The Bible is full of references to sisterly bickering. Rachel and Leah quarrel over Jacob. Mary and Martha argue over housework.
These contentious pairs would be surprised at what happened on Oct. 9, 2010 at Old St. Joseph Church in DePere: in a surprising and refreshing show of selflessness and love, three sisters shared a wedding day.
More than 350 guests crowded the pews of St. Norbert College’s parish church to witness the triple wedding of the daughters of Tom Kunkel, president of St. Norbert College.
Katie Kunkel, 26, married Nick Stewart; Claire Kunkel, 25, married Sam Kaiser, and Helen Kunkel, 22, married Naval officer Michael Lindsey.
Three walks down the aisle were made. Three priests presided over the ceremony. Three homilies were given. Three sets of vows were exchanged. Three father-daughter dances were performed. And three Catholic marriages began on one single afternoon in one single sanctuary, in a year when it was reported that the Catholic marriage rate had dropped 60 percent since 1972, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate Georgetown University in Washington, DC.
Most brides would not dream of sharing their big day with their sister. But ask any happily-married couple, and they will name compromise as one of the essentials of a successful Christian marriage.
Tom Kunkel added that for their family of four daughters – the youngest, Grace, was maid of honor to all three of her sisters – compromise has always been key, as well as sacrificial love and “strong sisterly bonds.”
“A value that we cherish that was central to the wedding working is the love and devotion that the girls have for one another,” he said.
“We were committed to supporting each other,” says Claire Kunkel (now Claire Kaiser), a high school teacher. “Besides, I don’t know that any of us would know how to be the center of attention. We have shared everything from clothes to friends to birthday and graduation celebrations.”
The triple wedding was originally the idea of Katie and Helen Kunkel. Katie was beginning a law career and overwhelmed with work; Helen is known in the family for her impeccable taste and attention to detail. The two proposed the idea to sister Claire, who was quick to agree.
After suggesting it to their parents, their father worried that they were sacrificing too much. Writing in the blog he kept to commemorate the wedding planning (www.triplewedding.blogspot.com), he said that “we didn’t want any of them to feel deprived of the ‘specialness’ that brides and grooms deserve on their wedding day… [the triple wedding] had the potential to trammel any individuality.”
The girls were less concerned.
“We all wanted a fabulous wedding,” said Claire. “But more importantly, we wanted to have a shared wedding as a way to bring us closer together.”
She said the decision for the girls to get married in a Catholic church was easy.
“Our faith is strong and we never considered marrying anywhere besides a Catholic church. Some of my best memories with my sisters are from Sunday mornings together at church. My sister Katie and I even shared a first Communion.”
“They knew that this was not only a big day, but a sacrament to be consecrated appropriately,” said Tom.
To prepare for their marriages, the girls each did their own separate pre-Cana enrichment and consultations with the priests who would witness their vows. Fr. Jay Fostner witnessed the marriage of Katie and Nick, while the vows of Claire and Sam were witnessed by Fr. Sal Cuccia. Fr. Tim Klosterman witnessed the vows of Helen and Michael. As much attention was paid to choosing the officiants as is paid by most brides to choosing the dress.
Fr. Klosterman was an easy choice for Helen and Michael, the latter of whom grew up with Fr. Klosterman in California. As for the others, “both Frs. Jay and Sal are Norbertines, and are close with my parents,” said Claire. “The Norbertines were another reason we wanted to be married at the college. They are such a spiritual and fun group who are easy to confide in.”
The priests also helped with the planning of the wedding liturgy, which was not a Catholic Mass out of consideration for time constraints.
“Sal and Jay played a huge part in ensuring the ceremony was true to the Catholic faith, even though it was three weddings at once,” Claire said.
Although most of the guests were non-Catholic, it was still important to the brides and grooms that the ceremony be appropriately religious. Tom wrote that it “flowed seamlessly and hit precisely the tones the girls had wanted – majestic in parts but simple throughout; collective, naturally, but individual as well; spiritual but personal too.”
Nick and Katie honeymooned in Jamaica and now reside in Washington, DC, where Katie works as an attorney at a firm that specializes in compliance with federal and state gun regulations.
Claire and Sam planned a rustic honeymoon in western Wisconsin where they indulged in some of their favorite outdoor activities like kayaking and hiking. They reside in Maryland, just outside of Washington, DC.
Helen and Michael postponed their honeymoon to Hawaii for a few months after the wedding, as Michael had to report to San Diego for flight training, where the couple resides. Michael recently completed a seven-month tour of service as a helicopter pilot; he and Helen are happily reunited and living at Coronado Air Force Base.
“As you can imagine, it’s very challenging for Helen,” said Claire, noting that Michael cannot usually disclose his locations of service.
Grace, the Kunkel’s youngest daughter, is a graduate student in entomology at the University of Maryland.
Claire recommends lots of preparation for young couples getting married in the church – even if they will be the only pair at the altar.
“Embrace pre-Cana as a great relationship building. When you’re planning your wedding it is easy to lump it in as just one more thing to do, but the relationship needs to be most important when preparing for marriage,” she said.
Tom Kunkel is proud of his daughters’ conscientious preparation for marriage – and the end result of their shared special day.
“It was a day of love,” he wrote in his blog. “Pure, joyful, unashamed, unvarnished love.”