Receptions canceled and dates postponed, couples renew focus on the sacredness of marriage — with or without the big celebrations

DETROIT — It was St. Patrick’s Day, a Tuesday, and Janine Kjolhede and Mark Weber stood before God, a small handful of their closest friends and family and Fr. Mario Amore and got married. 

It wasn’t what they had originally planned, but to them, it was perfect. 

For a year and three months, the couple had been planning their wedding with 175 guests at St. John’s Chapel in Plymouth for Saturday, March 21. Their families would be traveling in from Chicago and California. 

“It’s funny because everything was done,” Janine (now Janine Weber) said. “We had literally everything done. Everything was paid, tables set, name cards done. We were ready to coast into the wedding week.”

Janine and Mark watched as a week before their wedding date restrictions began to be set in place. Slowly yet surely, gatherings were restricted to 250, and then 100, and then, as bars and restaurants closed, their reception was canceled. On Monday, March 16, St. John’s called with news the ceremony would be canceled, too.

Devastated, Janine called her mom, trying to decide what to do. Her mother told her to call Fr. Amore, the couple’s pastor at St. Aloysius Parish in downtown Detroit, and ask if he could marry them — an idea that instantly clicked for Janine. 

Fr. Amore agreed to marry the couple the next day. So, at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, before 15 of their closest family and friends (some of whom drove overnight to make it), Janine and Mark got married. 

Mark and Janine Weber say their scaled-down wedding might not have been what they planned, but the graces they found in each other outweighed the loss of the wedding “fluff,” Janine said. “When you make plans, God laughs,” she said. (Adrienne and Amber Photography)

As it turns out, even the Webers’ scaled-down wedding was just in time. Days later, on March 23, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron announced that in addition to Holy Week celebrations in the Archdiocese of Detroit, all weddings and funerals would be postponed until at least April 13.

Even before the archbishop’s announcement, couples were scrambling to decide whether to postpone their weddings in light of the ever-changing restrictions and the need for social distancing. 

Emily Stumpo and Joseph Shelcusky originally thought they might be in the clear for their May 30 wedding at St. Joseph’s Shrine in Detroit, but as more reports detailed the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak, the couple realized it likely would be postponed.

While the couple is mourning the loss of the wedding they planned — the two now plan to postpone their wedding celebration until 2021 — Stumpo said the loss of their wedding day has a silver lining. 

“It was a stripping away of things that, for better or for worse, sometimes get in the way of seeing the sacrament,” Stumpo said. 

Even though the couple has decided to postpone their wedding so they can include those they love, Stumpo said it’s given her a renewed appreciation for the sacredness of the sacrament itself.

“You need you, your fiancé, a priest and a witness, and God fills up the rest,” she said.

For now, Joseph Shelcusky and Emily Stumpo are postponing their wedding until 2021, but the couple say the loss of the wedding they had originally planned has brought a renewed focus on the sacrament itself. (Photo courtesy of Emily Stumpo)

As sad as the circumstances are, it’s not a barren desert, Stumpo said; there are some spiritual oases. 

“God the Father is there and He wants to give good gifts to his children,” Stumpo said. “This isn’t some sort of punishment. God the Father also feels for all of us who are trying to follow Him and engage with the Church.”

Realizing this has been fruitful, she said, but not necessarily easy. 

For the Webers, who have decided to hold a vow re-committal on their one-year anniversary for friends and guests who would have been invited to their wedding, the stripping away of what Janine called all the “fluff” surrounding weddings nowadays exposed the core of the sacrament.

“The whole point of getting married is to show your love and make your commitment under God,” Mark Weber said. “By us just spontaneously saying we are going to do that without all (the fluff), it really strengthened our bond and is also a testament to our love for one another.” 

For Janine, it was perfect. “Believe it or not, it felt so right. I know God has a plan for us, and we were open to it.”

The Webers say even though their wedding didn’t take place the way they’d planned, they hope their story can bring others joy in similar circumstances.

“People want to be happy about something,” Janine said. “It was pure joy, and nothing went wrong that day.” 

“When you make plans, God laughs,” Janine added. “I have always liked that saying, but now even more so. I hope people hear about this, and I hope they smile. I hope they know that it will be OK. Everything will be OK.”