The story of Worldwide Marriage Encounter began in 1952 when a young Spanish priest, Fr. Gabriel Calvo, began developing a series of conferences for married couples. The focus was on developing an open, honest relationship within marriage and learning to live as a sacrament in the service of others. For approximately 10 years, these conferences for married couples were presented in Spain by “The Marriage Teams of Pope Pius XII”. In 1962, Fr. Calvo offered them as a weekend retreat to couples in Barcelona under the name Encuentro Conjugal. The experience was very successful and rapidly spread throughout Spain.
In 1966, Fr. Calvo and Jaime and Mercedes Ferrer addressed the International Confederation of Christian Family Movements in Caracas. From there, the weekend spread to Latin America and to Spanish speaking couples in the United States. In August 1967, a couple from Mexico and a Maryknoll Missionary priest presented the Weekend to seven couples and a few priests at the close of the Christian Family Movement Convention at Notre Dame University. The experience was so well received that by the summer of 1968, 50 couples and 29 priests were presenting the Marriage Encounter program in the United States.
By January 1969, a national board was formed to coordinate the development of this program. Under the leadership of Fr. Chuck Gallagher and several couples in New York, a new dream evolved. They saw a need for a strong emphasis on the development of “community" after the weekend to provide support for living out the values learned on the weekend, especially for dialogue. In addition, the renewal of the Sacrament of Matrimony became a strong focus as a means for renewing the Catholic Church. Fr. Chuck envisioned Marriage Encounter as a movement for the Church that embodied the spirit of Vatican II.
The original Marriage Encounter Weekend conceived by Fr. Calvo still exists under the name of National Marriage Encounter, but in 1969 the New York group went out on its own to eventually become Worldwide Marriage Encounter. By the fall of 1971, this new movement had made the decision to spread the Weekend throughout the United States and to other parts of the world. Worldwide Marriage Encounter teams traveled first to Grand Forks, North Dakota, with the assurance of financial support, personnel and training from the New York community. The only condition was that once the new area could support itself, the same assistance would be given to other areas. By December, the weekend had arrived on the West Coast, in Santa Barbara. Military couples and priests later brought the weekend to Guam, Saipan and other U.S. territories.
At about the same time, Worldwide Marriage Encounter began its international expansion with teams sent to Belgium and England. As the Worldwide Marriage Encounter Weekend spread to Canada, the first English-language weekend was held in Ottawa in May 1973 and the first French-language Weekend in Quebec in 1975. Canadian expansion continued to Trinidad, with English and French-speaking Caribbean Islands becoming affiliated with Canada in 1990.
The expansion continues today into such countries as China, Russia, Cuba and the United Arab Emirates. The Worldwide Marriage Encounter Weekend is now offered in 98 countries around the world in numerous languages and dialects. Over 1,600,000 couples and 24,000 priests and religious have experienced the Weekend to date!
Even though the Worldwide Marriage Encounter experience was begun in the Catholic Church, couples of other faiths who had experienced the Weekend wanted it modified to their own faith expression. Guidelines were set up for other faith denominations to become a part of this movement, with the focus being the renewal of marriages for the renewal of their own Church. There are currently eleven other faith expressions affiliated with Worldwide Marriage Encounter.