New System, Course Offerings in Place for Marriage Preparation
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
July 20, 2023
DIOCESE—“It is a lifelong vocation,” notes Therese Stahl, when she speaks of marriage vows and the revised program for marriage preparation in the Diocese of Rockford.
As director of the Life and Family Evangelization (LiFE) Office, Stahl has overseen the improvements to the diocesan marriage preparation program, which began July 1. The changes include providing couples with more options than before, along with continuing to provide well-rounded materials for English- and Spanish-speakers. 
Couples now will need two certificates: one for a Pre-Cana class (online and in-person options, plus another option for couples civilly-wed for two+ years) and one for a Natural Family Planning (NFP) course (online and two in-person options).
Stahl knows that couples get caught up in pre-wedding busy-ness “because of the industry behind wedding preparations,” but says marriage preparation is important because, “this is time (couples) are devoting to their future, to themselves and to their relationship with God.”
The revised program is the result of listening, both to Church leaders and to couples themselves.
Pandemic adjustments and lessons learned
During the pandemic, “we learned that online courses were successful,” Stahl says, “that couples liked going online (for classes), and that parishes felt that online courses provided a good, solid formation.”
Publishers of online classes have put in safeguards to assure parishes and the diocese that couples have participated in, and learned from, the classes. Timestamps, couple-completed assessments of the courses and talking points for parishes to use with the couples to discuss what they learned all help assure good formation.
Advice old and new
The LiFE Office staff was happy to discover “we are moving in the right direction,” Stahl says, pointing to insights and directions from two sources.
A 1992 decree from Bishop Arthur J. O’Neill, Bishop of Rockford from 1968-1994, was uncovered when a priest was going through records in diocesan archives. That decree on marriage preparation is similar to that of a current Vatican document called “Catechumenal Pathways for Married Life” from the Dicastery of Laity, Family and Life, Stahl says.
Both look at the kinds of formation that happen throughout life, she says, adding that the new Vatican document then talks about “immediate preparation” or what should be provided when a couple is engaged. It encourages support for couples’ retreats and opportunities for them to “set aside time for each other.”
“I was very heartened by it,” Stahl says, because the diocesan program has much of what is recommended in place.
Diocese of Rockford marriage preparation program
There are two parts of the program — Pre-Cana and NFP — and couples have options for both parts.
The Pre-Cana options “combine relational insights from contemporary research with Catholic teaching on marriage,” says the LiFE Office description. “Couples will gain insights from the Church teachings on the sacramentality of marriage and receive practical tips.”
Pre-Cana options include:
n (Online) SmartLoving Engaged (English) and Preparación Matrimonial Católica (Spanish) are available online 24/7. Each of the 10 sessions take couples about one hour to complete, including viewing the video and completing discussion and activities.
n (In person) Transformed in Love Retreat is offered in English and Spanish. It runs from a Friday night to a Saturday night and is offered in Rockford and Batavia/Aurora. The retreat includes presentations, prayer, discussion, and quiet time.
n (In person option for couples civilly married for at least two years) Worldwide Marriage Encounter is a weekend-long (two night) residential retreat where couples learn new tools to enrich their marriages.
The Natural Family Planning (NFP) course options present the true gift of being open to God, to each other, and to new life, says the LiFE Office description. “Couples learn the scientific, natural, and moral approach to family planning that helps them achieve or postpone pregnancy … (It) fosters self-knowledge, respect, and appreciation for the gift of fertility … (and) supports God’s design for married love …”
The NFP course options are:
-- (Online) SmartLoving Fertility (English) and AprendePFN En Línea (Spanish) are available online 24/7 and take about five hours to complete.
-- (In person) Gift of Self: NFP Seminar (four hours) is offered at parishes around the diocese in English and Spanish.
-- (In person) Full Course of NFP: three to six months of personalized instruction from a qualified instructor to learn a particular NFP method.
Cost is $190 for both Pre-Cana and NFP — with possible additional costs for the WWME weekend and/or for the full course (3-6 months) with an NFP instructor. For those needing financial assistance, the LiFE Office is “always willing to talk about a scholarship” to help with the cost, Stahl says.
The Process
The LiFE Office lists four steps for newly engaged couples.
1 Contact your parish within the first few weeks of your engagement and tell them you wish to be married in the Church. They will get the process started.
2 Register for and complete the Diocesan Marriage Preparation. They recommend registering “ideally 12 months and no later than six months before your wedding day.” That provides the widest range of class dates to choose from. Again, two courses must be completed and two certificates of completion received by the couple, their parish, and the diocese.
3 Complete parish preparation, which will include paperwork and usually meetings and further formation. It will vary by parish.
4 Plan the ceremony with parish guidance to help you select Scripture readings, music, and other details.
Stahl encourages feedback from parishes, stating that the hope is that the new program will be stress-free for parishes. The office can share the course content with parishes upon request to help them supplement and enhance their own parish programs. She notes that updated parish resources are available on the diocesan website.
Like other vocations, marriage is an “all-in” vocation, Stahl says. Preparation for vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and religious life are years long.
“We need to raise the bar (on marriage preparation) because of the attacks on marriages,” Stahl says. “The formation (for a lifetime of marriage) is a gift from the Church.”
Questions to the LiFE Office at 815-399-4300. Website to register for the diocesan marriage preparation program is:


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