Love and marriage in academia

Daina Amorosano

A series of rumors surrounds relationships at Villanova – kiss your girlfriend under the Whispering Arches and marry her, reserve a wedding date at the chapel before even finding your mate and heed the pervasive belief that upwards of 60 percent of graduates find their spouses through Villanova.

Barely five years after their graduation, 74 Villanova Class of 2004 graduates report being married, and 65 percent of those graduates are hitched to fellow alumni.

This information is self-reported and is only representative of those alumni who have contacted the University directly. The numbers may not portray a complete picture of postgraduate marriages as there may be graduates from the class of 2004 who have not disclosed their marital status to the University, whether their spouses are Villanova-affiliated or not.

Statistics aside, Villanova University and colleges in general seem to be a breeding ground for relationships that turn to marriage.

Marcus O’Sullivan, class of 1984, and his wife Mary O’Sullivan, class of 1985, met in Dougherty Hall while they were getting breakfast one morning in 1980. They agreed that their time together in college helped them build a lasting foundation.

“I feel that the support from the Villanova family,” Mary wrote in an e-mail. “For example Rev. John Stack, O.S.A., also helped us when we were unsure of what direction our relationship was going.”

Since the 1980s, the landscape of marriages, especially with regard to college-educated couples, has shifted notably.

Although at one time college-educated women were less likely to marry than women without degrees, recent studies now show they are more likely than their less educated counterparts to be married, according to Stephanie Coontz in an article for The Boston Globe in 2007.

The trend holds true for both sexes.

“Educated men and women are more likely to marry and less likely to divorce than others,” Coontz wrote.

The already-low divorce rate among college graduates – couples with Bachelor’s degrees are about half as likely to divorce than couples without a four-year degree – has also dropped steeply since the 1980s.

By 2007, their divorce rate after ten years of marriage dropped to 16.5 percent, just over half what it was a decade ago, according to The Economist.

There is also a trend for partners to marry within their education level, according to U.S. census data.

In the United States, 55 percent of marriages among young adults consisted of couples with the same level of education in 2000, up from 49 percent in 1970, according to U.S. census data.

In the U.S., the rate of marriage between the university-educated and those with only some post-secondary education fell by 45 percent.

And while today more college-educated people seem to want to get married for one reason or another, the more prudent choice seems to wait a few years after your ‘Nova days to tie the knot.

Researchers posit that one reason why marriages between college-educated couples are lasting longer may be that more couples are waiting longer to get married. Statistics show that the later a couple gets married, especially if they do so past their mid-twenties, the more likely the marriage is to succeed.

Studies also show that a college graduate with an active faith is more likely to stay married than a person without one.

A religiously-affiliated school then, like Villanova, may attract more people with active faiths, and further contribute to a lower divorce rate, although specific success rates for Villanova alumni are not available.

Some speculate that a Villanova education contributes to building meaningful and lasting relationships, fostering an environment for both platonic and romantic relationships to flourish.

“The unique part about Villanova is that with it being Catholic and committed to service, you are more likely to find someone who shares those ideals,” said Laura Seibert, a member of the Class of 2005, who met her husband Mike Seibert in mass their freshman year.

“Though not everyone finds a spouse at Villanova … we probably know a dozen couples through friends, upperclassmen, classmates and acquaintances who met at Villanova,” she said.

All Villanova relationships may not end in marriage, but the St. Thomas of Villanova Church remains in high demand as a wedding venue.

Rev. John Stack, O.S.A., now the Vice President of Student Life, presided over the O’Sullivan wedding ceremony, and though they did not marry in the St. Thomas of Villanova Church, they wish they had.

Meghan McCabe Ward, a member of the class of 2006, and her husband Rob, class of 2005, met at Villanova and were married at the Church on March 8, 2008.

“When getting married, [Rob’s] only requests were for the Villanova Chapel and the little cocktail hotdogs at the reception,” McCabe said.

Last year, 75-80 weddings were held in the St. Thomas of Villanova Parish church, and while not all of the couples were alumni, a large portion were – an estimated two-thirds – said wedding coordinator Patty Greenhalgh.

“Based on the calls and requests that I get, if there were more time slots available, I would say there would be at least 50 more weddings per year,” Greenhalgh said.

Villanova is the only Catholic University in the Philadelphia area that is allowed to have weddings.

The general rule in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is that sacraments cannot be celebrated in university or college chapels. However, St. Thomas of Villanova Church is a parish church that just happens to be located on a university campus.

Therefore, weddings can be and are often celebrated here.

“There is a strong and long tradition of Villanova University graduates being married at the church of St. Thomas of Villanova Parish,” according to the Parish Web site. “They had the opportunity, as undergraduates, to fully participate in the spiritual life of the campus by attending Eucharistic celebrations and other spiritual offerings of the Office of Campus Ministry.”

For alumni to be married in the chapel, at least one person must be Catholic.

Though the bride and the groom need not both be Villanova alumni, marriage sacraments are limited to undergraduate grads and parishioners of the Church.

“The experience of Law School graduates and other graduate students is different. Living off campus, they maintain a very different professional lifestyle,” according to the Web site.

Aside from meeting those criteria, there are several other requirements set forth for Villanova weddings to ensure that the wedding celebrations are both beautiful and meaningful, including paperwork and designated preparation classes and meetings.

Saturday ceremonies are reserved for alumni weddings at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., and a graduate can call for a wedding date up to 18 months in advance of the wedding.

Given the rate at which the chapel books, they probably should – as of right now, 2009 is fully-booked.