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Photo: Chris Sparks
A Honeymoon at the Feet of Jesus
The design of Jennifer's wedding ring represents friendship, love, and loyalty.
At the Shrine, Jay and Jennifer offered prayers of thanksgiving for finding God and for finding each other.
By Chris Sparks (Jul 9, 2013)
Tens of thousands of pilgrims visit the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., each year. This is the latest in a series in which we ask Shrine visitors what brings them here:
Meet Jay and Jennifer Todd of North Carolina: Catholics, divorcees, and newlyweds. He's a public defender in federal court; she's a middle school math teacher. He admits she has the more challenging job. He has two kids; she has three. They both divorced their first spouses in 2008. Jennifer received her annulment relatively quickly, but Jay's took more time.
Jay and Jennifer found each other on CatholicMatch.com about three years ago, but neither was ready to rush into a relationship. "It was just friendly chit chat for a while," said Jay. "When my annulment became final, we reconnected. I found out she was only 30 miles away. I'm not really an internet kind of guy, so soon after that we met for real around March of 2012."
Then came their first visit to the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in May 2012.
"Her father invited us up to Stockbridge because he's very active with the Huntington's Disease Society and the Guthrie Center [located in nearby Great Barrington]," said Jay. "They sponsor an event every year in May called the Garbage Trail Walk," named after the events described in Arlo Guthrie's famous song "Alice's Restaurant Massacree.'"
"We came up for that and joined some of her family for the walk," said Jay. "One of her brothers had always spoken very highly of the Shrine to Jennifer," so the couple went to Eden Hill. She may not have visited the National Shrine before last May, but Jennifer has a long-standing devotion to the Divine Mercy.
Her devotion began at a cousin's funeral nine years ago. The Divine Mercy image was carried in front of the coffin in the funeral procession. The image caught her attention, but she didn't know what it was. Then her brother Michael sent her a copy of The Divine Mercy Message and Devotion, a booklet published by the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception. "It just helped me through a really difficult time," Jennifer said.
Every day, right after school ended, she would return to her classroom and pray the chaplet at three o'clock, the hour that recalls Christ's death on the cross. She often watched EWTN's daily airing of the chaplet at 3 p.m. at the National Shrine. "Praying at three o'clock every day was this experience of connecting with the entire world," Jennifer said. "You realize it's not just you and whatever's going on, that there's this entire world out there praying, giving up more and more of themselves and becoming closer to [Christ]."
Later, the booklet helped bring Jennifer healing and peace in the wake of an unexpected and inevitably painful divorce. She did what she could to allow the Lord's mercy into her life. It helped her to have the Divine Mercy image hanging in her home. In addition, her brother and aunt had enrolled Jennifer and her three children in the Association of Marian Helpers, which includes being prayed for daily by the Marians during Holy Mass at the National Shrine.
"It was such a comfort to receive the enrollments," she said. "I know that must have gotten us through some really difficult times in these years since I've been divorced."
So that first visit to the Shrine in May 2012 was powerful for both Jennifer and Jay. He had lived in different parts of the world, which made Catholicism's ability to incorporate all of humanity across cultures and continents very important to him. People were praying the chaplet in several languages, remembered Jay. At Mass, the Eucharistic ministers walked to the ends of the hill to serve the Eucharist, a scene that reminded him of Jesus feeding the 5,000 (see Mt 14:13-21). He said it was "a very beautiful moment" when he witnessed Jennifer and her brother kneeling and fervently praying.
"Adoration chapels and certain shrines have a profound effect on me," explained Jennifer. "You can just feel the connection between the temporal world and the spiritual world."
They were engaged on Oct. 13, 2012, the ninety-sixth anniversary of the solar miracle at Fatima, Portugal. Jay gave Jennifer a uniquely meaningful engagement ring. Called a "Metanoia Ring," it is the creation of past EWTN producer and cofounder of the Dead Theologians Society, Michael Barone.
"The design is supposed to be the Immaculate Heart of Mary, combined with the Irish Claddagh ring," Jay explained. Often used as a promise ring, the Claddagh ring usually has two hands with a heart in the middle. In Jennifer's ring, "the hands are for Mary," said Jennifer. "The heart is the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the crown [stands] for loyalty to the King. So it represents friendship, love, and loyalty."
Jay chose to have a blood-red garnet at the center of the ring signifying the Eucharist, the reason for his conversion to Catholicism and heart of his spirituality.
They married on the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul on June 29 and returned, at Jay's suggestion, to the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy for their honeymoon. The Todds' next adventure? Learning to live as a blended family.
"We're just trying to let the Lord lead us," Jennifer concluded.
The Todds have some tips to share regarding the annulment process. Read on.