After praying intently before undergoing an operation nearly 20 years ago, Kathy Budnick awoke after the successful procedure both thankful and with a transformed heart – prompting her to take stock of her life and admit some things needed to change.

“I was so grateful to God, and I started to realize the mistake I had made,” said the member of St. Gabriel Parish, Marlboro.

The mistake she acknowledged was the decision to get married in 1982 in the Lutheran church to her husband John Budnick. Both cradle Catholics, the two opted for a quick solution to their desire to marry, although John had been previously married in the Church and divorced and did not want to seek an annulment.

Fast forward 40 years, and that decision was rectified through Kathy’s continual prayers, an eventual annulment and a convalidation of Kathy and John’s marriage in the Church on Jan. 10 following a weekday morning Mass.

“It was a beautiful ceremony,” Kathy said of the sacramental blessing, which was celebrated by St. Gabriel Parish weekend assistant Father Joe Barbone. “He celebrated the Mass beforehand, chose the Reading ‘love is patient, love is kind…’ and he gave us marriage advice. Father Joe made the announcement that there would be a convalidation ceremony after Mass; some of my friends were there, and they were so happy for me.”

Their story began in the 1980s when John – who had been faithfully religious up to that point – had a bad experience with a pastor following his divorce and did not want to seek the Church’s help in getting his first marriage annulled.

“I was a different person – I was not as close to God at the time,” Kathy recalls. “I was in love with John and thought if we got married in the Lutheran church it would be okay.”

After she experienced her post-surgery conversion, Kathy began praying in earnest that her husband would reconsider seeking an annulment. That prayer continued for two decades and included countless Miraculous Medal novenas and recitations of the Rosary.

“Padre Pio was the one who made it happen, I think,” Kathy said with conviction. She learned about St. Pio after seeing his prayer card at her hairdressers. “I started hearing about his miracles; I started reading about him and began praying a novena to him every night.”

It wasn’t easy for John, Kathy acknowledged. “At times he used to say to me, ‘Are you praying again? Why are you always praying?’”

Then one day, John surprised Kathy by saying “I think I should go for an annulment.”

“It took him about seven years [starting and stopping the process]; but he knew it meant a lot to me,” she recalled.

John persevered through the annulment process, which took about two and a half years, and began his own path of spiritual return to the Church.

“He said he wanted to do it for me, but he did it for his own spirit, too,” Kathy said. “He joined the Knights of Columbus … he went to Confession after 60 years and Communion, and I did, too, after 50 years … it was so amazing, I wanted to tell the world.”

When the annulment was finally granted on Oct. 31, 2022, the couple had to wait 30 days to have their marriage convalidated, living chastely in preparation. Following the Christmas holidays, they took the first available calendar date at their parish and asked Father Barbone to do the convalidation.

“I chose a friend from church,” Kathy said, “and John asked one of the Knights of Columbus to be his witness; a lot of our friends were there.”

Even after 40-plus years of marriage, the experience of finally being married in the Church has been transformative for them both.

“I feel like a newlywed again, and so does my husband!” Kathy exclaimed.