Inspiring Stories

Below you will find some of the most inspiring stories from couples and families who have participated in our Cana Week.

Alan McKenna and Annie Chow

Alan McKenna and Annie Chow found themselves standing at the back of a packed church in Foxrock, Dublin, and picked up a Cana flier. It offered a couples’ retreat, posing the questions ‘Is all of your time taken up by work and a million activities? Do you think that you, as a couple, would benefit from some special time to grow?’ Annie says they didn’t know what to make of it but they were intrigued. They are happily married with two young boys, then aged two, and five and a half months. Alan is from Co Meath and Annie is of Chinese-American background. They first met as students in Dublin. They were a little apprehensive about Cana at first, Annie said. “We had many questions. Were we joining a cult? Would everyone else be too holy? Would we feel out of place? How would the boys get on? But from the moment we reached the centre in Esker, all our doubts evaporated. The boys were settled in immediately and we felt completely confident the children had their own programme during the week, with a large team of helpers, giving the parents time to spend together. There was also a range of people from different backgrounds and different faith experiences, all were respected. For the first time in a long time, Alan and I had a space to focus on our relationship. Not many people have that opportunity, especially with two small children. Words which came up in describing the process were intimacy, communication, forgiveness, and sharing. It was wonderful.”

Alan McKenna and Annie Chow

Aldo and Orla Oliveri

Aldo and Orla Oliveri took part in the Cana week in summer 2013. “For us the programme had a profound impact on our relationship with one another and with God.” Aldo shared, “We have always been a very argumentative couple. I come from Sicily and over there we are open but in a way that can be in-your-face for an Irish person. Orla always says what she thinks no matter what. Sometimes she can be very blunt. We loved each other a lot but it wasn’t always easy.” Orla added, “We can have a Hollywood perspective on marriage. There is no real preparation. You go for a one or two-day pre-marriage course and most of that is about how to file your tax return. Then you are let at it.” When Orla picked up a leaflet about Cana, it seemed exactly what they needed. They booked right away. “Our biggest concern was the children but they had fun,” Aldo said. “Our little fellow had the time of his life with the other kids, learning songs and playing. We were asked to write a letter to each other. I quite enjoyed doing that, although it was a bit scary. It was quite lovely and it brought us closer together. Coming home, we were warned we would miss the retreat. One day we started to have an ‘animated discussion’! I thought about what I had learnt so I wrote Orla a letter. We had discovered a new way to communicate. We still argue but we are learning. Our marriage is a work in progress.”

Aldo and Orla Oliveri

Eugene and Maruska Smith

Eugene Smith, from Dublin and his Czech wife Maruska, who now organise the Cana programme in Ireland, also found out about it by chance. They heard a presentation about it from an Irish couple who had experienced a Cana Week in England. Maruska says they were very happily married, and had rewarding jobs. Both were committed Catholics and had spent time doing voluntary work abroad. But there was something intangible missing. The honeymoon stage was over and there was a lot of dryness in their relationship, “We were taking each other for granted. And we thought there was no chance things would change. At Cana we experienced a time to forgive each other and to ask for forgiveness. Sometimes that is not the easy thing to do, especially when you are living so closely with someone. During the Cana Week, it was as if Christ had taken the water of our daily lives and transformed into the new wine, just like the wedding feast of Cana. It has enriched us greatly and we are now hugely enthusiastic about giving other couples the chance to share in that experience.”

