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 | By Nancy Schertzing

Melvin and Silvia's marriage was saved by Retrouvaille

Melvin Morales won the lottery. In 1999, two days before his first wedding anniversary, Melvin received word that the U.S. government drew his name in the visa lottery. He could apply to emigrate from Cuba to the United States. Three months later, he and his wife, Silvia, stepped off the plane into the frozen landscape of Lansing.

“It was 82 degrees when we left Miami,” Silvia shudders and smiles. “Michigan’s February weather was a shock! But we chose Lansing because Catholic Charities Refugee Services offered an apartment rent-free for up to three months and donated a car. They also provided an orientation program with other assistance to help us get started. With their help, we both found work within a month.”

“During that time I got pregnant with our son, Robin,” Silvia smiles.

Melvin nods. “We were using the Natural Family Planning (NFP) practice, but we weren’t using it the right way.”

“Three years later, we used NFP to conceive Stephanie,” says Silvia. “We settled into life here, busy with our children and jobs. We felt happy even though we missed our families back in Cuba.” Silvia explains. “Five years after coming to the U.S., we became citizens.”

“Then we applied to bring our families to us,” says Melvin. “My mother came, and my brother with his family. Silvia’s sister settled here, too. Eventually my mother and brother moved to Miami because the cold was too much for them.”

“In many Latin homes, family, kids, is the first priority,” Silvia notes.

Melvin agrees. “I was raised to recognize that the parents are above everything else.”

“When we weren’t working, we spent all our free time with our children. Little by little, without realizing it, we lost each other.

“We didn’t ever talk,” Silvia explains. “We lived together, but didn’t really know each other. Feelings were never shared. I started to keep everything to myself – my wounds and my needs. I lost interest in knowing how he was feeling.”

Melvin recalls that time: “I was living my life as a single person. If I went to play baseball, I would turn off my cell phone so Silvia couldn’t bother me.

“My feelings for her never stopped. They just got masked. We had good days and bad days, but always the conflict was there.”

“Communication was completely lost,” Silvia adds.

“I was thinking about moving down to Miami. My brother was divorced and living with my mother there. I thought we could move down there to be closer to family. Silvia refused,” he says.

Silvia shakes her head. “We had a big fight. I said we have built our life here. Why would we want to start all over again when we had worked so long to make this life?

“Two weeks later I went to Mass, so upset. I can still remember the Gospel reading – Jesus went to Peter’s house and cured his mother-in-law. Then he took her by the hand and she got up and started serving them. As I listened to that story, I started planning how I would leave Melvin. During the Mass, I was going over in my head how I would take the kids and figuring out how I could support them.

“Then, as Father lifted the cup with Jesus in it, I saw the image of Jesus hanging on the cross behind him. At that moment something inside me said ‘NO! I am Melvin’s wife, and I am going to love my husband.’

“Jesus gave me the grace to say no. It was his words in my head. I decided then that I would fight for my marriage.

“I had seen Retrouvaille brochures in the back of our parish, but when I looked after Mass the brochures were gone. A few days later, I called the St. Francis Retreat Center to ask about Retrouvaille. They told me they had scheduled a weekend in June for Spanish speakers.”

Melvin, who has been listening quietly next to his wife, begins to share. “When Silvia told me about the weekend, I thought, ‘If she wants to fix our marriage it’s up to her.’ I figured Retrouvaille wouldn’t help, but I agreed to attend the weekend retreat just to please Silvia.

“Once we were there, I started to hear others’ stories. My conscience told me that my marriage wasn’t what I wanted it to be.”

Silvia jumps in, “The weekend was truly life-changing! I learned a lot of things I didn’t know about Melvin, about myself and about our marriage. I found feelings I didn’t know I had or that Melvin was having. It also helped to see that we weren’t alone. Other couples were there doing the work and spending time on their marriages, too.”

Melvin nods. “For me the post-sessions really put a cap on the experience. For the next six weeks, we met with other couples every weekend to continue the work we had begun during the retreat. Little changes started. I began listening to Silvia. Before, I didn’t listen. I had the answers.

“We began to spend more time as a couple. And we learned to forgive and to heal our wounds.

“Retrouvaille gives you the tools to work on your marriage. No advice. No professional counselors. The host couples are regular people who want to give back what they have received from the program.”

“Now we want to give back,” Silvia says. “We share our story in Spanish, and hope to find other Spanish speakers to host a Retrouvaille weekend with us. I don’t think I would have gone if the weekend was only in English. I needed to experience it in my native language.”

She leans forward. “Marriage is a treasure and a vocation worth fighting for.”

Melvin nods. “If you feel you need help, it’s there at Retrouvaille. Don’t hesitate. Don’t think you don’t need it.” He turns to look at his wife, eyes full of gratitude as if he’d won the lottery … again.


Retrouvaille (pronounced “retro-vi” with a long I) is an international community of people committed to helping married couples heal and strengthen their marriages. They achieve this by providing tools, support and personal examples for transforming failing marriages into vibrant covenants of life and love. Retrouvaille helps couples living in the pain and disappointment of marital problems by engaging them in a weekend retreat and six follow-up sessions designed to empower husbands and wives with the tools to communicate effectively, forgive and move forward into a brighter future as a married couple.

Retrouvaille is a nondenominational, faith-based organization dedicated to serving as a life-line for troubled marriages of all faiths and creeds. Learn more about local opportunities at or contact caring host couples at 1.800.470.2230 or 517.290.5596.

The Lansing community is seeking Spanish-speaking couples to work with Silvia and Melvin to serve Latin couples in need. If you think you can help, call them at 517.402.1624 or email them through the Retrouvaille website’s Contact Us page at