A Blessed Sixty Years

McCormack Wedding PhotoSixty years ago, on a fine spring morning in a tiny country Church in Ouyen, Wilma and John McCormack celebrated their marriage. The Church building, says Wilma, "was the kind the young girls these days dream about;" a quaint warm and welcoming building, which they thought rather humble at the time. “The townsfolk were all very happy that day,” recalls John, “because it had been raining for days, until just the day before, and there was sure to be a bumper harvest.”

The vision of a country church with joy-filled people on a fresh spring morning under a big blue Mallee sky does seem idyllic. Yet in talking with Wilma and John it becomes very apparent that it is their wonderful relationship built on their shared faith, values, love, and respect for one another that is the real stuff to which other couples aspire.

Listening to Wilma and John recount their wedding day, it’s easy to see how their positive attitudes and delightful good humour have sustained them well over time. Originally, they had planned to be married in December, but the Ouyen CWL, who were catering for their wedding reception, firmly told them that they couldn’t possibly be married in summer because “the jelly will melt, and the cream will go off.” So, they decided on 2 September. However, this date didn’t quite suit parish priest, Fr Frank Harney, who agreed to marry them on that date only if their Nuptial Mass was at 9.00 a.m. “You’ll have to be married in the morning because it’s the Sunraysia Footy Grand Final,” he told them.

On the day of their wedding, Wilma entered the Church as a child of Mary, with a blue satin cloak over her wedding gown. The cloak was laid in front of the statue of Our Lady, then Wilma and her father proceeded to the altar, where they waited for quite some time, until Fr Harney showed up. “He was a very good priest, but we all knew he had a habit of being late,” said Wilma.

Wilma’s maid of honour didn’t mind the 9.00 a.m. start, because she was also to be bridesmaid for another wedding in Ouyen that afternoon. Most of the guests at Wilma and John’s wedding went on to her friend’s wedding that afternoon. “Everyone knew each other”, said Wilma. “It was a great day of celebration in the town.” Wilma is still in touch with her Ouyen friends, especially the friend who shares the same wedding anniversary.

John and Wilma first met at a dance at St Anne’s Hall in Rathdowne Street, Carlton. John admits he hadn’t had much luck meeting women, so he decided to attend the dance. He was impressed with Wilma immediately and plucked up the courage to ask her to dance. Wilma graciously declined.

John waited for the next St Anne’s Hall dance, a month later, all the while hoping Wilma would be there. To his delight, she was. Never much of a dancer, John waited patiently until he was sure that the dance would be a dance he could manage before again plucking the courage to ask Wilma to dance. This time, Wilma accepted John’s invitation, thinking to herself, “He seems too good to be true,” and admits being put out that he didn’t ask her to dance again that night, not realising until much later that John didn’t know the dance steps.

John said it’s their shared faith and Christian values that have sustained a long and happy marriage. “Certainly not his dancing,” quipped Wilma, her peppered humour no doubt also sustaining their family over the years. “We agree on the fundamentals; we’ve walked together in our faith and done many things together.” said John.

Indeed, John and Wilma have been very active in many church and community organisations. They have both maintained leadership positions in the Serra Club of Bendigo for over 17 years; they are members of the Bendigo Apostolate of Fatima, of  which John has been president since 1974. Wilma instigated the Marian Festival and has been coordinating it for many years. Wilma has been a member of the Cathedral Choir for 37 years and John was a member for 19 years. At almost 90 John says,  “I’ve run out of energy. Wilma has always been an energetic operator. She’s full-on, she doesn’t do anything by halves.”

Both teachers, John and Wilma have taught in schools in Melbourne and Bendigo. The move to Bendigo in 1974 was one of the best things they’ve done, said John. “It’s been great for our family,” added Wilma.

John said he and Wilma were committed to both being loving caring parents and hope they are also shaping the lives of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They have five children, three daughters, followed by two sons. Their children’s partners are wonderful people, and they enjoy the company of their 20 grandchildren and “almost” 6 great grandchildren.

Church, prayer and music have been a natural part of McCormack family life. Two of their grandsons are first-year seminarians at Corpus Christi College for the Archdiocese of Melbourne. This was a lovely surprise, says Wilma. “You wouldn’t have thought it when they were young, but as they grew older, they became more and more prayerful, each in their own way,” she said.

“We’ve been so engaged, so busy with all our children and grandchildren’s milestones; First Holy Communions, Confirmations, school concerts, graduations; we’ve been invited to everything which has kept our family together; sharing the happiness. We love getting together and we are very blessed,” says Wilma, adding that she is very happy to no longer be hosting Easter and Christmas celebrations for over 40 people, as this honour now rests with her daughters.

Wilma reflects that their 60th wedding anniversary might never have happened. In 1986 John had a massive subarachnoid haemorrhage. According to the medical staff at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne, John’s chance of making a full recovery was one in a million. Needing a miracle, and believing in the power of prayer, Wilma embarked on a prayer campaign for John. Almost miraculously, John’s brain clot disappeared and three weeks later, he was back at Eaglehawk High School as Acting Principal. Wilma and John are very grateful to their dear friends, community and family who prayed for John during that difficult time and they continue to pray for others.

Fr Brian Boyle, Administrator of Cathedral Parish says, “Wilma and John have been married for sixty years, which shows an impressive and remarkable commitment to each other in a time when relationships and commitments can be more fluid. Their commitment to each other, through difficulties as well as joys, is a shining example to all of us.”

Wilma and John’s fruitful marriage has outlasted the tiny timber Church building in which they were married and the magnificent St Anne’s Hall in which they first met. In a way, they have built their own domestic Church, one which will last well beyond sixty years, one which is best described in the words of Pope Paul II:

 “Marriage is an act of will that signifies and involves a mutual gift, which unites the spouses and binds them to their eventual souls, with whom they make up a sole family - a domestic church.”

McCormack PapalBlessing 800

After Sunday Mass on 12 September 2021, Bishop Shane Mackinlay Blessed Wilma and John McCormak and presented them with a Papal Blessing Parchment.  

 

Just for interest:

The St Joseph's  timber Church building in Ouyen, built in 1921, was replaced by a brick-veneer Church building which opened in 1996. 

St Anne’s Hall in Carlton was once the ‘Queen’s Coffee Palace’ a magnificent building with a grand dining room and 150 rooms. It was bought by the Catholic Church in 1929. The Daughters of Charity, or the ‘Butterfly nuns’ as Wilma called them, ran a hostel for country women studying or working in Melbourne.  Dances were held there once a month. The building was damaged by fire in 1963 and eventually demolished by developers in 1971.