Back from the Brink
Catholic ministries saving couples from divorce
By Carolee McGrath
Chris and Raquel Garcia were on top of the world. They both had exciting jobs with the San Antonio Spurs. They were at the top of their game, too, rising stars with the sports franchise and well known in the community. At least, that’s the way it appeared.
“About five years ago, we went through a really rough patch. On the outside, it looked perfect,” recalls Raquel. “On the inside, we were falling apart.”
Chris says they both grew up Catholic and went to Mass on most Sundays. But he admits Christ was not exactly at the center of their lives.
“We were very materialistic and heavy socially,” he explains. “Let’s be out on the town, let’s be known, and let’s make a name for ourselves. Let’s build a new home and fill it with stuff we don’t need.”
Raquel, who was a new mom at the time, was about to become a single mom. After learning that Chris had an affair, she contacted an attorney and was heading for divorce court.
“You feel like you want to die. I think society tells us that, with something like this, you divorce. I was going to move on,” she continues.
But Raquel says someone must have been praying for them, because just when it seemed like there was no hope for her marriage, her mother-in-law gave them a telephone number, a lifeline that saved them both.
“Through God’s grace, our marriage was saved,” says Raquel.
Chris’s mother gave him the number to the Alexander House, an apostolate based right in San Antonio, Texas, where they lived. Greg and Julie Alexander, once on the brink of divorce like Chris and Raquel, began the ministry to help other married couples in crisis.
“We were there, and God showed up and wiped the scales from our eyes and allowed us to see our lives and our marriage in a different light,” says Greg Alexander.
He and Julie, who will be married 27 years in July, say they were a lot like Chris and Raquel. Both had successful business careers taking them in different directions. They both were unfaithful. And they had two young children who Julie says were deeply hurt by the strife in the house.
“Our work life consumed us. That’s where our hearts were. Every time we got more stuff, it wasn’t making us happier. It was always trying to fill that void,” says Julie.
Greg and Julie sought out a priest who they thought would help them get an annulment.
“We went in there trying to figure out how to get out of our marriage. He patiently listened to every word and then asked us, ‘What does God have planned for your marriage?’” recalls Greg. He said at that moment, it was like a light went on.
“For the next two days, I read St. Paul. From there I went to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and then I started looking at different encyclicals. All of a sudden I was reading about dying to yourself.”
Once ready to walk away from his wife, Greg was suddenly and humbly asking Julie to take his hand.
“I looked at her and I said, ‘Why don’t we pray?’ We had never taken the time to pray together.”
And so, they prayed—and prayed and prayed. Greg made a promise to God. “If you deliver us from this evil, we will commit the rest of our lives to help marriage in ministry.”
And that’s exactly what they’ve been doing for the past 15 years. They founded the Alexander House in 1999, which offers different programs to help couples.
Each day, they learned more and more about the Church. Greg read the encyclical Humane Vitae, written by Pope Paul VI, which explains and reaffirms what the Church teaches on contraception and how couples are called to be open to life. Greg quickly made an appointment to reverse the vasectomy he had after his two oldest children were born. They now have seven children.
“The Theology of the Body turned on a light for us. What we had failed to understand is that God calls us to be open to life,” says Greg. “Now we’ve been blessed with seven pregnancies and five live births, and that is freedom.”
Greg and Julie say leaving their high-paying jobs to start their ministry was a leap of faith. Often they wondered how they would pay the bills, but God always provided. They wrote a book, Marriage 911: How God Saved Our Marriage (and Can Save Yours, Too!). They serve on the pastoral implementation committee for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Marriage Initiative. They also travel to different dioceses across the country, with their children, to help other couples in troubled marriages. Their children are homeschooled.
“The miracle we experienced is available to everyone who is willing to choose God and invite him in,” says Julie.
Good marriages means good families
Father Kenneth Geraci has had Greg and Julie do two workshops at his parish in Whitesville, Kentucky.
“You look at marriage as the cornerstone of everything. Without good marriages you can’t have good families. Without good families you can’t have good vocations,” said Father Ken, the associate pastor of St. Mary of the Woods Parish.
Father Ken understands the hurt divorce causes in a family. “I come from a broken family myself. I am the only practicing Catholic in my family. I was a pagan for years. We went to Catholic Church every Sunday as a kid. We looked the part, but we never prayed together,” he recalls. He says Greg and Julie offer couples hope.
“I had a couple who had literally said the night before the workshop they were getting a divorce. Every single couple said the retreat was the most amazing event. It completely gives couples hope; it brings them back to the center and rebalances them.
People so desperately need to put the pieces back together,” he says. “Greg and Julie illustrate two points. One, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done; God wants to restore your marriage. Two, he doesn’t want to make it good; he wants to make it amazing. He wants to give us what we don’t deserve.”
With the high divorce rate, Greg and Julie are committed to spreading the message far and wide. And they’re not alone.
Albert and Bertha Fresquez are the international coordinators of Retrouvaille, a program that provides a weekend experience for married couples who are in crisis. Albert and Bertha went to Mass every Sunday with their four children. But 20 years into their marriage, Bertha was ready to walk.
“We were married but just going through the motions. There were a lot of arguments and the children were affected,” says Bertha. After finding out that Albert had been unfaithful, Bertha decided to file for divorce. But before she did, she happened to find a pamphlet for Retrouvaille at her church. In August of 1999, the couple made their weekend retreat and began again.
“I found it hard to believe that a program like this could save our marriage, but it did,” Albert explains.
The program began as a Catholic ministry in Quebec, Canada, in 1977. St. Joseph is the patron saint of the program. Retrouvaille also offers Christian multi-denominational weekends. After the weekend, couples complete six to twelve follow-up sessions. Communication is a major focus of the program.
“The program literally saved our marriage. The tools allowed us to own our behavior, forgive each other, forgive ourselves, and build a new relationship,” Bertha continues.
Bertha says her biggest regret is not finding out about Retrouvaille sooner. “God led by example by forgiving. God created man and woman to be together in a marriage and have a family. You turn over your marriage, and it allows God to become active in your hearts,” Bertha says. “Having God in our relationship allows us to be responsible for our behavior and to seek forgiveness.”
Albert and Bertha are proud to say they’ve been married for 36 years and have six grandchildren.
Grow old with me
Chris and Raquel, who have been married for 10 years, look forward to celebrating their 36th anniversary someday. But for now, they’re walking with Christ every day of their marriage. They also help other couples heading for a breakup. And through their reconciliation, God poured out his grace and gave them two special gifts.
“Through Greg and Julie Alexander’s ministry, from the darkest place ever, look what God brought us—twins!” says Raquel. “When we found out we were expecting twins, we were like, ‘Wow! He double blessed us.’ All that matters is that Christ is at the center of our marriage. Forget about everything else.”
Resource Links: Help for troubled marriages