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August 24, 2017

New York (America Media)—In “When a Jew and a Catholic Marry,” Mark Oppenheimer, the award-winning religion writer, explores the challenges and unexpected blessings of three Jewish-Catholic marriages.

Michal Woll, a Reconstructionist rabbi, and Jon Sweeney, a Catholic convert, both journeyed through denominational changes within their own traditions before marrying. Though their experiences of Judaism and Catholicism, each invites the other to find meaning in their respective traditions, while also recognizing the limits of full participation in both. Woll describes the time when she realized that the incompatibility of the core of Catholic and Jewish beliefs meant that she felt she was no longer able to attend Mass with her husband, despite understanding the importance of the liturgy for Sweeney. Woll and Sweeney are raising their daughter as a Jew and find commonality in their love of ritual and mystical experience of faith.

Whereas the Woll/Sweeney marriage is more experiential, R. R. “Rusty” and Juliana Reno’s interfaith marriage is intensely theological. Rusty, now the editor of the religious journal, First Things, and Juliana were married in Rusty’s Episcopalian church while he was a graduate student at Yale. The two agreed to raise their children as Jews, with Rusty’s added caveat that they would be engaged with their faith on a regular basis. This challenged Juliana to be more deeply involved in her tradition. When Rusty considered converting to Catholicism, Juliana counseled him to first pray and seek a spiritual advisor. Through their marriage, Juliana and Rusty became more devoted to their respective faiths. The Renos have challenged each other to consider the daily role of faith and the nature of sacrifice. Although disagreements exist, their shared life is made more meaningful by their deep involvement in Judaism and Catholicism. 

While the Woll/Sweeney and Reno examples demonstrate life between two people deeply committed to their faith, the marriage of Marie-Hélène and Arthur Gold is an example of what happens when one partner becomes more serious about religion, while the other does not. After Marie-Hélène began struggling with depression, she found some healing by attending Mass regularly. Arthur, a lifelong agnostic Jew, did not convert but supported his wife in her newfound religiosity. He even wrote the intercessory prayers that Marie-Hélène would read at Mass on Sundays. These prayers served as a testament to their interfaith union. They were beautifully rooted in his Jewish intellectual tradition and inspired by passages from the New Testament, the Hebrew Bible and literature.

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Lisa Manico