Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

A couple smiles during the renewal of vows at the Sept. 24, 2023 Marriage Anniversary Mass at St. Stephen Cathedral in Owensboro, coordinated by the Diocese of Owensboro’s Office of Marriage & Family Life. RACHEL HALL | WKC

‘Selfless contributions’ helped raise $100,000 for Catholic marriage ministry initiatives across western Ky.


Thanks to multiple “community and ministry partners… as well as many generous donors who believe in strengthening marriages,” Danny May, the director of the Diocese of Owensboro’s Office of Marriage and Family Life, recently learned some big news: the $50,000 matching grant he’d been working on had finally been achieved, securing a total of $100,000 for marriage ministry in western Kentucky.

Being awarded $50,000 from the Catholic Marriage Initiative required that May’s office raise their end of the match via “new money.”

“In other words, we couldn’t just move money around in our budget. We had to go out and raise it,” May stated in a press release.

The $50,000 raised by May’s office came from a variety of community members, including the Michael Horn Family Foundation, 14 local Knights of Columbus councils, the Catholic Foundation of Western Kentucky (which is supported by the diocese’s annual Disciples Response Fund), Owensboro Health Community Health mini-grant, and 14 private donors.

The Diocese of Owensboro was one of the first five dioceses in the country to be selected in the first round of funding from the Catholic Marriage Initiative grant in 2022. Grant applications had to demonstrate that the marriage ministry initiatives in the grant project need to have a balance of “vision, skills, and support” across marriage preparation and marriage enrichment.

Affirming this major development, Bishop William F. Medley said in the press release that “it’s important to focus on keeping ‘good’ marriages healthy through accompaniment. The Church has long called for marriage formation to be on-going, continuing after marriage preparation and the Sacrament of Matrimony, dating back to John Paul II’s encyclical, Familiaris Consortio (1981).”

The grant itself has been spread over a three-year initiative from Jan. 1, 2022-Dec. 31, 2024, and has already helped fund marriage enrichment projects like Grace Marriage, a parish-based, ongoing, small group model in which couples spend intentional time together to assess, engage, and grow in their marriage.

Renea Estes, a Catholic marriage ministry consultant with Grace Marriage, called the grant “a huge blessing to help establish marriage ministry” within the Diocese of Owensboro’s parishes.

“The example that our diocese is setting is encouraging other dioceses to be proactive in marriage enrichment,” Estes told The Western Kentucky Catholic, adding that the generosity of those supporting local marriage ministry “will have a generational impact.”

May agreed, explaining that to date, 200 couples within the diocese have participated in at least one year of Grace Marriage. Within the first quarter of 2024, three more locations are going to start offering Grace Marriage.

May said that to accomplish this, his office held “come and see” events in four locations across the diocese, funded by grant money, and then trained parish teams in those locations.

“Once we did that, we hit the tipping point and other parishes started reaching out to us to build a marriage ministry using Grace Marriage,” he said.

Leonard Walther, a Knights of Columbus field agent based in Bowling Green, helped connect May with local councils willing to support the matching grant.

“I was honored to work with Danny to secure the funding needed for the Catholic Marriage Initiative,” said Walther. “As a Knights of Columbus field agent, I get the privilege of attending a lot of council meetings and council events. During those council meetings I hear the good work the Knights are doing, and I knew this would be a cause they could get behind. Vivat Jesus.”

May credited Valeria Vessels, the diocese’s director of stewardship and development, for supporting and guiding him every step of the grant application process.

Vessels, for her part, said that the “selfless contributions” of donors “will guide and strengthen the bonds of marriages throughout the diocese. Thank you for sharing your blessings.”

In addition to expanding Grace Marriage, other grant projects included launching Red Bird Ministries, a ministry for child loss; launching Life-Giving Wounds, a ministry for adult children of divorce and separation; expanding marriage retreats in Spanish; and incorporating a balance of vision, skills, and support in existing marriage preparation and marriage enrichment programs.

To learn more about marriage and family life resources, support and initiatives within the Diocese of Owensboro, visit

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Publisher |  Bishop William F. Medley
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