Note: I hope you enjoy this little story of mine, I wrote it back in 2019 for Spoken Bride and thought it might be fitting to share as we celebrate the feast of St. Valentine.
Novenas, roses, and a fateful road trip to Wisconsin. Steffani knew, coming back from a trip in 2012, that Dominick would be her future husband. But they wouldn’t be married until six years later.
Their love story is a beautiful reflection of patience, prayer, and deep friendship that poured over into marriage. At their gorgeous autumn wedding, in true southern style, they made their vows before God and joyfully waltzed the night away with family and friends.
From the Bride: Dominick and I met in 2012 during my senior year of college. We were on a road trip with a group of friends to Wisconsin for a mutual friend's wedding. Dominick was an altar server and I was a bridesmaid.
When we arrived in Wisconsin, we all spent an evening outdoors at a quaint house settled in the middle of acres of land and corn fields. Dominick gave me his shoes to sit on in the grass, and we immediately clicked over a mutual love of beauty in nature, books, music, art, and theology.
We spent the rest of the trip like this: escaping to take nature walks to talk about life and each other, dancing, and star gazing. It all sounds so cliché, but it really was adventurous, romantic, and sweet.
It was exactly what I had been praying for after a couple relationships that left me feeling hopeless. I had been writing letters to my future spouse since 2010 about how God was converting my heart. I said countless novenas to St. Joseph for the grace to prepare me and the husband I did not yet know. I also prayed the novena to St. Therese of Lisieux frequently, in which it is said she will deliver a rose as an affirmation of her intercession.
When we returned from Wisconsin I knew, perhaps from intuition, that Dominick was the man I was going to marry. Perhaps it was Divine Providence that he asked me to be his girlfriend with a single rose he picked from the garden at the University of St. Thomas, Houston. I took it as a blessing delivered by St. Therese.
I didn’t know it was the same garden where he would ask me to be his wife almost six years later, and I would present him with the letters I had been writing and holding on to for almost eight years. God and his saints have a way of planning things better than I ever can, and I kept this reality present and true while preparing for our wedding day.
Preparation for the vocation of marriage and not just the wedding day was the heartbeat of our engagement. That was the most common advice shared with us by married couples, and we took that very seriously. We went to confession and Mass often, prayed together more, and read books like Three to Get Married by Venerable Fulton Sheen and By Love Refined by Alice von Hildebrand for discussion. We reminded each other often of the wise words from our sponsor couple: “marriage is not about you, it’s about God.”
The highlight of our engagement was our betrothal ceremony, which we performed on the Nativity of Mary to dedicate our sacramental engagement to her Immaculate Conception. We did it with the prayer that Mary might help purify and perfect the “giving of our troth” to each other.
We wanted our nuptial Mass to be an expression of God’s gift of beauty. This was our goal, to give back to God what he had given abundantly to us. My husband is a liturgist, and I am a theology teacher and Catholic event planner, so liturgy is a common topic in our relationship. It would no doubt be our top priority and the longest part of our planning.
Dominick and I spent much of our relationship going to Mass at Holy Rosary Catholic Church, a Dominican parish filled with gorgeous, detailed architecture, woodwork, and stained glass, so we knew we wanted to get married there. In fact, this was where Dominick would have proposed to me, but it took him too long to get the words out. And so we ended up at the rose garden instead. Coincidence? Not likely!
We both love the Traditional Latin Mass, which Dominick grew up with. I was drawn into it during a major conversion through youth ministry and was more accustomed to the Novus Ordo (the most commonly used form of the Mass after Vatican II, usually spoken in the vernacular), as were many of our guests. After we considered doing the Traditional Latin Mass, we decided to use more traditional elements within the Ordinary Form such as chanting the Mass parts in Latin and singing the antiphons with more contemporary songs as the preludes. It was the perfect package of old and new.
We wanted to pick readings that were truly expressive of our shared faith, so I picked the Old Testament reading, and he picked the New Testament reading. As a romantic, I chose lines from the Song of Songs which have always spoken to my heart. It is the story of the lover and the beloved, of God pursuing me and my relationship with Dominick being a delightful reflection of that. Dominick chose Ephesians 5, a tough passage, but a reading that we reflected and prayed with throughout our engagement with the help of the deacon who led our marriage prep. It is a reading we encouraged each other to live out, and one that we wanted our guests to hear and hold us accountable to.
