Kari and Stephen Colella, along with three other married couples, founded Annunciation Ministries in March 2015. Kari serves Annunciation Ministries as the executive director. Previously, Kari served the Archdiocese of Boston in marriage ministries from 2001-14. While there, she oversaw the development and publication of the marriage preparation program Transformed in Love: Building Your Catholic Marriage. Kari also served as a consultant to the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth from 2017 to 2019.
Kari has a B.A. in world religions from Mary Washington University and an M.T.S. in systematic theology from Weston Jesuit School of Theology. She is also a spiritual director and received her formation through the Lanteri Center in Denver. She enjoys serving as a spiritual director on silent retreats and accompanying people in the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises.
Stephen serves the Archdiocese of Miami as the cabinet secretary of parish life. Prior to his current position, Stephen worked for the Archdiocese of Boston for 15 years in ministry and development. Stephen has a B.A. in philosophy and ethics from the University of Southern California and an M.A. in theology from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
What has helped you stay married, and actually happy, after 23 years?
Stephen: I think we have stayed happily married because we meant it when we vowed to God and to one another. We stand on that commitment and count on each other and God to do so as well. We were friends first and still are. We work hard, laugh together and keep on dating. Others have also helped us so we weren’t left alone in our marriage. We try to look for those ahead of us who can be mentors, those around us who can accompany us, and those behind us whom we can try to mentor.
Kari: I thank God all the time that we are still together and happy. It’s been one of the hardest things and best things I’ve ever done and suspect I will ever do. I think I would boil down our happiness to the perspective, tools and support God’s given us. I’ve come to understand marriage as my path through which I will “work out my salvation.” In this light, the daily grind, the highs and the lows, the triumphs and the trials all become the sun and rain, thunder and lightning, that are shaping me to become more fully who I am, who God created me to be. Seeing marriage as my path, the way in which I will be perfected by love, has changed everything for me.
What do you suggest to married couples to resolve a conflict or disagreement in their relationship?
Stephen: First, remember that you are both on the same team and that any issue doesn’t belong in between you but out in front of you so you can tackle it together. Communication is crucial. It is tough to really listen well and listen with empathy. We have to constantly practice it. Listening with empathy means focusing on what my wife is saying and trying to understand what the situation is like for her (given her temperament, family of origin, expectations, hopes, etc.) and not for me.
Kari: I second what Stephen said. To listen with empathy means to let your spouse know you understand their point of view — even if you disagree with it. We teach listening with empathy within the context of using the acronym G.R.O.W. — giving, receiving, offering understanding and workingtogether to grow in intimacy. I heard once that intimacy can be understood as into-me-see. I really like that. It says a lot in a succinct way. Good communication helps us see into our spouse, and that builds intimacy and unity. We encourage couples to listen and express understanding with these six words: “What I hear you saying is … X, Y or Z.” And then finishing with these three words: “Is that correct?” This allows the spouse to say, “Yes, you got it!” or if not, to provide further clarification.
What’s the best ministry for couples to serve in?
Stephen: Just as each of us is unique and unrepeatable, so is every married couple.I do not believe that there is a single “best” ministry to serve in, but I do believe that serving as a married couple strengthens any ministry because you are giving the extra witness to the vocation of marriage while you serve. Marriage ministries (preparation, enrichment or youth education) are a great area to serve in because of the great need and confusion in marriage now. Once properly trained, you can also be “parish marriage missionaries” who are equipped to mentor and accompany other couples along the highs and lows of their journey as Pope Francis and other popes have challenged us to do.
Kari: Through Annunciation Ministries, we do quite a bit of formation for married couples who do serve in their parishes (in everything from marriage ministry, to youth ministry, to RCIA, to running a parish event like a carnival). A general rule of thumb we offer is that “inspirations” to serve God outside our homes should never conflict with, but only complement, our “duties” to our state in life — that is, to our marriage and family life. For example, it can sometimes be easier to run an adoration chapel at the church than to care for our family as we should. But, if we are married, it is through our marriage that we know, love and serve God in the everyday duties and obligations of married life. Duties and obligations to marriage and family, therefore, always take precedence over any other ministry we may feel inclined to serve in.
What advice do you have for single young adults looking for a spouse?
Stephen: We get this question a lot. I believe what the church teaches through the various saints and popes who have said that marriage reflects the Trinity. This means there is a triangle of relationships in marriage made up of God, husband and wife. As a man, I am either growing toward intimacy with both at the same time, or I am growing apart. So, when single young adults ask for advice, I encourage them to work on their personal relationship with God, because that is the relationship right in front of them. This holds true whether you’re currently dating or not. Is the relationship drawing you closer toward God and the other person or just the other person? Work on your own prayer life and discernment skills first without the other. Sometimes young adults are relieved to hear this advice, and other times they are agitated by it. We have had some couples get engaged realizing they were bringing each other closer to God and some split apart realizing they were not. The more intimate you are with God, then the clearer God’s will for your life will become, which includes recognizing your future spouse.
