BUTLER, N.J. — Over the past 19 years, Claude Lenehan, OFM, has found a comfortable ministry helping couples heal troubled marriages.
Through his work with Retrouvaille, a Catholic-based peer ministry program for crumbling marriages, Claude has earned a reputation as the go-to-friar for programs in the East and upper Midwest. Known as a traveling priest, he is often tapped to present programs in upstate New York, Illinois, Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Indiana.
Since giving his first program in Boston in 1990, Claude estimates he has helped more than 2800 couples overcome difficulties in their marriages.
Hurting Couples are Ready to Listen
“It is a great ministry,” said the semi-retired Claude, who now devotes himself almost full time to Retrouvaille. “So often we preach to the choir in our other ministries. These people are hurting; it’s a teaching moment and they are ready to listen.”
Each year, roughly 200 couples attend Retrouvaille programs and hear Claude speak at the 44-hour-long weekend workshops. There, they acquire the skills to begin to make their marriages work once again when they return home. This month alone, Claude will participate in workshops in central New Jersey and Virginia Beach, Va.
Pronounced “retro-vie,” the French word retrouvaille means to restore or renew, according to Claude. The movement developed in the late 1970s and early ‘80s in Canada, and gradually moved into the United States. Catholic in origin and orientation, Retrouvaille is open to all married couples, regardless of faith background.
Claude is often asked to travel from the St. Anthony Friary in Butler, N.J., to give presentations on weekends in the Northeast and upper Midwest. He gives talks on emotions, forgiveness, listening, communicating, conflict, values, trust, sexuality, intimacy, and more. Couples also present at the workshops, making the program a peer ministry.
Sympathetic to Couples’ Plight
Claude attributes his close connection to married couples to his sympathetic ear.
“I have a sympathy for their plight,” he said. This sympathy developed, he said, as a parish priest in Washington, Philadelphia and Boston earlier in his ministry.
“In parish work, I saw homes that were battlegrounds, and observed the effect this had on the kids.” Claude said as tensions arose at home, children’s performance at school would decline. “As the pastor, teachers would often ask me, ‘What is wrong with this child?’ ”
A recent Retrouvaille weekend program in Buffalo, N.Y., brought out 20 couples, according to Claude. Interest is growing in Retrouvaille as more people learn about the program. He also said that the failure of traditional marriage counseling to truly assist couples is helping the Retrouvaille movement. Retrouvaille works, he said.
“It’s better than marriage counseling because that practice is one on one, or two on one. All too often, each couple will give their side of the story, trying to get the counselor to side with them.”
“With Retrouvaille, couples can’t blame anyone for taking sides.”
Three couples who have participated in past weekends address the group, too, sharing their healed marriage experiences.
Other Friars Participate
Gene Pistacchio, OFM, of Boston, who has helped with Retrouvaille weekends, agrees. “Retrouvaille is important today because of the very high divorce rate in our culture,” he said. “This program powerfully, yet gently, provides a life line to troubled couples with a set of tools that teach them to dialogue about their deepest emotions without judgment. It does not tell couples how to solve their problems but the emphasis is squarely placed on their responsibility to communicate more effectively by listening attentively to each other’s thoughts and feelings.”
Edward Flanagan, OFM, and Fergus Healy, OFM, have also participated in the Retrouvaille ministry, according to Claude, along with Jesuit and diocesan priests.
More Friar Involvement Needed
Claude appeals for more Franciscans to be involved. Friars can start, he said, by observing a weekend, by reviewing the curriculum outline, and writing about and/or presenting topics.
Learning the tools of dialogue can help couples solve their differences long after they return home from the weekend experience. By the end of the weekend, many couples express hope for their troubled marriage, which gives them the incentive to continue practicing what they have learned, according to Gene. “Many marriages benefit greatly through Retrouvaille, and I am grateful to be a part of this vital ministry.”
Since he offers 12 to 15 seminars a year, it is easy to see that Claude continues to find joy in the Retrouvaille ministry. Earlier in his ministry, he worked with corporate responsibility for the Province, and with the Ministry of the Word.
To get involved with the Retrouvaille program, contact Claude at email@example.com, or call him at the Butler friary.
— Wendy Healy, a Connecticut-based freelance writer, is a frequent contributor to HNP Today.