Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

Kristina Jones speaks with her husband, Jason Jones, during a Grace Marriage session at St. Pius X Parish in Owensboro in February 2022. RILEY GREIF | WKC

When ‘honeymoon phase’ wears off, Grace Marriage helps marriages thrive across diocese


On a rainy March evening in Owensboro, couples from around the diocese gathered to hear Brad and Marilyn Rhoads, the founders of Grace Marriage, share the story of how their marriage survived and thrived “in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.”

They shared openly about the struggles of their first years of marriage after the “honeymoon” phase wore off.  Sitting on a stool because of a recent foot surgery, Marilyn shared her recent hardship of caring for their teenage son’s injury when she was also “down and out.” Brad shared a particularly stressful time in his job.

Those common struggles most married couples experience together is part of the beauty of Grace Marriage because it teaches you to extend grace to each other. That concept, along with spending intentional time together, is the core foundation of Grace Marriage. Each quarterly session is a time to talk together as husband and wife in undistracted, uninterrupted time – which most couples rarely get in their busy day-to-day lives.

I think that’s why Grace Marriage has grown so quickly in our diocese. At the time of this printing, over 150 couples in the Diocese of Owensboro are participating in ongoing marriage enrichment through Grace Marriage. Each Grace Marriage session, couples watch teaching videos as a group, read scripture, and discuss topics one-on-one, but the “bonus date night” on March 11, 2023, was the first time couples in the diocese got to hear Brad and Marilyn’s story in person. Participating couples from all 11 Grace Marriage locations in the diocese were invited.

Investing in marriage

In response to Pope Francis’ emphasis on discipleship and evangelization, and more specifically the focus on marriage and family life in his encyclical The Joy of Love (Amoris Laetitia), the Diocese of Owensboro Office of Marriage & Family Life has been investing heavily in marriage ministry on the parish level beyond basic marriage preparation.

In 2022, the Office of Marriage & Family Life was granted a $50,000 matching grant from the Catholic Marriage Initiative (CMI) grant which was specifically to be used for strengthening marriage and family ministries. The CMI grant support coincided perfectly with the growth of Grace Marriage in the Diocese. 

An effective model

One of Grace Marriage’s keys to success is the lay-led, shared leadership model. Typically, a team of four couples run the ministry for each parish, parish cluster, or county. Responsibilities are divided between two co-facilitator couples, a hospitality couple or team, and an administrator (group leader) who is the point of contact for Grace Marriage and the Office of Marriage & Family Life. Grace Marriage is designed that way so the ministry is not dependent on the parish staff or pastor to be successful. The shared leadership model also fits well into the accompaniment aspect of discipleship and evangelization. The time commitment is another key to success. Most groups in the diocese run the four-hour model, which means each session is four hours once a quarter.  It’s consistent and ongoing, but manageable.  

Speaking from personal experience, my wife and I have been in Grace Marriage for four years and we plan to continue. I would say we had a great marriage going into it. We didn’t have problems. We didn’t “need” it. We were fine. But once we got into the rhythm of it, we can’t imagine not having it.

Growth of Grace Marriage: After piloting a year of Grace Marriage in 2019 with 22 couples from Owensboro-area parishes, the marriage ministry has grown rapidly throughout the Diocese of Owensboro to more than 150 couples. This map shows the current 11 Grace Marriage locations in the diocese, including St. Pius X, Lourdes, St. Stephen Cathedral, and Immaculate in Owensboro; Holy Spirit in Bowling Green; St. Mary of the Woods in Whitesville; St. Jerome in Fancy Farm; Holy Name of Jesus in Henderson; Christ the King in Madisonville; Sts. Peter and Paul in Hopkinsville; and Union County. COURTESY OF OFFICE OF MARRIAGE & FAMILY LIFE

Danny May is the director of the Office of Marriage & Family Life in the Diocese of Owensboro. To learn more about Grace Marriage, visit

Originally printed in the May 2023 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.

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Publisher |  Bishop William F. Medley
Editor |  Elizabeth Wong Barnstead
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