A Chat with the Directors of the Marriage Resource Centre —
Byron and Francine Pirola

What is the Marriage Resource Centre/MRC?

Marriage Resource Centre is an organisation of couples, clergy and others associated with the Catholic Church dedicated to helping people build marriages which are emotionally, sexually and spiritually healthy. With over 30 years of experience, we provide a range of support for all seasons of marriage.

What does the MRC do?

We provide support for all seasons of marriage through SmartLoving seminars, conferences and educational resources. We also develop resources to support families in raising their children in the faith through our CathFamily initiative.

Why the MRC?

Marriage done well has great personal and sociological benefits which are worth pursuing. We believe that the Catholic Church has valuable insights and a wonderful vision for marriage that is both relevant and practical for contemporary couples. No-one gets married to be miserable so we want to help people achieve what they always wanted from the start – a strong and rewarding partnership.

What advice would you have for people with marriages “on the brink”?

Firstly, they are not alone – every marriage goes through tough times. When that happens, it’s not about who to blame, but about how to make it better. There are lots of practical strategies that couples can learn which will make a real and immediate difference to their situation. Couples can access helpful resources here at SmartLoving SOS.

What do you think are the main threats to marriage?

Marital stability springs from intimacy and trust yet so often the relational integrity gets compromised by issues such as laziness, ignorance, unfaithfulness, use of pornography, or abusive behaviour. When that happens, we need to give people the knowledge and tools to rebuild a healthy marriage and find their way back to love.

Why do you think marriage is so hard in the modern world?

There are a lot of factors that work against marriage but there are also strategies to counter them. Whether it’s learning new ways to appreciate each other, celebrating the strengths of your spouse, restoring a culture of trust, or bringing hope to a season of crisis, Marriage Resource Centre has practical and proven ways to help benefit marriages.

What is the SmartLoving Series about?

We’ve all seen, or been in, marriages that you think “This could be done smarter!” SmartLoving is a series of seminars and products that equip people with skills and insights to increase their relational intelligence and their marital resilience.

Who is it for?

There are SmartLoving resources for couples who are married, or are considering marriage, in the Catholic Church. Our seminars work particularly well for husband and wives in stable marriages who want to continue to cultivate a healthy marriage and protect their relationship from deterioration. Regardless of the stage or state of a relationship, investing in your marriage reaps huge rewards

There are other kinds of relationships… will they benefit from your resources and courses?

Our area of expertise is the intersection between the theology of marriage and the psychology of male/female relationships and our resources reflect this. Our courses and seminars are also developed to assist couples who have chosen to be married in the Catholic Church. The Catholic faith has a specific vocational calling for married couples and ‘Matrimony’, as it is more commonly termed in Catholic lexicon, is one of the seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church. Those not married in the Catholic Church should consider if they are better served by finding resources suited to their particular relational circumstances.

So are your seminars and resources just for Catholics then?

Absolutely not! People of any faith background are welcome to access our online and print resources and will find value in them. Husband and wives of diverse religious contexts regularly attend our seminars and find them powerful and effective. We do however make no apologies for our Catholic perspective as we believe that the principles of Catholic marriage are a great gift to all. People may not readily appreciate it, but Catholic teaching celebrates and encourages healthy sexual intimacy and sexual pleasure between husband and wife. We’re very transparent about our value systems and we welcome anyone who’s positively disposed to engage with these values and ideas.

Why would people go to a Church group to solve their marriage problems?

We don’t have a history of trumpeting our own achievements, but behind the scenes, and out of the lime light, there are many extraordinary people working hard, caring for others and seeing positive changes. Through our programs we have had around 20,000 people exposed to the messages and methodologies of the Marriage Resource Centre and the response is overwhelmingly positive. Some of their testimonials are on our website for people to see: here.

What experience and qualifications do you have?

A wonderful 25 years of marriage is a start! However, we have worked, studied and written extensively in the area of marriage enrichment. We co-authored and have been delivering SmartLoving seminars and courses, as it’s now known, for over 20 years to hundreds and hundreds of couples and lectured to over 20,000 people in total. We’re also members of the Australian Catholic Marriage and Family Council so have a good understanding of the broader Church’s approach to the marriage education and formation.

Why do you do this work?

We were formed by our parents and mentors with a deep conviction of our calling as a married couple to be prophetic witnesses of the spousal nature of God’s love. It’s not exclusive to us – it’s the vocational call of every couple married in the Catholic Church, but most don’t know it and therefore can’t live it. Our goal is to empower couples to take their place in leading the community of believers to Christ, what Pope Benedict XVI called, being ‘co-responsible’ with the clergy. When marriages flourish, couples are led to deeper faith and they become potent agents in proclaiming the Gospel message and building a culture of life.

Twenty years is a long time… what keeps you going?

Generally, God blesses our efforts and rewards us with the wonderful satisfaction of seeing marriages flourish; it is especially rewarding to see inspirational couples turn a ‘on-the-brink’ marriage around. There are times, however, when we do feel discouraged; at these times we draw strength from prayer and from our children – we urgently want to see them form healthy relationships and families, so in a way, all our efforts are building a better world for them.