In 2023, over 250 couples prepared for Catholic marriage in the Diocese of Parramatta and would have no doubt had Diocesan Marriage Education Coordinator Karin Abrams as their companion on the journey.
After 11 years as coordinator and almost 15 years as a pre-marriage educator, Karin will step into retirement and say goodbye to a role and ministry she describes as being “a joy and a privilege”.
“It’s such a wonderful, happy area of work,” Karin said. “It’s so important for people to take the time to think about their married life going forward in their life together.
“I tell a lot of the young couples we prepare for everything we do in life like our careers, so it’s important to prepare for one of the most important things the majority of people undertake in their lives.
“I’ve always loved the idea of assisting couples to prepare for marriage and give it their best shot. They want to have a happy family life and they want the companionship that marriage brings, and that’s always appealed to me and something that I felt I could do.
“What has given me the most joy is that the engaged couples have benefited from what they have participated in, they resolve to take up some of the ideas, skills and information they’ve learnt into their relationship and they have hope for their future that they’ve got the ability to make this lifelong commitment and see it through.”
Karin’s ministry started when she and her supportive husband of 41 years, Tim, answered a call from Catholic Care in the Catholic Outlook newspaper for marriage educators to lead their weekend pre-marriage courses.
After a few years of being an educator, Karin’s passion and enthusiasm led her to apply for Catholic Care’s newly created Pre-Marriage Coordinator position in October 2012, where she was invited to review and revamp the weekend course.
In 2016, the role was brought under the Diocese of Parramatta Chancery Office, where Karin worked alongside other outreach ministries like Catholic Youth Parramatta and Office for Worship at the Diocesan Ministry Centre in Blacktown.
Coordinating the three marriage preparation courses in the Diocese of Parramatta, Karin sees the importance of couples knowing what a Catholic marriage entails before walking down the aisle.
“I believe that some young couples are unaware of how much God loves them and has compassion for them, and that includes the way in which he invites them to live their married life on earth.
“I believe in His goodness, He has made it possible that these couples meet, so they’ve got a helpmate to journey through life together and to arrive at their ultimate goal, which is heaven together.
“The Church has all the truths of the faith that can assist these young couples and they just need to be encouraged and supported to know to look there.
“If you look at marriage as a vocation, and you understand what that involves, that can help you live your marriage in a better way, and help you cope with the challenges.”
Being a strong woman of faith, Karin stressed the importance of couples living out their faith in their marriage together.
“I believe that Catholic marriage is a foundation for all the other works in the Diocese. We wouldn’t have our Catholic schools, youth groups, our vocations if we didn’t have the foundation of Catholic marriage.
“My faith reminds me of the importance of the marriage vows – for better and worse, richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health. At different times in your marriage, you’re challenged to live one of those more than the other.
“Each marriage needs to be a witness in the world to God’s love, truth and beauty. If people can see you giving your marriage a good shot, living it as well as you can, handling the ups and downs, being joyful in this vocation, they will know the reason that you live your life in this way is because your faith informs it.
“Tim and I practice our faith together, go to church together, pray together, and we’ve always tried to create that domestic Church within our marriage and our family, and we’ve tried to make faith as important as our other ordinary duties in our life.”
It might seem like a one-woman-show, but Karin thanked the enormous work of her amazing team of volunteer marriage educators and sponsor couples as well as support staff within Chancery.
“They are really integral to the role. They’re very committed to the whole idea of education in the skills and encouragement to live the Catholic view of marriage.
“They are all very different and bring a great diversity of examples to the weekend courses and they’re very connected because they have the same passion.
“Being an educator and a sponsor couple is great for your relationship because it encourages you to talk about your relationship, which is always good.
“Our engaged couples have the privilege of the experience of our married couples, giving them encouragement and real-life examples of what marriage is like. They do often talk about the difficulties and don’t sugar-coat it. It’s inspiring for the engaged couples to understand that they can get through the tough times.”
Recognising their incredible contribution to her and ministry, Karin wished to thank her former Catholic Care manager and mentor Ann O’Brien, former administration assistant Lyn Keane, current administration assistant Marisa Vanderhout and Natural Fertility Educator and Coordinator Catherine Bourne.
In announcing her retirement, James Camden, Head, Mission Enhancement Team, described Karin are a “formidable female leader of the church and Christ’s mission that we should be very proud of.”
“Karin built, and has sustained, a team of facilitator couples and recruited and trained many more over the years. She updated the Pre-Marriage Education program regularly and also introduced new services and events to enrich marriages and provide support for married couples and families.
“She has worked hard to engage with the clergy of the Diocese, often drawing on their wisdom to help update elements of the Pre-Marriage program and all the other services available to engaged couples.
“A lasting legacy will be the way in which she has read the ‘signs of the times’ and ‘met people where they’re at’. Her introduction of a number of online programs to support young couples of today with new options for formation and preparation has been outstanding.
“Her vision for building a network of mature-aged ‘sponsor couples’ to journey with them socially and spiritually has been prophetic and has given more people in the Diocese a chance to share their lives of faith and the gift of marriage with others.”
In retirement, Karin hopes to spend more quality time with Tim, her six children and four grandchildren and to continue her passionate volunteering with Pregnancy Help Sydney, a 24-hour phone support line for pregnant women in distress.