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Husband, wife help couples become 'magnificent lovers.' (Alice and Jack Quisnell of Twin Cities, Minnesota) (Cover Story)

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- For a quarter century, Alice and Jack Quesnell have been helping engaged couples "to see how they can become magnificient lovers," Jack said.

About 70,000 couples have enrolled in the weekend conferences or Thursday evening programs they offer. Most couples seek the Quesnells because of referal by a Catholic priest. Jack is a social worker and marriage and family therapist, and Alice is a nurse.

At the weekend conferences, which Alice organizes, Jack tells the 90 to 120 couples that, "as popular as communication, money and sex are, the challenge of marriage is not to be the great communicator, not to be a whiz at money management, not to be a sex gymnast."

Rather, he said, "the challenge of marriage is to love magnificently, and God is the author and the source of love, so if we are going to be magnificent lovers, we are best advised to be plugged into God.

"We try to suggest that religion is not just a nicey-nice thing, not just icing on the cake, but it is really and truly the essence of marriage in that it empowers us to be more loving people," Jack said.

Requirements for engaged couples marrying in the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese vary among parishes, he said. But at minimum, most priests expect the couple to meet with them and also with a parishioner to plan their liturgy, then to attend some type of the six or seven programs available in the archdiocese for the engaged.

Early in the Quesnell's weekend conferences (which cost $95) or the five Thursday-night programs (which cost $50 for five sessions), Jack commends couples for "taking marriage for more seriously than it's taken by at least 75 percent" of couples marrying today.

Among conference activities are small-group discussions hosted by a married couple, a candlelight dinner and a penance service. Participants can choose from workshops on issues such as spirituality in marriage, wedding liturgy, inter-faith and interracial marriages, dual carreers and adult children of dysfunctional families. Professional counselors are also available.

Large-group sessions on Saturday deal with the "transition from engagement to marriage, from a fascination with each other, a romantic love, to the mature kind of love required of marriage," Jack said. Some "may already notice that they have settled into the old age of engagement," the dangerous tendency of taking each other for granted, he added.

"Then we spend a good bit of time on their interpersonal differences, the idea that rather than to be surprised by disagreements, they should be surprised when they agree," he said. "We want them to be comfortable with the reality of disagreeing, and we spend a lot of time just saying, |Get these things out in the open; talk about them.'"

Another session deals "primarily with God's gift of sex," he said, "appreciating how the Christian view of sex is different from the view of the larger world."

The Quesnells treat birth control "very, very gently" and positively, he said. "We provide them with about a half-hour introduction to family planning and encourage that they take a course in natural family-planning," tying it into the concept of becoming a magnificent lover. "Some just tune it out, (but) not as many couples get angry as they used to on this topic," said Jack.

Generally, the "most potent part of the weekend" is the penance service that follows the Saturday candlelight dinner, for all but a few couples -- "perhaps 10 percent" -- who sneak away before it starts, Jack said.

Both a Catholic priest and Protestant minister talk about forgiveness and reconciliation. Twelve to 20 priests are on hand for the sacrament of reconciliation, and "some very, very heavy stuff," often concerning abortions, surfaces, Jack said.

Alice said priests have been impressed with the enthusiasm of couples for the service, and several priests have asked her if they could participate.

Fewer couples today than years ago marry as teenagers, according to the Quesnells. And although a few participants are entering second marriages, said Alice, "you don't have this flighty thing about being engaged we used to see years ago. They're much more serious as they come through."
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Author:Gibeau, Dawn
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Dec 11, 1992
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