Published in Threshold Magazine, July, 2004.
At a time when the divorce rate is at an all time high and fewer Australians are getting married, we may be forgiven for thinking that the institution of marriage is terminally ill and that it is only a matter of time before it gives up the ghost completely. Despite this rather gloomy prognosis, marriage continues to show that it is the most beneficial living arrangement for men, women and especially children - and there is one priest in Sydney who has dedicated his life to seeing that as many people as possible are aware of this fact and experience it for themselves. Fr Peter Quin, parish priest of the North Sydney-Lavender Bay-Kirribilli parish, has found a formula which results in only 3% of the couples he marries terminating their marriage in divorce. Fr. Quin's example shows that with a single minded commitment and an intensely pragmatic approach to human relationships, healthy marriages are possible.
So how does he do it? First Fr Quinn arranges a series of dinners with three or four couples at whose weddings he is about to officiate. The couples bring a course each and they meet at Fr Quin's presbytery in Lavender Bay. The aim of the dinners is to get the couples to share their thoughts on a number of topics which are central to marriage. The dinners give the participants a chance to hear each other's thoughts on these matters, and to face some important issues in a challenging yet nurturing environment. Quin starts off with ice breakers such as the participant's employment, family background, how they met and how the men proposed. He then moves on to more personal matters such as parental background, how they communicate with one another, how they handle conflict, children, finances, and sexuality. Everyone is invited to answer and Quin is careful to not let anyone get away with what he considers to be a shallow answer. If he thinks people are just giving platitudes or evading the question he gentle probes to get the person to reveal what he or she really thinks on the issue.
The couples find that these dinners act as a catalyst for them to deepen their thinking on important issues and to share their thoughts with each other. They also find it very useful to hear answers from the other couples as this give a different perspective to these issues and suggest other avenues they may explore.
How the couple resolves conflict is a very important and Quin likes to delve into this question quite deeply. "When I ask them how they resolve conflict, the conversation goes much deeper," say Quin, "and that is the beginning of the real preparation for marriage. They all have conflict and they're all helped by knowing that they're not the only ones".
As part of their marriage preparation, Quin recommends each couple undertakes the 156 questions FOCCUS survey and both a facilitator and Quin discuss the results with the couple afterwards.
On the wedding day, Quin is able to include a relevant sermon in the service. He tries to stay in touch with couples at social events which he organises for that specific purpose. He holds golf day, balls and an annual end-of-year barbeque. When children arrive on the scene he is further involved with baptisms and mothers and babies groups. In the late 1990s Quin was instrumental in the foundation of the Parent Infant Foundation of Australia (PIFA) which caters for mothers of babies under five. He also organises local dinners to which he invites all the couples he has married who live in an area. Through these dinners he tries to build support networks of like-minded couples.Because Fr. Quin has been involved with their relationship from the beginning of the engagement, the couples whose weddings he officiates tend to know and trust him and they will turn to him for counsel and advice if they are having difficulties in their marriages. He talks with them and tries to help them through the problem and then if they need further help, he recommends they see one of two trusted professionals, whom he knows can give excellent advice on marital problem. This has proved very successful. "If a couple come to me and then see the marriage counsellors, I very rarely loose them," says Quin.
This encapsulates much of what is effective about Quin's approach. He is committed to seeing that the marriages he helps create stay intact and feels a personal sense of loss whenever a couple divorces.