The Wedding Planner
Al Bischoff, S.J., always felt drawn to work with young people. After graduating from Xavier in 1949, he was ordained in 1956, earned a Master of Education at Xavier in 1958 and entered the Jesuit order in 1979. He returned to Xavier three times, and each time found himself working in Campus Ministry or as a residence hall minister, putting him in close contact with students as a spiritual advisor.
Over the years, Bischoff endeared himself to hundreds of students, who fondly call him “Father B.” Many came back after graduation with the ultimate request—to preside over their marriage ceremony. He’s prepared about 125 couples at Xavier. It used to be about 20 a year, but now, at age 82, he restricts it to about five. His newest rules: no more out-of-state weddings, and only at Bellarmine Chapel.
“I felt more and more that my whole spiritual outlook and background was Jesuit, and I did my best working with young people. As a Jesuit novitiate, I learned the Spiritual Exercises, which was satisfying in that I felt I was at home. I became involved with young people and that’s where I think my calling has always been.”
“When I returned to Xavier in 1998, a great part of my work in the parish was [and is] preparing couples for marriage. It’s important to see where God is in their life and prepare them for marriage. I’ve only had one situation where it didn’t go right, and then they didn’t get married.”
“About 75 percent of the couples married at Bellarmine choose me. Usually there’s a relationship—I knew them as a student, in the residence halls or they came to my 4:00 p.m. Mass. Recently I had a couple who wanted to get married in a park because they weren’t sure if they were Catholic anymore. I had known them as students. So I said let’s talk about that and in the end, they came to me and decided they were Catholic at the core and they wanted a wedding in the church.”
“So many ask me to marry them because the bond is there. There is a spiritual relationship. One of the things I say is that a wedding is not theater or something you do, it’s a relationship that you celebrate.”
“I don’t have a canned sermon. I have a private rehearsal with the couple, I take them to dinner to get to know them in a social setting, then I go to the rehearsal dinner and get to know the family. It helps me in preaching so it’s not just couple No. 62 coming down the aisle.”
“I used to travel to do weddings, but that changed about five years ago. There were too many requests. I’ve been invited to Montana and other places, and they say we’ll put you up in a nice hotel. One couple offered lobster dinners. But I just can’t be going everywhere.”
“I put about seven hours on average into each marriage, but I really think about the conversations we have. They’re on my mind and in my prayers, and in some sense I fall in love with them and feel committed to them because they’re part of my prayer life. I see marriage as a crucial point in their life with their faith. I say to the couple, it’s a commitment in good times and bad. That’s what love is.”