The bride’s wedding dress was a pale blue patterned hospital gown. Her bouquet of roses was gathered by her nurses. The groom stood next to her hospital bed and held her hand, careful not to bump any of the wires connecting her to the medical equipment. Wedding music played from a nurse’s cell phone.
Father Stefan P. Starzynski, hospital chaplain at Inova-Fairfax Hospital, started the wedding of Margarita Rodríguez Mejía and Isabel Vidal Domínguez with a blessing and then read the popular Bible passage, “Love is patient, love is kind,” and the Gospel story of the wedding feast at Cana. When he asked for the rings, they realized they didn’t have any, so three nurses offered up their rubber wedding rings to the couple. “Just like the Holy Trinity,” joked the priest. At the end of the ceremony, the bride’s daughter, Josephine Breckley, sang “Ave Maria.”
“My mother just starts crying and all of the nurses start crying and I am trying to hold it together (but) I’m just bawling,” said Josephine, a parishioner of All Saints Catholic Church in Manassas. After the final blessing, a nurse brought the newlyweds pieces of chocolate cake decorated with yellow roses.
The couple’s road to the altar, or the hospital room, was a long, bumpy one. Margarita got married and had three children while living in Mexico. Her husband became abusive when he drank and Margarita felt she needed to escape. “I didn’t have the strength to stay with them,” she said with emotion as her daughter translated from Spanish. “I knew (their father) didn’t deserve to have them and I was so mad about leaving them but I couldn’t stay with them. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a family that would help me fight for my kids so I had no other choice.”
Josephine was raised by her paternal grandmother, then by nuns. “It was the best thing that could ever have happened to me because I had a lot of discipline and that makes me the person I am now, and they helped me to heal a lot of the stuff my father put us through,” she said. When Josephine reached adulthood, she went looking for her father and was able to reconcile with him shortly before he died.
During that time, Margarita met her future husband, Isabel, and they were civilly married in Mexico. Isabel then moved to the United States for work, and Margarita soon followed. Years later, Josephine moved to the U.S. to look for her mother. “God made a miracle in my life when I finally found my mother after so many years,” said Josephine. Her two brothers still live in Mexico.
For a long time, Josephine urged her mother to go back to church, but Margarita always responded that she didn’t feel worthy. But while recovering from quadruple bypass surgery in the hospital, Margarita asked her daughter to send for a priest. “I wanted to be close to God and to be forgiven,” she said. Margarita also wanted to be married in the church. There was no impediment to the marriage, said Father Starzynski, and though preparing for a church wedding usually takes months, in certain circumstances with proper permission, weddings can be performed immediately.
Isabel was ready to be married, too. When Josephine told him that Father Starzynski had spoken with Margarita, he replied, “This is amazing because in the morning when I came and talked to your mother, I was telling her that if I had a priest in front of me right now, I would marry her.”
Though Margarita was in pain and could barely keep her eyes open in the days after her surgery, during the wedding she had the biggest smile, said Josephine. “It was a beautiful wedding and I felt so beautiful,” said Margarita. Having her daughter there was incredibly special. “I have never in my life felt such a beautiful feeling,” she said.
Father Starzynski hopes the witness of Margarita and Isabel inspires other couples to be married in the church. “The church is there with open arms,” he said. “Healing graces flow from the sacrament of marriage.” But more touching than Margarita’s desire to be married was her desire to be reconciled with God, he said. “The most important thing for her was going to confession and receiving Communion.” She also received anointing of the sick.
Margarita was released from the hospital and still is slowly recovering. “I want to fight for my life and continue being with my loved ones,” she said.
Josephine believes God is “working overtime” to physically heal her mother, but she’s grateful for the spiritual healing that already has occurred. “I don’t think I will ever be able to repay Father Stefan for what he did in my mother’s life,” said Josephine. “After she received Communion before Father left, (Margarita) said, ‘Thank you for making me whole again.’ ”
“That,” Josephine said, “was the most beautiful moment in my life.”