Elizabeth Pillari and Patrick Whitmore met while she was attending Magnificat High School in Rocky River and he was a student at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland.
Fast forward 10 years, and the couple are married, expecting their first child, Patrick has a new job and they recently purchased a house. “It’s been a whirlwind year,” said Elizabeth.
“We had a unique high school dating relationship because we connected almost immediately on our shared faith values. We had common ground,” she said. Sometimes the couple would visit the chapel at the Poor Clare Colettines’ monastery on Rocky River Drive in Cleveland’s West Park neighborhood.
“It was a special place for us,” Elizabeth said. And it remains special.
After going their separate ways for a decade, the couple reconnected in 2014, became engaged in July 2015 and married last June at St. Raphael Church in Bay Village, Elizabeth’s home parish. On the altar were four priests: her older brother, Father Tony Pillari, who presided at the wedding; Father Tim Gareau, St. Raphael’s pastor; Father Andrew Hoover, parochial vicar at St. Peter Parish, North Ridgeville; and Father David Baugh, Patrick’s uncle, who is a retired diocesan priest. Each has a special role in the couple’s lives.
“I’ve known Elizabeth’s family since I became pastor at St. Raphael’s,” Father Tim said. And he knew Patrick’s family from his previous assignment at St. Angela Merici Parish in Fairview Park.
Father Andrew, who was ordained last May, was a deacon in the last stage of formation for the priesthood when he was assigned to work with the couple on their marriage preparation.
It was a long journey from their first meeting in high school to the altar, with some twists and turns along the way.
Elizabeth, 30, is one of four children and a graduate of the University of Notre Dame. After college, she did a year of post-graduate service as a theology teacher in Yakima, Washington, then spent two years as a long-term guest with a lay, Catholic religious community in Canada where she discerned the possibility of religious life before eventually returning home to Cleveland. Elizabeth then worked as a campus minister at St. Martin de Porres High School until accepting a position five years ago as a theology teacher and member of the CORE ministry team at St. Joseph Academy in Cleveland.
She said her brother’s vocation to the priesthood had a big impact on her faith life.
Patrick, 31, who has seven younger siblings, graduated from the College of the Holy Cross and served seven years in the Navy before attending business school at Notre Dame. The last few years of his Navy service were in Washington, D.C., where he was involved with a strong parish and coached youth sports.
“I wanted to attend Notre Dame in large part for its Catholic campus life,” he said. That also gave him an opportunity to reconnect with Elizabeth, who was back in Cleveland. He contacted her to ask about housing in South Bend. They met and rekindled their relationship.
“It was edifying to discover that we had each continued to value the faith,” Elizabeth said. “Our decisions to pursue God individually during our time apart were a great foundation for our relationship after we had reconnected.”
The couple said there was a learning curve once they re-established their relationship. “A lot can happen in 10 years,” Elizabeth said, smiling. She admitted discernment never came easily for her, so she wanted to take her time after reconnecting with Patrick to feel certain about their future.
Patrick also said he had to rediscover their relationship. “Her faith life was clearly as important to her today as I remembered it was in high school,” he said. “It didn’t take long for me to know I wanted to ask her to marry me.”
Although she and Patrick are different in many ways, including food preferences, temperament and problem-solving techniques, Elizabeth said many of their differences are a strength in their relationship and marriage.
“He reminds me of two important men in my life,” Elizabeth said. “My father, who showed me what unconditional love is and set the bar high, and St. Joseph, a provider, protector and servant.”
Elizabeth said their desire to marry was not just about focusing on each other; it was about being a family and serving others. “We wanted to get married to bring each other to heaven,” Elizabeth said. “We’re a team with the same goal: to have God at the center of our life and marriage.”
Their faith even impacted Patrick’s proposal.
Patrick handwrote his proposal as a letter, and read it to Elizabeth at a park near Lake Erie in Bay Village. Before they told family and friends, he arranged the timing of proposal to allow he and Elizabeth to first attend evening benediction at chapel at the Poor Clares monastery – the same chapel they had attended together as high-schoolers.
“It was a beautiful way to bring our relationship full circle,” Elizabeth said, reflecting on the times they visited the chapel when they dated in high school.
Patrick, who was studying at Notre Dame throughout their engagement, took the lead on the music and liturgical details of the Mass. This allowed Elizabeth to help with other facets of the wedding at home like reception planning and arranging unique aspects of the day such as the prayer to St. Joseph, that was sung near the end of the Mass by Elizabeth’s students in the St. Joseph Academy chorale.
“A lot of the planning was done remotely,” Elizabeth said, “with Pat on a speaker phone.”
“I hoped to incorporate some of the music used at Notre Dame and to help put focus on the sacrament, “Patrick said. “Father Tim emphasized the same during the homily – that marriage is a sacrament rooted in faith and exemplified in joyful spouses.”
Patrick also said it’s important for people to understand that everyone has a vocation. “Often people think of religious life as the common meaning of the word ‘vocation,’ he said. “But marriage is also a vocation.”
“Everyone has a role in the Church,” Elizabeth added.
She said the time she spent in discerning religious life was an important part of her growth. “I always knew that religious life meant giving your life to God. I came to realize that marriage is also a way to give your life to God – but through the daily service to one’s spouse and family.”
“I think marriage has a common goal with religious life and with all walks of life,” Patrick said. “Striving to live a faithful life in service of others and God.”