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Largo parishioners celebrate 50 years of marriage ‘in sickness and in health’

Dorothy and Paul Newman of St. Joseph Parish in Largo are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this year. (Archdiocese of Washington photo)

Paul and Dorothy Newman got married on July 12, 1969, on a day that had a combination of sun and rain, perhaps giving them a taste of the joys and difficulties that they would share during the next 50 years together.

“That was a multiple weather day,” recalled Paul. “…I don’t think we had anything to do with the effects, but I guess that was one of those Julys.”

After meeting at a bowling party in Washington, D.C. in 1965, Paul and Dorothy Newman dated for several years before getting married. Soon after, they had two children – Vida Newman and Valencia Ayers. They now also have two grandkids – Kelsey Edgar and Elyse Newman. They are longtime parishioners of St. Joseph Parish in Largo, Maryland.

As their children grew up, the family was actively involved in their parish, where both of their children were baptized. Their granddaughter, Kelsey, also grew up in the parish, and was an altar server.

“For me, it was how my family reared my siblings and me,” said Paul. “I saw how they got us involved in the Church, and I guess it just moved up to another generation.”

That community proved to be an important source of support for the Newmans, because about 19 years into their marriage, Paul was diagnosed with leukemia after going to the hospital with an illness he thought was the flu.

“It was almost unbelievable, when they said, ‘he is in intensive care,’ then the doctor finally tells me, he says, ‘I think, but I am not sure, that he has leukemia,’” Dorothy recalled.

The doctors initially told Paul they would give him chemotherapy for 30 days, but he remained in Doctors Community Hospital for 120 days, undergoing multiple rounds of the treatment. During that time, he had so many visitors that the doctor had to tell them to cut it off.

“While he was there, we got over 1,000 cards…We had one family from St. Joseph’s, they used to come over and put the cards on the wall until we just ran out of space,” remembered Dorothy. “The doctors and the nurses said they had never seen anything like that before.”

Eventually, Paul went home on Christmas Eve.

“They brought me back home by ambulance…they put me on a little gurney and sat me under the Christmas tree and said, ‘This is your Christmas present,’ said Paul.

The doctor warned Dorothy that her husband wouldn’t stay in remission for long, and recommended that they start looking for a bone marrow donor. They tested his family, and were able to find three potential donors: his two sisters and his brother.

“So we just said, ‘thank you, Lord.’ We were just blessed to be able to have a match,” said Dorothy. “They told us at Georgetown, it is hard enough to find one, but when you find three, that is a miracle.”

In the end, his brother donated bone marrow to Paul, who broke out in sores after the procedure, and had to remain in isolation in the hospital for 90 days before going home. This time, he was at Georgetown University Hospital, and Dorothy would visit him three times each day – once before work in the morning, once on her lunch break, and once in the evening.

“How did I survive some of this? …It was because of my faith, my belief in God… I prayed, asked God for the strength to get me through. Because sometimes I didn’t know if I was going to get through it all,” said Dorothy. “…But I just felt once we got married and we took the vows, it was my responsibility to do whatever I could, and like I said, with a lot of prayer, that is what helped me to get through it, because there have been times that I couldn’t move. I was just frozen.”

In addition to prayer, Dorothy recalled how she had the support of family members, neighbors and friends from church who would drive her to the hospital or stay with their son to make sure he got dinner while she visited the hospital. The hospital also assigned Dorothy a religious sister who would talk and pray with her.

For Paul, having his wife by his side for that journey “was a matter of life and death,” he said.

“If I hadn’t had my wife to assist me through those tribulations, I never would have survived that,” said Paul.

Both Paul and Dorothy agree that they bonded closer together because of the experience they shared during his illness.

“It just reinforced the vows that we had made…that’s one of the key points in my life that I realized that that’s what marriage is really all about, to maintain your love for one another and let there be good times in the future to get you through rough times in the present,” said Paul.

Even after he got home, Paul initially had to stay in the back bedroom and was not allowed to go into the living room unless no one was home. Finally, after 90 days of that, he was allowed to get outside and go back to church at St. Joseph.

“That was some experience, because all the church members and community members knew what I had been going through and they had something like a welcome committee in the parking lot before I could even get into the church from my car,” said Paul.

He began to get involved in the parish once again, and retired on medical disability in 1990. As he continued to recover, he began taking sightseeing trips into Washington, D.C. with his granddaughter, beginning when she was a toddler and continuing until she was about 12 years old. He also attended her school functions, and said she played a significant part of his rehabilitation.

The couple also began volunteering with Capital Hospice, visiting the sick across Prince George’s County, and with their parish’s bereavement ministry, comforting families that have lost loved ones.

“I just started to get stronger and started exercising and walking. I could be around people more and years just started to move on, and we were trying to put that behind us, but it was always someone asking, ‘How are you and are you going to live long and are you going to have a quality of life?’” Paul said. “But I couldn’t answer any of that. I could be hopeful that I would, and as it turned out, it has been a quality life, with just only a few exceptions.”

Since then, Paul has remained mostly healthy, although he had a serious bout of pneumonia about two years ago, and got an infection, which caused him to be hospitalized. Once again he was flooded with visitors, including Washington Auxiliary Bishop Roy Campbell, Jr., the pastor of St. Joseph’s, and Father Aaron Qureshi, now the parochial vicar at St. Peter’s Parish in Olney, who celebrated Mass in his hospital room.

Paul has mostly recovered from that illness, and the couple continues to enjoy their time together. Every morning, the first thing Dorothy says when she wakes up is “thank you, Lord,” and she prays a Hail Mary. She loves everyone in her family, she said, adding, “They are the joy of my life.”

Paul and Dorothy renewed their wedding vows at St. Joseph for their 25th wedding anniversary, and did so again during the annual Jubilarian Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on June 16.

After the June 16 Jubilarian Mass at the National Shrine, Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory poses with Dorothy and Paul Newman of St. Joseph Parish in Largo, Maryland, who are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. (CS photo/Mihoko Owada)

They also plan to renew their vows in a private ceremony on July 13 at St. Joseph to celebrate their 50th, or “Golden” anniversary. Dorothy will wear a gold dress and Paul will wear a matching gold tie, and they will once again vow to love each other in sickness and in health, in front of many of the same people who stood by their side 25 and even 50 years ago.

“That is what strikes me very seriously about renewing the vows. It is a reminder, not only to us, but the people around us, that we are renewing it, and we’re starting on another portion of our journey, because it has been a journey,” said Paul.

“We’re just so blessed and thankful for being able to celebrate 50 years and to have our family, friends, people who have helped us along the way, to let them know how much we appreciate it. It is such a blessing,” said Dorothy. “Some of them are just as happy as we are to be there with us.”

Those family members, friends and church members “are the ones who continue to reinforce our commitment to one another,” said Paul.

“So often people ask, ‘Gee, how did you stay married for 50 years?’ and I said, ‘Well, it was a daily ritual. It is something you remember each day and each year, and you celebrate it,” he said. “And you are thankful to God because He is the one who brought you here and no doubt He is the one who is determined to keep you here.”