In his 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, The Joy of Love, Pope Francis calls for “a broader vision and a renewed awareness of the importance of marriage and the family.” 

Embracing the Holy Father’s call, and in an effort to address the significant problem of Catholics choosing to marry outside the Church, the Diocese of Trenton has launched a new multi-pronged initiative to support and encourage Catholic marriage.

“Encouraging Catholic Weddings,” an initiative of the diocesan Department of Evangelization and Family Life, is “a campaign to build awareness of the benefits of Catholic marriage that includes a program specifically for parishes,” explained Peg Hensler, associate director, Marriage Ministries and Natural Family Planning.

At the core of the ECW initiative is a new book, “The Wedding Survival Guide for Catholics – 44 Strategies to Survive Wedding Planning and Thrive in a Catholic Marriage” The book, which is a collaboration between the Diocese of Trenton and Stress Gone Publishing LLC, provides “a fresh perspective to young adult Catholics who are engaged or discerning marriage with a vision for a beautiful Church wedding,” said Hensler, who is co-author.

The ECW program for Trenton diocesan parishes includes free books and 14 free mini-guides and other materials in pdf format along with a diocesan web page ( devoted to the “Encouraging Catholic Weddings” initiative. The unique mini-guides are created for distribution to parish staff, parents/grandparents, and engaged couples, including Hispanic brides and grooms.

The book carries the Imprimatur of Bishop David M. O’Connell, C. M., and a Nihil Obstat, assuring doctrinal accuracy, from Father Scott Shaffer, pastor, St. Joseph Parish, Toms River, who was appointed Censor Librorum for the book by Bishop O’Connell.

Encouraged by the book’s potential, Bishop O’Connell said, “I’m sure couples will find it helpful, insightful and the fruit of lots of experience.”

Much of that experience comes from the additional co-authors, Nadine and Irv Brechner, Paulette and John Pitonyak, and Carol and Bob Schilling, three couples who planned weddings with their adult children over the course of two COVID-impacted years and who share their experiences in the book. The sole focus of the secular portion of the book is to minimize wedding planning stress and anxiety.

As part of this new ECW initiative, the book is in line with the Diocese’s Plan for Strengthening Marriage, the result of the 2014-2019 pastoral priorities of Bishop O’Connell, particularly Objective #3: To influence the decision of Catholics to marry in the Church through the development and widespread dissemination of a compelling message about Catholic marriage, with a goal to create a multi-media awareness campaign about Catholic marriage using both Catholic and secular outlets.

Some research has shown the decline in Catholic weddings may be attributed to several reasons, including the reality that younger Catholics are less involved in their Catholic faith and attend Mass less often, are cohabitating and hesitant to approach the Church for marriage, and are pressured less by family to have a traditional church wedding.

CARA, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, observed that “no Sacrament is in a steeper decline in the U. S. than marriage,” noting also “Catholics are more often choosing civil ceremonies at country clubs, the beach, or other sites. The practice of marriage as a Sacrament is becoming less common.”

Father Shaffer spoke from his own experience as a parish priest, noting that a lack of knowledge about the teachings of the Church and about the value of Catholic marriage was a stumbling block for many young couples, an observation made also by the U.S. Catholic bishops in a 2014 report.

“I hope this book helps this generation to understand the Sacrament of Marriage,” Father Shaffer said.

Irv Brechner, who is also publisher for the book, considered it “a labor of love … with great feedback and input from clergy, couples, parents and experts,” and highlighted the unique coupling of secular and Catholic ideas that help make it appealing to couples and their families.

“The Catholic content takes a sometimes confusing and complicated process of planning a true Catholic wedding and presents it in an easy-to-understand manner, giving couples the confidence to embrace a Church wedding.

“The secular content, 44 ‘Stress Reducers,’ are 1–2-page guides for specific situations as they arise during the long wedding planning process. It’s not a wedding planner and should not be read cover to cover. It’s an essential guide that both couples and parents should use to address specific situations,” said Brechner.

For example, when the couple discusses an often contentious subject like whom to invite, that section in the book helps couples and parents communicate, collaborate and compromise to resolve the issue quickly and harmoniously.

“Most young couples today are far more influenced by their peers and by the wedding industry’s creative marketing approach that presents a vision for their dream wedding and all the magic that is provided by the plethora of wedding vendors. … The Wedding Survival Guide for Catholics completely changes this narrative – showing couples the numerous benefits of good marriage preparation and what it means to celebrate the Sacrament of Marriage as something sacred,” Hensler acknowledged.

The ECW program and book will be officially launched on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14. The book and file for the mini-guides will be sent to all parishes in the Diocese on or about Feb. 8.

Singles copies of the book are available for purchase at

To learn more, contact Peg Hensler at phensl[email protected], or Irv Brechner at [email protected].


The Beauty of a True Catholic Wedding

When you combine the rich tradition of a Catholic wedding with all the meaning behind the ceremony, you have something really beautiful and special. The ultimate Catholic wedding takes place in the church and is truly a sacred covenant. However, the Church realizes that times have changed, and as a result, some policies have been loosened at the local level, giving you greater flexibility.

Embrace Prayer to Reduce Stress

What we are suggesting and asking is that you turn your worries, concerns and joys over to God by embracing prayer during this time. Why? Prayer gives hope, the ultimate stress reducer. We know that more than half of Americans pray each day as do 20% of people not even affiliated with a particular religion. Many doctors actually admit that it’s the best thing you can do for your mind and body.

A Wedding Rehearsal with Meaning and Based in Faith

The old rhyme, “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue a sixpence in your shoe.” This adage creates a connection to the past, a symbol of the future, a connection to the wider community, blue as an invocation of the Blessed Mother who requested her Son Jesus to help the wedding couple at Cana and sensibly saving for the future.

Some Thoughts on Marriage and the Eucharist

By deciding to get married, you are taking a leap of faith that you will love and honor each other forever, but because we are human, we all have times when loving and honoring can be really difficult. That’s when we say that love is a decision, an act of the will, not just a feeling. That’s what we call sacrificial, self-giving love, and sometimes that requires superhuman ability.



The publication of “The Wedding Survival Guide for Catholics” received a great deal of support from numerous people and organizations from throughout the Diocese.

Peg Hensler, diocesan associate director of marriage ministries and NFP, expressed appreciation for the various groups who assisted with funding for the project.

The groups included: the Diocese’s Annual Catholic Appeal; the State Council of the New Jersey Knights of Columbus, and several local Knights of Columbus councils including Allentown, Hightstown, Lawrence Township and Little Egg Harbor. Hensler also acknowledged James Stoever, State Deputy of the New Jersey State Council Knights of Columbus, and District Deputy Louis Monteforte Sr.