Story by JD Flynn
(SNR) - Frank and Lee Ann Pytlik listen to each other carefully. When they talk, they are in sync enough to finish each other’s sentences. They laugh with each other, and they respect each other. Frank and Lee Ann are in love, maybe more now than on their wedding day, 50 years ago.
But marriage hasn’t always been joyful for Frank and Lee Ann of St. James Parish in Cortland. In fact, their marriage has been a great cross for both of them. Frank and Lee Ann have been separated three times. Their four children have seen their parents miserable, angry, and bitter. Twenty years ago, Frank and Lee Ann both believed their family could never be healed.
In 1996, after 30 years of marriage, Frank and Lee Ann Pytlik filed for divorce.
“We had a lot of problems,” Frank said, “communication problems, problems with religion, problems with money.”
Lee Ann remembers the loneliness of that time.
“We each did our own thing,” she recalled. “We raised our family where we each did our own thing.”
Lee Ann said arguing seemed to be her only activity with her husband.
“We would holler at each other a lot. It was continual arguing.”
Before they divorced, a priest friend, Msgr. John Perkinton, asked them to take a weekend trip to Wichita. Together. Frank and Lee Ann didn’t think that was a good idea. But Msgr. Perkinton asked them to try a retreat together, a weekend called Retrouvaille, to see if might help them reconcile.
They were skeptical, but they agreed to go. Frank didn’t think it would help at all.
“By then,” he said, “we’d seen a lot of counselors. I just thought it was another thing we’d fail at. We just went because we both saw it was important to (Msgr. Perkinton.)”
Lee Ann agreed. “I didn’t think there was any hope for us,” she remembered. “I was pretty much content with the way we were going.”
They went to Retrouvaille as skeptics. They went so they could say they’d tried everything before they divorced. But as the weekend began, something changed.
Retrouvaille retreats are run by a priest, and three couples who themselves have struggled in marriage. The couples speak from their own experience about finding a new way to live as married Catholics. For Frank and Lee Ann, that experience made all the difference.
Frank remembered that “when we went to Retrouvaille, right away, they knew what was happening with us, and we could relate to those people right away, because they knew, and we knew that they knew.”
Lee Ann was impressed that the presenters “also had been through a troubled marriage. When they shared their story with us, it helped us to see that we weren’t alone.”
Retrouvaille (pronounced re-tro-vi with a long i) is a French word that means rediscovery. Rediscovery is the aim of the program. Retrouvaille says it teaches couples new methods to communicate with each other—how to speak, and listen, to “build a loving and lasting relationship.” Retrouvaille claims to help husband and wife rediscover one another through dialogue, and through prayer.
Lee Ann remembered learning to communicate in new ways with Frank.
“At first it’s scary,” she said. But “when you learn to dialogue, you communicate on a new level.”
On the weekend, Lee Ann said, “we learned a communication process called dialogue. And we agreed to dialogue together every day for a year. We were still separated; Frank would come over to my apartment at night to talk. And we fell in love again. During that year, Frank asked me to come back home. So I came back home, and I started going back to Church.”
“Retrouvaille saved our marriage,” Frank said. “It taught us how to talk and listen to each other. How to love each other.”
Frank said Retrouvaille helped him to see Lee Ann in a new way.
“Before I always saw Lee Ann as someone who was trying to get me,” he said. “And now I see her as someone trying to do the very best she can for me.”
Before Retrouvaille, Lee Ann said, “I never saw Christ in him. And I do now. I see his love for the Lord. I see he’s caring for me, he’s very tender, he’s affectionate. All those things that I didn’t have when we were going on separate ways. I didn’t have any of that.”
Change in any marriage doesn’t happen overnight, or over a weekend. When Frank and Lee Ann returned from Retrouvaille, rediscovery and reconciliation was a long road. They relied on other couples who’d been through Retrouvaille, and priests who understood and supported the movement.
And as their own marriage improved, they began to mentor and assist other couples.
“I guess we’ve done just about every job in Retrouvaille,” Lee Ann said. They’ve led retreats, coordinated events, taught courses.
In the Diocese of Lincoln, Retrouvaille is coordinated by Father Rudolf Oborny and Father Michael Morin. Lay couples serve as coordinators, teachers, and facilitators of ongoing communion. The program has been active in the Diocese of Lincoln since 1998, when Frank and Lee Ann Pytlik formed a core team with Father Robert Barnhill. The Pytliks have been involved in helping other couples since that time.
Retrouvaille will offer a retreat for married couples in Schyler Feb. 26-28. Couples are only asked to contribute what they can. And Frank and Lee Ann Pytlik encouraged couples to consider whether Retrouvaille might be helpful to them.
Frank said Retrouvaille is for any couple in need of healing in marriage.
“We were going to split up,” Frank said. “You don’t have to be that far gone in order to go to Retrouvaille. In more recent years, we’ve been seeing more and more younger people, just because they realize that they’re struggling more than they want to. They’ve got the sense to get to Retrouvaille and get the help the Church has to give.
“Retrouvaille is for anyone who might have struggles,” he stressed.
Lee Ann said she’s seen many marriages experience healing through Retrouvaille, beginning with her own.
“Don’t be afraid to give it a try,” she said, “if God can heal us, he can help anybody to have a great marriage.”