The highest point of the entire nuptial Mass was receiving the Eucharist with my husband. My soul experienced something in that moment that was beyond understanding. It was an elevation that brought me to tears, and I was fully aware that I was now united to this man in a way I would never be united to any other human being--by sharing Jesus’ Eucharistic sacrifice in an intimate way as husband and wife.
My entrance song was “Eternal Source of Light Divine” composed by Handel. We coordinated a schola choir with our musically-talented friends who gifted us with their voices and sang the Ode, which was a heavenly piece as Dominick and I saw one another for the first time. We decided not to do a first look to preserve this moment, but had a private moment of prayer instead and said the last day of our St. Josemaria Escriva novena for a faithful and happy marriage.
We were married in November, so we decided on an “autumnal southern charm” styled wedding. The décor was filled with deep, rich gem tones and mauve and gold accent colors. Being very much a southern girl, I knew I wanted a Gone with the Wind, antique, grand feel to our wedding and reception--but on a budget. We found a large plantation-style venue tucked away on a pecan orchard to capture the look we wanted. It was so dreamy.
We were extremely fortunate that many of our friends and coworkers donated items we needed like printing, invitations, and decorations. I did a few DIY projects like floral lantern toppers, grand entrance bell wands, and “bride” and “groom” chair wreaths. We splurged here and there on antique pieces, like the mirror we used for our seating arrangement and frames.
Our nostalgic invitations echoed our theme as well with mauve calligraphy and deckled edge paper. Our guest book was a poster of two characters made to look like us, and it now hangs nicely in our home. Since my husband is Italian-American, our sweets table was filled with some of our favorite treats made by my mother-in-law. We added Catholic touches by incorporating saints that played important parts in our lives on our table numbers.
I got ready before the wedding at Link Lee Mansion, where we also had our rehearsal dinner. It is such a stunning location at our alma mater. I soaked in time with my best friends and listened to their stories about marriage and motherhood while drinking mimosas and being pampered by our hair and make up team. They also gifted me with a basket of wine; one bottle from each of them for a major moment in our marriage with handwritten cards fit to make a bride cry.
My favorite moments after Mass were filled with dancing! Our first dance was a waltz to “La Vie En Rose.” My husband and I love to ballroom dance, so we showed each other off with our practiced waltz step. At every Aquila wedding his family circles up and sways back and forth, singing at the top of their lungs, and kicking their legs to the song “New York, New York.” My husband is one of eleven, so the evening was filled with lots of people, joy, and laughter.
We also had a private last dance. I stole this idea from a wedding I had worked a couple years before. While people lined up to see us leave, we shared a dance alone in the ballroom to a Glen Hansard song that we sang to each other in our first year of dating. As the song goes, “maybe I was born to hold you in these arms.”
Our wedding day was the start of a journey I believe I was truly meant for. Taking time to spiritually prepare the way we did only made our transition into married life that much better. It's not always easy, but knowing that we set a strong foundation of prayer and receiving the sacraments together gives us the graces we need.
Savoring all the joy-filled moments of the day and not getting caught up in details I could no longer change put the emphasis back on us, our vocation, and God. We were supported in every step of our engagement by our parish community, family, and friends who constantly poured love and laughter upon us. Dominick and I both believe a relationship is not meant to turn in on itself but is meant to be shared with the Christian community. My cup has run over from the many blessings this provided to us.
Photography: Ten23 Photography | Church: Holy Rosary Catholic Church Houston, TX | Reception: The Estates at Pecan Park | Flowers: Mary Tran | Invitations & Stationary- Pax Paper (Dominika Ramos) | Bride's Dress: Allure Bridal | Veil: Custom Cathedral Veil (Cindy Rose) | Bridal Shoes: Badgley Mischka | Hair and Makeup: BP Artistry | Rings: Helzberg Diamonds | Groom and Groomsmen Suits: Men's Wearhouse | Cake: Magical Memories Made Simple | DJ: Dave Clark Events