ORLANDO | Shirley and Earnest Maxwell of Ascension Parish in Melbourne celebrated their 66th anniversary Jan. 2. Natalie and Jon Canteros married Oct. 21, 2017.
While it might seem that the couples could not be any more different, they share important similarities in their union. First, they both celebrated the Sacrament of Matrimony, making their union a sacramental commitment — more than a marriage. And second, both couples believe God and their faith are critical to their marriages.
In celebration of the upcoming annual Mass for Marriage, the Florida Catholic asked the two couples to share some secrets for a successful marriage.
“Faith helped through good and not-so-good times,” Shirley said. “If you put the Lord first in your life, it’s much easier. And of course, love, compassion and patience help.”
“If it wasn’t for God, I would never have had the opportunity to meet (Natalie), let alone start a wonderful life with her,” Jon said. “Having faith in a marriage, in my eyes, is the crucial backbone to a family. I feel that we show God’s love in the love that we have for each other.”
The Maxwells met at a dance when Shirley was just 17 years old and Earnest was 20. He was a tall, sandy-haired sergeant in the Air Force with “a nice build,” and blue eyes that caught Shirley’s attention.
“He was easy to talk to. He was so much fun,” Shirley said with a laugh as she recalled their courtship. “It so happened that he had become Catholic just seven months before I met him.”
Still, her mother did not like the fact that he was in the service. Yet the couple was married two years later, urged by the fact that Earnest was being sent to California.
Over the next several years they led the typical military life, moving from place to place. “All the bases had a chapel and we went to church every Sunday,” said Shirley. She attributes that practice as the foundational success for their marriage.
Shirley said raising her four children has been her greatest joy. It was often stressful trying to balance her work in civil service and motherhood, especially while Earnest was away. She recalled that it was most difficult when, nine years after the birth of three children, she discovered she was pregnant again. They lived in Melbourne at the time and Earnest was given the choice of a position in the Florida Keys or going to Vietnam, she recalled. Struggling with the difficulties of being on her own, juggling work, motherhood and the physical absence of her husband and greatest supporter was not easy. “But we weathered the storm,” she said. “Even when things were hard, divorce was never in our brains.” Both her parents and Earnest’s parents had solid marriages and had been great role models.
The Canteroses dated three and a half years before Natalie and Jon launched on their journey into marital bliss. They met through friends and married last year at their home parish of St. James Cathedral in Orlando. Natalie agreed attending Mass helps strengthen the marriage.
“We make it a point to go to church together and pray together,” she said. “When we go to church, if we’ve been arguing or if we disagree on something, it always brings us back to the beginning, reminding us what we find important about each other, what we love about each other, and it humbles us and grounds us.”
Pre-Cana classes were a significant part of their preparation as well. Natalie said it helped them look into all areas of their marriage and discuss them so that they could be on the same page. Father Martin Nguyen married the couple and recalled how seriously the couple took the Sacrament of Matrimony.
“I was very touched by their understanding of the grace that the Sacrament bestows on their commitment to each other,” he said.
Natalie said that respect stems from the fact that God has “always been a part of my life and Jon’s.”
“I feel as though God is always there and it is something that we have in common,” she said.
Jon added how faith in God helped him show his wife what she truly means to him. Having respect and consideration is also something that Natalie and Jon hope will help them navigate the joys and storms that come their way.
“Keeping that open line of communication is going to make this last,” Natalie said. “Continuing to have God in our relationship, and trusting him through our marriage and letting him guide us will help us as we start our family.”