Yesterday,  Jean LeClaire said, “I will,” when asked by Father Rolf Tollefson if she will love me and honor me all the days of her life. 

On February 9, 1990 she said words similar to these but instead to The Honorable Patrick Burke during his lunch break at the Hennepin County courthouse. I remember that day as a cloudy, chilly February day in Minnesota. We don’t have photos, I recall no fanfare and a simple get together at the bar where I worked part-time as a bartender served as our “reception.” 

I don’t write this as a lamentation. We were happy with how things went, we wanted something simple and that’s what we got. 

The short back-story is that Jean and I met when we were in 10th grade in Rochester, Minnesota. We attended cross-town rival high schools, I asked her out on a date and she said, “no.” We bumped into each other throughout high school, I asked her out again on February 10, 1984, when we were seniors, she said “yes” this time and we went on our first date on February 11, 1984.

It turns out we were both planning to attend the University of Minnesota starting in the Fall of the same year. We dated through college, with a few bumps-in-the-road, and in October of 1989 I asked her to spend the rest of her life with me and she said, “Yes!”

Jean and I decided we’d get hitched a year later in the Fall 1990. In my experience, life is all about what happens while you’re making other plans. 

In December of 1989, we learned we were going to have a baby in July of 1990. I guess we put the cart before the horse a little bit….we were young, loved each other and just couldn’t wait. 

As a result of our “situation,” our Christmas present to our parents that year became telling them Jean was pregnant and we were going to get married. (We hadn’t yet shared our grand plan for October 1990 as we were planning to announce the news around the Holidays.)

My career took us around the U.S. for six years and we have four kids born in three different states. Grace was born in 1990 and Anne in 1992, both in Minnesota. Mike was born in 1993 in Upstate New York and Ben in 1995 in St.Louis, Missouri.  Yep, four kids in five years. 

During this time, our lives were hectic and the lack of a sacramental marriage was never given a thought by either Jean or me. We were Christmas and Easter Catholics and were blessed with four children so all seemed well. 

When we lived in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida in 1996, I drove by Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church every day on my way to the office. One fine Spring day on my way home, I felt an urge I could not resist to pull into the parking lot of the church and go inside. 

It was here I met Monsiegnor Leo Danaher. We chatted for a bit, I told him my story and he simply said, “It’s time for you to come home and I’ll see Jean, your kids and you on Sunday.”

By the Grace of God, I answered the Monseignor’s call and thus began my return to the Catholic Church. Since that fateful day, I am awed, grateful and humbled by the many instances in my life of God’s abundant and boundless Grace.  I am far from perfect and, still I believe, He is always with me even at my worst and most pathetic moments. 

Back to the marriage story… part of my story I shared with Monseignor Danaher, I told him Jean and I had not been married in the church. When Jean and I met with him to get this squared away he pointed out to us how God had already blessed us with four beatiful children, this was evidence He was pleased with our union and it was all part of His plan. Monseignor Danaher advised us to wait until we had the opportunity to have our marriage blessed back in Minnesota with our families. 

Well, we took his advice, he passed away years ago and I believe with all of my heart he is smiling knowing that, while it took us a long time to get there, we ultimately took his advice and it was spot on. 

In December of 2014, I met with the pastor of St. Hubert’s Catholic Church to explore having our marriage blessed on February 9, 2015 on what would be our 25th wedding anniversary. Father Rolf Tollefson told me that the necessary meetings for the Con-Validation of our marriage could not be completed by our anniversary date.  He went on to say, “You’re living in sin, you should not receive the Eucharist until you have completed this process and you should not have relations with Jean until you’re married.”

You can imagine the surprise I experienced when I thought back to the different response to my request I had received in the past back in Florida. Once my shock subsided, Father Tollefson softened my landing a bit by saying, “This is the stance of the Church. From a practical standpoint, your conscience may be your guide and I am happy and honored to help you through the process.”

Help us through the process, he did. During the Months of February, March, April and May Jean and I had Father Tollefson over for dinner on six different occasions and very much enjoyed the process he took us through. We both learned things about each other we had not known even after 25 years together, talked openly about our faith and made a new friend 

Father Rolf Tollefson is a kind gentlemen who  has given his life to the service of others and displays an awe inspiring gratitude for the Grace’s of God found in everyday life. He walks the talk. 

All of this, with many parts left out of this story for brevity, culminated in a beautiful ceremony. Yesterday was a wonderful day surrounded by family and friends. I am grateful Jean and I went through the process of Con-Validation to receive the sacrament of Matrimony and as a result enjoy the gift of the Holy Spirit to help us all the rest of the days of our lives together. 


  1. Rebecca Sellnow on October 25, 2015 at 5:26 pm

    Joel & Jean,
    Congratulations on the renewal of your vows. This is such a heartfelt journey of love that you have had. Thank you for sharing.
    May God continue to Bless each of you and your wonderful family with many days together to make more memories!
    Bruce and Rebecca Sellnow

  2. Nancy Lyons on October 25, 2015 at 10:12 pm

    Thank you for sharing your lovely story. You have a beautiful family. Congratulations to you and your bride.

  3. Eric Butruff on October 25, 2015 at 11:45 pm

    What a wonderful story Joel and Jean, thanks for sharing it! Glad to hear things are as beautiful and Blessed in your lives as they are, God is truly great!!! It is a reminder to us all the wonder and grace God provides for us once we acknowledge Him and give Him praise. Many more happy and Blessed years to you both!

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