"She loves God, the Church, family, children, laughing, deep conversations, holding hands and playful banter." That was how Philip described his ideal spouse when he filled out his CatholicMatch profile. The 25-year-old from Ohio was raised in a devout family where he is the youngest of six kids, and he felt a faith-based online dating site gave him the best chance of finding a woman who would meet that description.
One thing Philip wasn't looking for was a long-distance relationship. He expressed a preference for staying in his area, but at the same time left the door open a crack if the right person might be somewhere other than the northwest part of the Buckeye State.
That crack resulted in the door being pushed open. One day he saw Joanna's photo appear on his CatholicMatch home page and clicked on the profile to take a closer look. He was intrigued, and even though the 24-year-old lived in Los Angeles, he was prepared to reach out.
"I wanted to know more about her because I was doing a brief check-in," he recalled. As it turns out, Joanna beat him to the punch. She saw his profile in her notifications, was favorably impressed and when Philip logged in again, a message from her was waiting.
The next few months were spent emailing and getting to know each other in a more three-dimensional way on Skype. At the time, Philip was traveling for work a great deal, and at that time he made a trip to SoCal to meet Joanna in person.
That first trip to California was eleven months ago, and Philip and Joanna knew after a couple days together that they wanted to give this relationship a real chance, in spite of whatever hardships being across the country might bring. As it turned out, Philip was able to spend a good amount of time in her area, and the relationship continued to flourish.
Philip and Joanna knew they wanted to continue the relationship in the same city. He was just waiting for a job change to take effect this spring, one that wouldn't require him to be constantly on the move. But Philip also had something else in mind.
"I had been going back and forth inside my head about where and how to propose to Joanna," he recalled. Everything from dinner at a pricey restaurant to a sunset walk on the beach to fireworks ran through Philip's head. "Ultimately though, I felt drawn to propose in the context of the sacraments," he concluded.
There was still uncertainty about how the proposal would all unfold. Philip bought the ring and secured the blessing of Joanna's father. The previous evening, he and Joanna had enjoyed a great time at Catholic Underground in Los Angeles. There was adoration, confession and live music by Catholic artists. When they left the event, each spoke aloud about how sure they felt about their future together. It all emboldened to Philip to propose after Sunday evening Mass.
"I probably checked my pocket 50 times to make sure the box hadn't somehow disappeared," Philip said regarding the Mass. Afterwards, he suggested to Joanna that they pray together in a side chapel with the tabernacle. "This wasn't an unusual practice for us, so she was entirely unsuspecting."
It was through prayer, that Philip put his proposal into words. After giving thanks to the Lord for His Presence in the Eucharist, he added "And I pray you help me to make a gift of myself to Joanna, especially as we prepare for the sacrament of matrimony, if she'll have me." At this point, Joanna opened her eyes and saw the ring. She knew the prayer was a proposal and said yes.
Neither Philip nor Joanna would ever say that a long-distance relationship was easy--"all the periods of separation and managing different time zones...it hasn't been the easiest journey," he conceded. What they both say beyond a doubt is that the struggle was worth it.
"We see it as a true gift of God that we found each other," Philip said. "We trust that we are where God wants us to be."