Theology students’ meeting with Pope Francis makes honeymoon even more special
The month of October 2013 has marked the lives of two Newman University alumni forever.
The couple, Deanna (Jones) Johnston and Michael Johnston, were married in early October, flew to Rome less than a week later as part of their final coursework in the Newman Master of Arts in Theology program, and enjoyed a meeting a few days after their arrival with a very special person – Pope Francis.
As Deanna would later describe it, the entire experience left the couple “awestruck.”
The Johnstons’ journey to love, marriage and a meeting with the Holy Father began in April 2010 on the Internet. Michael and Deanna met on a Catholic dating site called CatholicMatch.com.
“Funny enough, online dating was something I swore I would never do, but I think it is proof that God has a sense of humor,” Deanna said. She added that one of the benefits of meeting on a Catholic website is that they both knew how important Catholic faith is in their lives.
The beginning of their relationship was tough as Deanna was in Dodge City, Kan., where she worked as pastoral minister in the Diocese of Dodge City, and Michael was working in the Diocese of Tyler, Texas.
“It was frustrating, but looking back we can see how God’s timing is always perfect,” Deanna said.
Newman University played a role in uniting the couple,
as both Deanna and Michael wanted to pursue a graduate degree in theology. They decided to do so through the Newman program, most of which is offered online, and in the summer of 2011 were accepted and began their studies.
“It turned out to be a great blessing to us because we
got to see each other about every two months or so for the Intensive Study Weekends on campus,” Deanna said. “You could say the master’s program had a big part in our preparation for marriage.”
Right after the Easter Vigil Mass in March 2013, Michael, who had moved to Dodge City in the fall of 2012, proposed to Deanna. The fact that their final class in October would give them the chance to travel to Rome was a deciding factor in choosing a wedding date, as the trip would also serve as their honeymoon. The marriage took place Oct. 5, the feast day of St. Faustina, and five days later the couple landed in Italy.
On Oct. 16, the Johnstons attended the papal audience in St. Peter’s Square, where they were able to obtain Sposi N ovelli (newlywed) tickets, which allowed them to sit in a section closer to Pope Francis. The special tickets are available to couples married less than three months who wear their wedding attire to the event.
After the Holy Father’s address, all the newly married couples were asked to stand in line. Deanna’s first thought was that they were to be ushered out of the special section, but she soon learned to her delight that they were being led to receive greetings from the pope.
“It was one of those moments where we could not help but see how God placed us in the right place at the right time,” she said.
As Pope Francis shook the Johnston’s hands, Deanna told him in Spanish they were from the United States and were praying for him. Michael handed the pope a holy card prepared for their nuptials, and Deanna explained to the pope that it was a gift from their wedding. Pope Francis looked at both sides of the card, then smiled at them both before greeting the next couple.
“The Holy Father gave us just a few seconds of his time, but he taught us that sharing the joy of our faith can be as simple as being joyful and fully present to each person we encounter,” Deanna later wrote. “This is one of the best wedding presents we could have ever received, and a wonderful way to begin our life as newlyweds.”