Kari: First, a comment to say that I know it can be very hard and painful when someone wants to be married and is not. God does not want any of us to feel lonely nor alone. He created us for relationships. If marriage is not happening, and you want it to, here are some thoughts: Step 1: Look up! Everything in life makes sense by looking up to God. He alone brings peace in any and every situation we find ourselves in — good, bad, otherwise. Step 2: Tell God your thoughts, feelings and desires honestly. Don’t judge them as wrong. Don’t excuse them as right. Tell him honestly. Step 3: Leave it all with him. He will either meet your needs or change your heart if your thoughts, feelings and desires are not in line with his will for you. Step 4: Continue to do what you can to develop good, healthy, life-giving relationships. Invest in the relationships God has already given you — your relatives, friends, co-workers, etc. Allow God to use those relationships to feed your soul with friendship, laughter and love. God wants us to be filled with peace and joy despite the circumstances we are in. He can make that possible.
What has it been like to work for the church?
Stephen: As we said, every couple has unique callings. We didn’t know when we were single or married that we would be working in the church in the capacities we have and are. It’s an adventure. Like in any work, we work with real-life humans and there are good days, bad days and great days! The key for me in working in the church has been to keep what is called the “hierarchy of relationships.” My primary relationship is to holiness and friendship with God. The strongest path for me to work on that is with my wife in marriage as my vocation. My work is good for me but is secondary in the order of things to my vocation and to holiness. Sadly, many times we have seen people working for the church as if it was their relationship with God, to the detriment of their spouse and their faith. Priorities get twisted around. God, spouse, work, leisure, all in the right order and in the right amount are great for us!
Kari: A blessing! Like I said previously, I don’t know where I would be without having learned what I have. And I’ve learned it in large part through my work in the church. I’ve always had a great desire to serve God with my life. But it looks totally different and far better than I ever imagined it would be. I have come to see that I serve him much more through my marriage and my family than I anticipated and that it is in and through that that any work I have done in the church has had any impact or lasting fruit.
It seems everyone is polarized today. What do you think is needed in the church and in our culture?
STEPHEN: Like an argument in marriage, everyone has to take a step back to see the wider perspective and move back from face-to-face binary conflict in order to get shoulder to shoulder to utilize the variety of gifts we have been given to solve real problems. We have lost listening skills personally and culturally. I strongly suggest getting off social media and unplugging in order to live life more fully. We need to become the best versions of ourselves so we can enter into relationships with others inside and outside the church without being threatening or being threatened. There is also a very serious crisis of virtuous leadership today. We need leaders who are not barbarians nor wimps but who can lead, engage, manage and serve the majority of the people who are good and want what is true and beautiful. The church and the world are getting desperate for people to be more than nice in person and harsh online. Now is a great time for disciples to work on being prudently involved, to stand up for justice against all injustices, to be balanced and strong, to share the good news from a deep well-formed faith, bringing real hope to others and spreading true charity for all. Both the church and the world need the witness and voice of Catholics again, in the family, in the workplace and in the public square.
KARI: Good marriages and healthy families. Marriage and family life are the petri dish wherein difference, when accepted, gives way to, as Pope Francis said, a “‘unity in diversity,’ or ‘reconciled diversity’ (No. 139).” Not uniformity. We have lost sight of the fact that we are all equal but different. The big push today is that we all have to be equal and the same. Not possible. Difference is what makes us unique. Difference is built into our DNA, our gender, our uniqueness — no two of us are the same. We are equal and different. The most important sentence, in my opinion, in all of Pope Francis’ The Joy of Loveis what I see as a summary of many of the key concepts of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body: “The family is the principal agent of an integral ecology, because it is the primary social subject which contains within it the two fundamental principles of human civilization on earth: the principle of communion and the principle of fruitfulness (No. 277).” That is a huge statement — the family contains within it the two fundamental principles of human civilization: communion and fruitfulness. That is, man and woman together create the unity through which new life happens. And these are the fundamental principles of human civilization. Women alone cannot create new life. Neither can men alone. Yet, we are called to fruitfulness. And only together is fruitfulness possible. In many ways we have lost sight of this. The two fundamental principles of human civilization — communion and fruitfulness — are contained not in one sex alone nor in independence, but through complementarity and relationship, expressed primarily in, and nurtured primarily by, the natural institution of marriage and family life. What is polarization doing today? Dividing us all. The good news? The Gospel. Jesus came to remind, restore, renew and make unity and fruitfulness possible — raising the natural institution of marriage to a sacrament— giving couples the grace to live communion and fruitfulness as intended. This is what we need to learn and live today. And it begins with the way you and I treat each other, most especially our spouse. Want to be part of the solution to the polarization today? Go home, give your spouse a kiss and work on your marriage. Do what it takes to be reconciled to one another and to live in peace — not by your efforts alone, but by the grace of God in Christ — for your salvation, the well-being of your children, the good of society and the greater glory of God!