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Couples flock to exchange vows at Basilica

Megan O'Neil | Monday, February 14, 2005

While many may not consider South Bend the most ideal wedding destination, couples with connections to Notre Dame are signing up by the dozens to say their ‘I do’s’ on campus at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.Constructed in the 1870’s, the Basilica has long been a popular choice for current University students and graduates planning their weddings. In fact, in recent years the Basilica has become so sought after that during the height of the wedding season – May through August – four weddings are celebrated there every Saturday. Couples, along with their florists and photographers, receive exactly 90 minutes to get into the church, get married and exit in time for the next wedding. The ceremonies are scheduled at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.”It’s a very tight schedule,” said Rose Wrey, a wedding coordinator for the Basilica. “You have to be very prompt. I think the organ plays the first note as soon as the clock hits the hour, and the bride better be ready to go.”A 5 p.m. vigil Mass follows the final wedding of the day.”Sometimes brides are of the opinion that if they have the last wedding they will have more time, but there is still the Mass,” Wrey said.Even the rehearsals are kept on a strict timetable. The first rehearsal begins at 6 p.m., and each rehearsal lasts exactly 45 minutes.There are no weddings on weekends that coincide with other major campus events, such as home football games and Alumni Weekend.Couples are advised to reserve a date at the Basilica roughly a year ahead. Reservations open by telephone the first Monday of March for the following year. “We’ll get about 60 reservations that day,” Wrey said. “All together, we have 101 wedding slots open January through December 2006.”In order to be married at the Basilica, the groom or the bride must be a Notre Dame student, graduate, faculty member, current student, administrative staff member or a member of Sacred Heart parish. The fee is $450.The bride and groom may invite any priest to preside over the ceremony, but Wrey said the presiding priest is often connected to Notre Dame.”I’d say the majority of priests are from here on campus, because it is usually someone the students have known for a while here,” Wrey said.Due to the age and sacred space of the Basilica, tight restrictions are placed on floral decorations and photography. Upon making their reservation, couples receive a packet detailing the policies.According to the guidelines, florists must use containers that present no danger of leaking. Throwing petals or rice is prohibited. All flowers must be removed from the Basilica immediately following the ceremony. Photographers are prohibited from using flash photography, and they cannot mount any photo or video lighting racks.”We recommend you don’t really need a lot of flowers,” Wrey said. “The Basilica is so beautiful that sometimes you don’t even see the flowers.”But the long list of technicalities does not make the Basilica a less appealing location for many couples. Current seniors Justin Gallagher and Melissa McGrady are getting married at the Basilica in June with Stanford Hall rector Father Tom Gaughan presiding. The ceremony will take place just a couple of weeks after graduation and Gallagher’s Navy commissioning. Gallagher, formerly of Stanford Hall, called the Basilica a logical choice for his upcoming nuptials. “We met here, and everything that we have done together has been here,” he said. “It is kind of a special place for us.”Since the two seniors are from different parts of the country, Gallagher said the Basilica is also a good mutual location of importance for both himself and his fiancée. “I’m from New York [and] she is from Colorado, so why don’t we split the difference and get married here?” Gallagher said. Kate McCusker and Brian Oleniczak, 2001 graduates, selected the Basilica for their June 24, 2004 wedding because of strong family ties to the University and its suitable geographic location. The couple currently lives in Chicago where both are working on graduate degrees. McCusker is from St. Louis and Oleniczak is from Grand Rapids, Mich. “We decided, since we met at Notre Dame, [that] we wanted to get married there,” McCusker said. “It is really meaningful to us.”The time limit on the Basilica had no effect on their decision.”I wish we could have longer to take pictures and to be more relaxed, but it is still definitely worth it,” McCusker said. Lori Wrobleski, who has been coordinating weddings at the Basilica for 10 years, said the job is even more fun than when she first started. “I love my brides and my grooms too,” Wrobleski said. “It is such a happy time in their lives.”Wrobleski said she has worked several memorable weddings. One of the most remarkable was for a couple that bused their 500 guests in from Texas. Another wedding she did had only nine people in attendance. Members of the Notre Dame community are drawn to the Basilica largely because of the role Notre Dame has played in their lives, Wrobleski said. “It’s a beautiful place for a wedding, and it’s prestigious,” she said. “It is just awesome when you see all those lights, and the music is just beautiful.”