July 13, 2024

Headline/background: Bell tower and St. Mary Parish, Sioux Falls. Photo by Sammie Schofield

By Katie Eskro

For John and Ann Henkhaus, members of St. Mary Parish in Sioux Falls, developing strong and healthy friendships as a married couple hasn’t happened without desire and work. Growing up, Ann’s parents always had a “faith group” of friends wherever they lived. Ann says, “It was important to [my mom and dad] to find a group of people to connect with who shared their values and faith. They wanted to learn, pray and play together.” 

In John and Ann’s married life, they found themselves wanting this same type of group. John was nervous about starting or joining a Bible study, but the couple knew they wanted to form intentional relationships with other married couples. “We did want a group of people that we could talk about bigger, more important topics than what is talked about at a cocktail party, like sports and the weather,” Ann says.  

Christian friendship

In John Cuddeback’s book “True Friendship: Where Virtue Becomes Happiness,” he discusses the Aristotelian ideas of friendship. He finds in Aristotle’s writing a very Christian idea of friendship, in that, the truest form of friendship is a friendship between virtuous, i.e., holy, people. 

 

Full friendship is that relationship of mutual goodwill that is based on the virtue, or true goodness, of two persons,” Cuddeback writes. Cuddeback defines Aristotle’s three types of friendships as friendships of pleasure, friendships of utility, and friendships of virtue. While friendships of pleasure and utility are necessary and good in everyone’s lives, they are not the friendships that lead us to fulfilling relationships and happiness. Only friendships of virtue—two or more people growing with one another toward holiness and toward God—lead to a deeper bond and relationship with one another. 

This desire for virtuous, Christian friendship is what set the stage in the hearts of John and Ann to invite couples to start a faith group with them. “We had a yearning to have relationships with others that were deeper and stronger, where we felt safe to share things about our children, our faith, our struggles and our triumphs,” Ann says.

In the busyness of life, several years passed before the time felt right for John and Ann to act on this desire. On a chaperoning trip to New York City for the O’Gorman choir, Ann got to know another chaperone, Teresa Schoenfelder, through some deep, late night talks as they shared a room. Ann mentioned her and John’s desire to start a group, and Teresa thought she and her husband, Brad, might be interested. After returning home, the couples had supper the following week where they discussed the idea and chose other couples to invite, and their faith group was born.

The couples did not all know each other in the beginning, and though this made it a bit difficult at first, it didn’t take long for each couple to know that this group was a safe place. Ann says that at their very first meeting, when discussing Christmas memories, one of the couples shared about a miscarriage they had experienced, and the husband teared up in sharing his memory. 

“I think that was a moment we all knew that this group was going to be a safe place to share what is on our hearts and be supported by the group,” Ann says. “Though some of us started as strangers, we have become great friends who trust each other.”

Living life together

The group is not just serious faith talk. “It also has a wee bit to do with having a few drinks and having social interactions at the beginning of the meetings,” John says. These elements are important, because it creates a welcoming and fun atmosphere to just be together, and John thinks this makes it easier to commit to going every month. 

In Cuddeback’s book, he, too, stresses the relationship between virtuous friendship and just having fun and enjoying time with one another. “Although Aristotle distinguishes between pleasant friendship, useful friendship, and virtuous friendship, he is careful to point out that virtuous friendships have all these qualities: pleasure, usefulness, and the virtuous good.” 

And for Ann, she has noticed how this group has begun to weave itself into her everyday joys and sorrows of life.  

“I think all of us have been surprised at how much this group has come to mean to each of us,” she says. “We have supported each other through many issues with our children, sickness and death of several family members, and sharing our lives through the highs and the lows.”

It has also impacted the couple’s children, as they live out these intentional friendships with each other. “Our children have seen us talking about and sharing about this group and I think they have realized how important it has become to us as well,” Ann says. “It is great modeling for them to find good people in whom to share and trust their lives.”

Leading to heaven

These types of friendships are a gift in and of themselves, but according to Cuddeback, these friendships also help us in our spiritual lives. “An understanding of human friendship enhances our understanding of friendship with God. [E]ven more pressing, human friendship is the natural preparation for entering friendship with God,” he says. 

“I see God more everyday in each and every person I meet because I have gotten to know the hearts of these good people,” Ann says.

Even though it’s not always easy, forming intentional and virtuous friendships as individuals and as married couples is something worth working for. It doesn’t always come easily, but as the Henkhaus’ story shows, God will meet the desire for holy friendship in his timing. 

“If you feel a nudge to go deeper, share more of yourself, learn more from others and develop a stronger relationship with God, your spouse and others, listen to that voice,” Ann says. “It just may be the Holy Spirit asking you to try something new.”

Katie Eskro is a member of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Aberdeen, where she works as coordinator of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. She has a degree in journalism and is pursuing a master’s degree in philosophy.