A look inside the tradition of Villanova weddings



Sophia Pizzi

We’ve all heard the rumors. We all know about the magical powers of Corr Hall’s whispering arches. Many of us laugh them off, thinking it’s all exaggerated truth. But with almost 70 weddings in the St. Thomas of Villanova Church each year and weddings booked over a year in advance, one cannot help but believe the rumors. At the University, love is most certainly in the air. 

In order to learn more about this romantic phenomenon, I sat down with the Wedding Director of the St. Thomas of Villanova parish, Mrs. Patty Greenhalgh. For over 13 years now, the wedding business at the University has fallen into Greenhalgh’s hands.

First, she laid out all of the facts. In 2014, the church hosted 68 alumni weddings. In order to get married at the church, one member of the couple must be a University alumnus. However, Greenhalgh estimates that 45 percent of couples are both graduates of the University. 

Every Saturday, there are two designated time slots for weddings. They can be either at 11:30 a.m. or 1:30 p.m. Because there is an extremely high demand for a good date and time, Greenhalgh books ceremonies as far as 18 months in advance. 

“In October 2014, I start booking for March 2016,” she said. “It’s first come first serve. I can’t hold dates because we get so many phone calls, but we are as fair as we can possibly be.”

Booking a date, however, is more than just a simple phone call. First, the couple must call their parish and request a formal letter of permission to verify that they are practicing Catholics. Then, the couple fills out an online form, which asks them to meet with a priest. The priest will fill out his half of the form, assuring that the couple is ready to marry. Only then does the date become definite.

Even with a date set, the journey has only just begun. 

By mail each couple will receive a “Celebration of Marriage” manual with general information about fees, programs, music and photographer guidelines. The average wedding cost for alumni is $1,400 and there is an additional fee of $200 for each musician. 

Also during the engagement period, pre-marriage preparation is required of all couples. The St. Thomas of Villanova Parishioners offer a Pre-Cana program called “Preparing to Live in Love.” This program gives engaged couples time to reflect on important aspects of married life, such as communication, finance, spirituality and sexuality. These discussions are facilitated by married couples, most of which have a connection to the University. It is held at St. Aloysius Academy Retreat Center in Bryn Mawr, and there are three sessions of this program each year.

“Everyone is very open and honest during this weekend,” Greenhalgh says. “It is very relaxed, and we use humor, which is great too. Couples like it a lot and we always get really good feedback from it.” 

On the Saturday evening of the Pre-Cana program, couples meet in the church for a wedding workshop. This workshop introduces couples to the various choices available for their special day. They get to hear cantors and numerous instrumentalists to set their music that night so it can be ready for them in advance. 

“We sometimes have 80 weddings a year, so we need it to run like clockwork,” Greenhalgh explains. “We can’t afford to have anything slip through the cracks because it is too important.”

Greenhalgh also gives a presentation on the entire liturgy during the workshop. She explains all aspects including parking, the procession and church seating arrangements. One thing unique about University weddings is that the groom walks as part of the procession.

“Tradition has always said that the groom would come out from the side so he wouldn’t see the bride ahead of time,” Greenhalgh says. “However, the bride and groom are the ministers of the sacrament, and at St. Thomas of Villanova, if you’re a minister, you’re in the procession.” 

As Greenhalgh explains these final details, the joy in her expression is obvious. 

“I love my job,” she says. “Our weddings are beautiful, and I always get parents or guests coming up to me afterwards saying ‘I have never seen such a beautiful wedding.’ People really do love it.”

In light of the Valentine’s Day spirit, I think it is safe to say that there is definitely such thing as a Villanova-style “happily ever after.” Whether or not you or I will pursue that path, however, time has yet to tell.