A match made in heaven, online

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In 1920s Germany, a 43-year-old civil servant named Joseph took out an ad in a local Catholic paper with the intent of finding a wife. Maria Peintner, a 36-year-old cook, responded, and the two were married four months later. In all likelihood, had Joseph and Maria Ratzinger, the parents of Pope Benedict XVI, met today, it might have been through the modern version of a personal ad: online dating.

According to a study by University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo, between 2005 and 2012, online dating was the single most popular way people met their spouses, more than through work, friends and school combined.

In sharp contrast to "hook-up" oriented apps such as Tinder, Catholic dating sites serve as a way for marriage-minded Catholics to find one another. "As a woman, I wanted to be romanced by someone who was going to respect my faith and hopefully share it," said past CatholicMatch user Kara Cardella.

'Love at first chat'

Alexandria was studying in her university library when she decided to create a profile on CatholicMatch.com. She was about to graduate college, had a nursing job lined up and felt little external pressure to date, but still she signed on. "It was so random how God worked," she said.

"I just always knew I wanted to get married, but there was almost an emptiness in my college relationships," she said. "I just realized that faith was the most important thing in my life and I wondered, 'How do I find a man who agrees with that?'"

Miles away, Nick DeRose was about to leave CatholicMatch. After six months he had little success, until Alexandria messaged him. They quickly set up a time to talk through the site.

"We both say it was love at first chat," said Alexandria.

"Right away we were talking about the faith. Even before we were dating officially, Nick would always tell me he was praying for me. All of these things I had never experienced in a relationship before, and I just knew that was what I was looking for," she said.

Love through Michigan winters

Kara joined a number of Catholic dating sites before meeting Steven Cardella. "I knew I wanted 10 kids and I was getting antsy," she said. But when Steven first flew to see her, Kara found herself clamming up. After an uncomfortable meeting with a past date, she was worried this one wouldn't work out either.

As they prayed in Mass, Steven braced himself for rejection. Kara, however, said she imagined God whispering in her ear: "The point of Christian marriage is to get your spouse to heaven, and here is a Catholic man who loves me already." After Mass, she felt completely at ease, and they officially began to date.

After several months, Steven found a job near Kara in Ann Arbor, Mich., and left his hometown of New Orleans. "It's a decision he regrets every winter," said Kara.

"That's true love," said Steven. They now have a 3-year-old son, a baby due in two months, and a few already in heaven, said Kara.

A prayerful connection

Mary Rebecca Pugsley, a campus minister at Virginia Commonwealth University, joined the site after breaking up with someone who was less than enthusiastic about the faith.

"I decided to join to meet some guys who were actually excited about being Catholic," she said. Her now-husband, Andrew Pugsley, was looking for a Christ-centered relationship too. After friends talked him into online dating, "It was Catholic Match or bust," he said.

For their first date they met for Mass in Richmond. Months later, he proposed to her on the feast of the Immaculate Conception at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond. During their engagement they picked special novenas to pray together to keep the focus on the marriage ahead and not just the wedding.

"Every step of the way, we were praying together," said Mary Rebecca.

Though Catholic online dating is a way many couples find their spouses, Mary Rebecca believes the first connection has to be prayer.

"Seek God first and let (Catholic Match) be a vehicle," she said.

Di Mauro can be reached at zdimauro@catholicherald.com or on Twitter @zoeydimauro.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016