” Evan…is this…really happening?” And he smiled and said yes, got down on one knee and said something along the lines of will you marry me? (I don’t remember the exact details because I was in shock, but I was in a full on squat with my jaw dropped and the my hands holding my face. I think I had said “Of course” or something to that effect. (Thank God I thought about my response beforehand because it was autopilot.) Soon my sister arrived, and took some shots of us.  Evan and I celebrated for the rest of the evening over dinner and lots of debriefing.


How are you preparing for the Sacrament of Marriage? How are you balancing wedding planning and marriage preparation?
We are meeting with a very good priest friend of ours who we’ve known for about 5 years now. We meet monthly to work on whatever reading he assigns us beforehand. It has been so awesome since our priest knows each of us very well and is so supportive and excited for us. Our first meeting we talked about the temptation towards autonomy and compartmentalization. Those concepts sound really abstract, but are so concrete in our lives. The conception of time itself changes; it is no longer “my time” or “your time” but it is always “our time.” Even the way we live and work is informed by this new sense of time. It’s crazy and exciting!

Wedding planning is a lot. We’re trying to be financially savvy and find where we can cut corners, so that takes up more time in research and DIY projects, like Save the Dates. Often it can become a checklist, but even right after we got engaged we came into wedding planning with the notion that what matters most is the sacrament and a big party to celebrate with all our friends and family who have accompanied us and will accompany us. My guilty pleasure is buying and reading wedding magazines for ideas, and just for pleasure! But there always needs to be the reminder – yes we want the reception/ceremony to be beautiful – on the other hand – the purpose is about the union of our lives and the celebration with our friends and family – not the napkin colors. 

The most important thing I learned so far is that it is important to make time for yourselves as a couple, aside form wedding planning. It’s really easy when we met up to just talk about the photography, honeymoon, and registry, but this is such an amazing and informative time. Getting to know Evan during this time is even more amazing than before! I find myself falling more and more in love with him.


Have you chosen the readings for your wedding liturgy? Why did you pick these?
We are in the process of choosing them now! Clear candidates are Genesis (because how can you understand God’s plan for marriage if you don’t go back to the beginning??) In my diocese, we have a book with all the possible readings in it, but honestly I wish there were more Gospel readings to choose from. I would prefer one about Christ and the Cross because Christ loved the world so much that He gave His life up for it. For Evan and I, it is so clear that in going up to the altar we are dying to our selves and entering a new life together, with a new sense of time, and a new sense of mission or vocation. In a way, it is a small participation in Christ’s martyrdom, and from the reality of suffering marriages, we are very aware of that fact…and yet we have the faith and certainty to give ourselves and our lives up to Christ in marriage through each other. But alas, it is not an option.

I am also studying theology, so right now anything containing Eucharistic ecclesiology is awesome: “me in you and you in me.” It’s the  inner logic of love in God/Trinity, it’s the Church, it’s marriage.

Are you planning on incorporating any special family traditions into your big day?
 The one big tradition we are doing is that I decided to wear my great grandmother’s veil! The veil is handmade lace and is about 100 years old…oh and it’s about 12 feet long…so it’s a little obnoxious. At first I was hesitant about it because I didn’t want the veil to distract from the sacrament and instead focus the attention on me, but it is tradition, my great grandmother, my grandmother, her 5 sisters, and many of my cousins wore it! My mom broke the tradition but I love genealogy, and this past summer I finally met my Italian family in Italy so it means a lot!

The only drawback is that it is a cream colored (or what was previously called ivory), so it was hard to find a dress that matched, but I did and I’m excited!


Are you planning any special way to evangelize your guests on your wedding day?
This has been a very present thought in my mind because much of my family is nominally Catholic and I want them to understand the seriousness, depth, and beauty of what Evan and I see in making vows to each other. But the more I think about it, the less we have to “Do” anything. Evan will be 23 and I 22- that’s odd from where I’m from. But my family knows me, they know I have my head on straight and so I guess our wedding alone is a witness.We are also doing a Catholic liturgy, perhaps many people do this as well but we are taking much care in our planning of that, and hopefully it shows. We will have many young people in attendance, and our friends will sing (young people singing at mass is a rarity nowadays.) We are also hoping to have a choir of our friends with 4 part harmonies, especially for the most sacred and holy mass parts, and maybe throwing a little Latin. Oh and did I forget to mention that we are estimating 5 priests, and 2 seminarians on the altar? I mentioned the harmony for the mass parts, but even something this simple is so beautiful for me, because it helps me remember what is happening in the liturgy and the significance and holiness of it. Perhaps many of my family members have never heard that at mass.

I am also making it a point to name the deceased members of my family in the intentions, because there are some people in my family who should be at my wedding but have passed away too soon. The beautiful thing about our faith is that they are really not far from us and so I can believe that in some way they are actually present to us. This is the reality of the Church, both mortal and immortal, and the wedding alone is a sign of this muilti-generational Church!

Plus Evan and I will probably be sobbing at the altar in raw, joyous emotion, so maybe that too will be a witness.

In the end, I see that if our wedding is truly centered on Christ, it will be noticeable, it will be a witness.


A Catholic marriage is meant to be fundamentally open…How do you plan to let the love between you overflow into a love for others?
I don’t think I can answer this now because we will respond as Christ calls us, and Christ calls us in time. But I can say that if we could invite everyone I wanted too, we would have well over 300 people, because for us, this openness even begins on our wedding day. So we are working on the particulars one step at a time…


Ginamarie, thank you for reminding us all that love is, above all, a choice that reflects the self-gift and self-sacrifice of Christ! I can’t wait to see how beautiful your wedding is going to be, and more than that, to see how Christ works in your marriage! I’ll be praying for you!

*Photos featured here were taken by Mary Sarah Ivers of Met With Light– see her beautiful and talented work here

Screen shot 2015-06-10 at 11.50.21 PM

To contribute to “Uniquely Catholic Brides and Brides-to-Be” on Something to Behold email I can’t wait to hear how you planned/are planning a wedding that is uniquely and wonderfully Catholic!


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