Editor’s note: “Love is the heart of marriage and family” is an ongoing series about families in the Diocese of Superior whose practice of their Catholicism is a public witness of their faith. To suggest a feature family, please contact Anita Draper at 715-394-0213, ext. 2213.
Catholic Herald staff
Love was a long time coming for Denny and Jenny Snarski, members of St. Francis de Sales, Spooner.
Faithful Catholics, the two tried to wait patiently for God to answer their prayers for the right marriage partner. He finally did, but not in the way they expected.
Denny grew up in Birchwood and lived in Milwaukee after college. He moved back to Webster for an engineering job; it was good work and his parents lived nearby, but he found it hard to meet people in a town with a population of 687.
“I was biding my time,” volunteering with the fire department, and “always looking to meet whomever I was supposed to meet,” he said.
After one failed engagement – she wasn’t Catholic, and their faith perspectives were insurmountably different – Denny saw a CatholicMatch.com ad in the Superior Catholic Herald and tried it.
Online dating was far outside of Jenny’s comfort zone as well, but she wasn’t meeting the “right one” in Detroit. Raised in a family with a strong Catholic culture – she’d discerned the consecrated life for several years after high school – she was looking for a man whose faith and service-oriented lifestyle matched hers.
The two met while in their mid-30s and started emailing, talking on the phone, and, in Jenny’s words, “praying that God would reveal if something wasn’t right.”
“When it’s a long distance thing, all you can do is talk,” she added.
After a couple of months, Denny bought a plane ticket. He figured it was worth meeting her, “just to see where that would go.”
“All of our parents were pretty nervous,” Jenny admitted.
Both Denny and Jenny knew they were searching for something serious, a permanent commitment, and they tried not to be swayed by infatuation.
“We weren’t letting feelings get in the way of good judgment,” he said.
Several months later, they were engaged.
Overcoming geographical obstacle
But geography presented a challenge. Webster is in far northwestern Wisconsin, and Detroit lies in the southeastern-most corner of Michigan.
“Detroit might as well have been Texas or California,” said Denny.
His best friend, a pilot, gave him a buddy pass to fly free, so he visited Jenny every two or three weeks and got to know her vast and varied family.
“It was really the best gift he could have given me,” Denny said. All the travel was “kind of a whirlwind,” but even if he could, he wouldn’t change a thing.
Jenny came to Webster a couple of times to see if she liked small-town life. She’d grown up in a town the size of Rice Lake before moving to the city, so it wasn’t that big of a leap, he said.
Jenny, meanwhile, always said she’d never move back to a small town, but she was intrigued by Denny’s well roundedness.
Faith, family intertwined
She’d been on mission trips to Rome, volunteered in Ireland for a year and spent time in Mexico, and she was looking for someone with similar experiences. Denny lived in a small town, but he’d also traveled to Europe, gone on mission trips and was other-, rather than self-, centered.
Oldest of 12 children, Jenny is also an only child. After her parents broke up, her father married her Catholic stepmother and converted, and they had 11 children. They raised Jenny; her mother has since married twice, so Jenny stays close to her father and stepmother; her first stepfather and his wife; and her mother and stepfather.
Discernment, mission trips and reunions with confession and Masses were all part of her family life. Jenny’s stepmother is one of 17 siblings; the family has more than 100 first cousins, and they hung out with priests, particularly Legion of Christ priests, commonly known as the Legionaries of Christ, at gatherings when she was growing up.
“We were kind of steeped in associating our faith with fun and meeting people,” she said.
Jenny spent four or five years discerning consecrated life before realizing it wasn’t where she was being called. Her sister, who lives in Mexico, is consecrated, and her brother is a Legion of Christ priest who lives in Rome.
The Legionaries have struggled with controversy due primarily to the actions of its founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel, who sexually abused teenage seminarians and fathered several children. But Jenny’s encounters with the priests have been positive.
“Our family’s experience was certainly more good fruits than not,” she said. “We really all owe most of our faith to the Legionaries and the consecrated.”
Family, marriage and more family
Jenny’s biological family is not Catholic, and she was looking for someone who could mix comfortably with many different types of people. Denny passed that test, and he was also ready to take on the responsibilities of helping raise her kindergarten-age son.
Jenny was single when she became pregnant with Alex.
“Talk about feeling like the black sheep of the family,” she said of the experience.
But, after she made it right with God, there was great rejoicing in her family.
Catholicism isn’t about not making mistakes, she said:
“I don’t have to be perfect. I need to keep trying,” she said.
Four years ago, Denny and Jenny were married in Detroit, in a church large enough to accommodate her whole family, and they honeymooned in Charleston for a week. The new family then settled into life in Webster.
The couple was open to having more children right away, but they were again forced into patience. Damian, aka Buster, arrived in September 2012 and – much to their surprise – Stella followed in December 2013.
“She’s been a blessing in so many ways,” Jenny said of her daughter, who was born on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The Snarskis hope to bring another child or two into their family. After outgrowing their home in Webster, they moved to Spooner, where Alex attends St. Francis de Sales Catholic School; Jenny, 38, stays home with the kids and does marketing work at the church; and Denny, 40, supports the family while focusing on his true vocation – being a husband and father.
‘Give God the first chance’
As parents, the Snarskis don’t have rigid rules about television and music, and they often use pop culture to teach lessons.
“We try to live a pretty balanced life…maybe more ‘secular’ than some, but we feel like we need to prepare our children to flourish in the world and be faithful disciples, meeting people where they’re at, knowing how to find God everywhere and planting seeds of his love and service in all encounters,” Jenny said.
Since religious vocational discernment was the norm in her family – besides the two who were call to religious life, seven others discerned a vocation – Jenny believes parents should encourage their children to “(give) God the first chance.”
“I think there’s still a stigma that if you express interest and don’t have a vocation, you failed somehow, or it’s something to be ashamed of,” she added. “I think if more of us who have discerned and ended up married share our stories, it might encourage others not to be afraid of openly discerning.”
The Snarskis have truly found a spiritual home at St. Francis, where Jenny recognizes the same faith-filled spirit with which she grew up, and they can relate to other families.
Their recipe for maintaining spiritual health?
“Keeping up the prayer life,” Denny said. “I think that is the key.”