I was usually the only person in her 20s at daily morning Mass, or any daily Mass for that matter. Since around 1993, every morning I would go to Mass at 6:30 AM and then go for a walk, then show up for work at my local hospital. It was a little lonely being the only person in her young 20s who had a conversion experience of that magnitude, and there were not many people my age to share the love of the Catholic faith with.
I went to Catholic school all my life, so I did have one girlfriend in particular who was interested in her faith significantly and we shared other interests as well. When she got married I was invited to her wedding which was over 20 years ago. I noticed a young man around my age, dressed in a black habit and sitting alone in the pew in front of me. He was a Benedictine monk. Following the Mass, I introduced myself. “Hi, my name is Marya.”
“Oh, that’s the name of one of my soccer teams when I was a kid! My name is Brother Andrew.” Thus started a 20-year friendship. We would visit each other every few months, me driving to the Benedictine monastery about 2.5 hours away, and him visiting me during summer and Christmas. I would go to Mass at the monastery, then we would have lunch together, go for a walk and talk for an hour or more. It was nice to have a friend my age who shared a similar dedication to our faith.
About 6 years later, I married, and Andrew got a dispensation from monastic life, left the monastery and joined the Navy. Andrew would still come visit my family, but since he lived out of state we only saw each other once or twice per year. We kept in touch on occasion by phone. I didn’t have the chance to share much about the situation I was in, but he had a feeling that it wasn’t optimal. One day around May 2012, he called me. I was not able to talk at the time, and asked if I could call back the next day. Sadly, I didn’t remember to call for two weeks. When I finally called back, all his numbers were disconnected. I panicked internally. I didn’t have any way to contact him. Since we would speak or visit every six months, I told myself not to worry, that he would get back to me.
We moved that year, and I wanted to give him our new information, but no luck. After nine months of not being able to reach him, I was worried and praying about finding him almost daily. Here was someone I had kept in my life for nearly 20 years, and he had just vanished without a trace. Had he been trying to tell me something when he called? I felt so guilty. I told myself that if I ever found him, I would never ever let that happen again. He was very important to me, even though we led such different lives and hardly got to see each other. I contacted another monk at the monastery, and he said he was worried that he couldn’t find Andrew either. I was surprised at how much I was bothered every single day, so I kept praying.
I was drawn to Andrew because he was funny and very calm. He was very methodical and analytical. He had an adorable smile and laugh which signaled an inner joy, happiness, and contentment. He always relied on God. His dialogue with God was ongoing, including Him in all aspects of life. Here was someone I could relate to at least on some important levels. My children loved to climb all over him when he would visit. I was always concerned that he would be annoyed with them since he didn’t have much exposure to children, but it seemed second nature to him. He was also a pleasant house guest, neat and tidy.
Finally after about a year, Andrew emailed me. He had been deployed to Afghanistan for a year and had just returned. I was SO relieved. He came to visit our family shortly after his return for the 4th of July weekend. I was just so happy that one of my inner circle was no longer missing. Within 2 years, my situation worsened to the point that I had to leave my marriage and apply for an annulment, which I received within a year. The day before I left I had called Andrew to tell him of my sudden urgent predicament, and to let him know that I didn’t know where I would be living or where I was going. He offered assistance should I need it, and I thanked him, telling him that I would contact him when I was safe. Approximately a year later, Andrew informed me that he was going to be stationed on the West Coast, about 90 mins from where I lived. He had always wanted to live again in California after traveling all over the world. Finally we would have a chance to visit more easily! After 15 years of him being in the service, he would finally be in California!
We went to lunch the week he arrived, and then tried to make other plans that fell through. When he told me he was going to Paris, I joked about tagging along. Turns out, I ended up going. I felt very safe going with my long-term friend to a place I had wanted to go for the past decade. The first thing we did was to go to the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal. It was there that I had a very strong sense to pray for Andrew. Then an intense sense of philia love for him came over me. I prayed that I would help him and give him whatever he needed. A few days later we went to the Notre Dame Cathedral on the opening day of the Year of Mercy, and walked through those Holy Doors. We didn’t really plan it. It just turned out that way. (Thank you God!) Many amazing things happened in the following year. We walked through the Holy Doors of the San Juan Capistrano Cathedral that following year on the ending weekend of the Year of Mercy as well.
Our relationship had grown into something very special over that year. Andrew had never been married, never had a girlfriend or children of his own. He fit easily into our family, as he wasn’t a stranger to any of us. Our relationship had some small learning curves, but his attitude of total commitment and service, and our incredible ability to communicate effectively allowed us to grow very close naturally. A couple of weeks after the end of the year of mercy and his return from deployment, he proposed by whispering into my ear in front of the Blessed Sacrament after 6:30 AM Mass. There could NOT have been a more perfect proposal for me! It was quiet and intimate moment, in front of the God who had placed us together 22 years ago. He adopted my children into his heart within 2 months of dating me, because he knew he would marry me. He treats them with thoughtfulness, and concern, and engages with them with affection, guidance, and his witty humor.
I have now been through 2 deployments with Andrew, which was a difficult test for myself. We have gone through 200+ premarital prep questions, plus a rigorous and conservative engaged workshop that took at least 3 weeks. We have spent lots of time together with the children both at home and on excursions. We have been through a couple of cancer scares, and holidays, and trips both foreign and domestic (although the military tends to reduce the number of holidays you spend with your loved one). By the time this article is published, I will have been married for about a week! Right now I am in the final preparations for our wedding. Our very small intimate wedding only includes our living parents and my children. I asked one of his very good friends to write a toast for the occasion that I could share as a surprise with him the evening of our wedding. Below is what he wrote.
A Toast to Marya and Andrew
by Ken Ricci
Andrew and I have known each other as good friends for most of our lives– since 1983. For all of that time, I could say so many good things about Andrew: he is fun to be with, very smart, self-disciplined; he is athletic, funny, scrupulously honest, and has a strong positive attitude in life. But I think the aspect of Andrew’s life that has struck me most can be stated this way: Andrew is a Seeker. More earnestly than most people, and more urgently, Andrew has always been seeking for certain things — for the Truth, especially — though the Truth is sometimes hard to define in our complex, messy world. While seeking for Truth Andrew has also been seeking for God and for the legitimate authority that guides our lives toward righteousness — seeking for logical answers, for rational solutions, seeking for a right way of living, seeking order, hierarchy, discipline, and seeking for good. His journey of seeking for what is right, and what is good, has taken him on many twists and turns in life — has taken him through several diverse careers so far — has taken him across the world a few times, and to many different countries. His journey of seeking has taken him through monasteries and militaries, through the peaceful silence of the high desert, and through the clamor and fog of war. In all of these paths he has always been, to me, a man of integrity and good heart, honesty and courage. Now in his life-long journey in search of what is good and right, Andrew has found a new kind of goodness that I think he probably did not know before– the love for a special and good woman who loves him equally in return. I am very happy for Andrew, and for Marya. I know that Andrew will always be a seeker and will continue to seek for the rest of his life for what is true and what is good. But now he will have a life companion to join him in that quest, and Marya will no doubt be able to show Andrew many different sides of goodness, of family life, of companionship, of joy and delight that he would not have found alone, without her. So I raise a toast to Marya and Andrew: let them always seek joy together, let them always seek what is good and right. And God bless them!
I would ask you all to please keep us in your prayers! Not many people get such amazing second chances for happiness and love in life. Thank you, God, for this new chapter.
Copyright 2017 Marya Hayes