Eugene and Maruska Smith

Sean and Patricia O’Conaill

Seán and Patricia O’Conaill took part in the Cana week in summer 2012. “The Cana week programme is quite exceptional (Seán wrote). I’m dealing strongly in understatement here. We arrived home very much amazed, restored and rejuvenated. I wanted the whole thing to ‘settle’ for a day or so before I wrote for others about it. For many reasons this was a really crucial week for us. Patricia and I received special blessing and renewal. We were the oldest couple there, but did not feel in the least unwelcome or out-of-place. For some reason I had told Patricia it was to be a holiday as well as a retreat, and that is exactly what it turned out to be. I would strongly recommend it for couples who are in any way spiritually drawn – and it is ecumenical too. I would also especially recommend it for any couple needing time together, but also having a youngish family to cope with. The children of the other couples on this weekend were marvelously engaged and entertained every day to allow this. Patricia and I felt spoilt, food and accommodation were excellent, and there was genuine openness, fun and camaraderie. I was very impressed with Fr Christophe Blin of Chemin Neuf. At first I was afraid his 6′ 6” presence might inhibit free discussion of the thorny issues, but sharing was done in smaller groups which were always led by one of the married couples on the leading team. The aim of Cana seems to be to meet people where they are, to provide an intense experience of the strength of the Trinity’s unconditional love for couples and families, and to let Jesus himself form prayerful consciences from then on. That’s altogether OK with us. We are deeply indebted to all of the team who made us feel so welcome and privileged on this first Cana week in Ireland.”

Sean & Patricia O’Conaill

Tim and Sally Phalan

Tim and Sally Phalan from Wicklow brought Cana to Ireland. An old friend in England invited them to attend the week in the UK. Although married 31 years, the retreat “changed the chemistry between us,” says Tim. Sally says she and Tim first went to Cana not knowing what to expect and were “very charmed” by the amount of love and care that they were given. “There is a journey that the couple go through, so there is a beginning, middle and end. At the same time, the structure creates a space where God works, and leads the whole thing so every couple has a different experience,” she says. “We are very different personalities and we always found it very difficult to pray together because we get caught up in each other. Now when we sit down to pray we are very aware of having the presence of Jesus with us. So it’s like we learned how to do a ‘trialogue’, which is to include God in our prayer and conversation.”

Tim and Sally Phalan

Mick & Evelyn Burns

Mick and Evelyn Burns, parents of three from Co. Wicklow, experienced a Cana Week in the U.K. Evelyn says: “It happens so often that you just get consumed with the functionality of family life rather than just living it.” Two years ago, Evelyn and her husband Mick were talking about how busy marriage can be, especially with three young kids, and they decided to go on a couples’ retreat. Providence then intervened when a work colleague gave Mick a brochure for the Cana programme. “We felt straight away that we were led to go there,” Mick says. “Personally, I was having a struggle with the Church and my faith, so it was a huge departure for me to decide to go on retreat.”

Evelyn says she did not even notice that it was a Catholic retreat, which would have actually put her off. “I would say that my faith was very weak at that time. So it is just completely the power of the Holy Spirit that led us to Cana.” As soon as they walked in the gates they felt things begin to change. “Coming from such a low ebb, it was phenomenal the transformation that took place in the space of a week,” Mick says. “It was an amazing journey, both personally and as a couple.” The couple learned new skills in how to deal with issues in their marriage such as communication and conflict, but most of all they say the experience brought God back into their lives and the life of their family. “You think you are different or your problems are different, when really everyone has the same issues and it is very heartening to sit around and talk about these things with other people – especially people who have young children and understood where we were coming from.

There were no big issues in our marriage but yet the children had become such a focus,” Evelyn says. “That’s why it is called Cana, it’s about turning the water of your marriage into wine. It’s bringing God into the everyday and just making it a wondrous thing.” Mick says that it wasn’t until the family returned home from Cana that they realised how much the retreat had impacted on their children. “They absolutely adored it, which surprised us. They have very fond memories of it. We went back last year as volunteers and they loved going back. It is something very hard to put into words. It’s the atmosphere – it’s very nurturing and caring.” Seven-year-old Kate Burns says what she liked most about the Cana week is that she had fun and “made lots of friends”. She liked that “everyone is looking after you” and she learned that “God is always with you”. After their Cana Week, Mick and Evelyn joined a small fraternity of couples who had also attended a Cana Week. They meet once a month to continue in that role of support and encouragement.

Mick & Evelyn Burns