.- When you see Bob Ward, it’s safe to assume his wife, Beverly, isn’t far behind.
The nickname of “Boberly,” given to the couple by accident during a wedding toast 47 years ago, has proven throughout the years to be a fitting appellation for the two local Catholics who rarely spend time apart.
The Wards, parishioners of St. Raymond of Peñafort Parish in Springfield, Va. taught religious education together, attend daily Mass together, fostered 18 newborns together and pray daily together. They are regular speakers at Conferences for the Engaged, hosted by the Diocese of Arlington, Va. Office for Family Life, where they draw on life experiences to help counsel those preparing for marriage.
“Nobody sees us without us being together,” Bob said. If they do get separated in a crowd, Beverly added, they have to be careful not to repeat the same stories to the same people.
As strong a unit as Bob and Beverly are, it’s important to acknowledge they started off as two individuals from very different backgrounds.
Beverly grew up in Junction City, Kan., as a cradle Catholic. A small-town girl, she loved the saints and dreamed of being a cloistered nun. Bob, born in Spartanburg, S.C., lived around the world with his Army father and grew up as a staunch Protestant. Bob attended Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., before he, too, joined the Army.
What the two had in common, though, was their devotion to their particular faith traditions. This, Bob said, was what attracted him most to Beverly. (Not to mention, Bob added, that “she was gorgeous.”)
When Bob was transferred from Fort Riley, Kan., where he and Beverly had met, the two kept in touch via letters. They learned that, though they had different faith backgrounds, they had similar values.
“There was just something so special, and I think through correspondence we really got to know each other because we wrote a lot,” Bob said. As they got more serious, they began praying their one common prayer — the Our Father — after speaking every night.
After eight months apart — while Bob was in Germany — he and Beverly were reunited.
“I was so smitten that … they sent me on the advanced party (back to the United States),” Bob said. “They knew that I had to be (with Beverly).”
The couple married Aug. 8, 1964.
As a compromise, the couple agreed never to argue about their separate faiths, and they supported one another by attending both Mass and a Methodist service every Sunday for 12 years. Bob and Beverly both remained involved in their separate faiths, teaching religious education and Sunday school.
As time went on, the couple had two children, Rob and Sheri, while Bob was going back and forth to Vietnam. When Bob was assigned to Korea, the family went with him, living on economy so they could be together.
While in Korea, Bob found himself more drawn to the Catholic faith. He read books and got into passionate debates with an Italian priest chaplain on base.
“He would give books to Beverly that he knew I would read,” Bob said. “And I did.”
Bob realized that he had acquired “a set of false understandings” of the Catholic faith. Through logical analysis, “slowly but surely everything Catholicism taught made sense,” he said.
Beverly never put any pressure on him, he added; rather, “it was truly the Holy Spirit calling me to seek this out on my own initiative.”
Bob compared his experience with that of theologians Scott and Kimberly Hahn.
“Rome Sweet Home (the book chronicling the Hahns’ conversion) is exactly what I went through,” he said.
Bob was received into the Church March 25, the feast of the Annunciation, at the private residence of the papal nuncio to Korea.
“I was on fire from that day forward and it’s just been a continuous journey,” he said.
Bob’s conversion only increased the already happy bond between him and Beverly. In addition, his excitement for the Faith and for praying together “made such an impact on our children,” Beverly said. They would pray the rosary together, mapping out Mary’s progress from one place to the next.
After Korea, the family moved to Fort Bragg near Fayetteville, N.C. Beverly suffered three miscarriages in a row (in addition to one before Sheri was born) before becoming pregnant with James, the couple’s youngest son. After a difficult and dangerous birth, the doctors told the Wards they were still able to get pregnant, but if they had another baby neither Beverly nor the new life would survive.
After using contraception for a while, Bob and Beverly realized they didn’t feel as connected to one another. When a priest pointed them toward natural family planning (NFP), it changed their lives.
“Ours was really a life/death situation and yet we really trusted,” Beverly said. “And NFP really works. Very conservative we were, but it works.”
Unable to have any more biological children, Bob and Beverly turned to Catholic Charities soon after moving to Springfield in 1980. They fostered 18 newborn babies over seven years, caring for the children anywhere from four months to two years.
Extremely active in the Faith, both Bob and Beverly taught different religious education classes. After attending a Marriage Encounter retreat, they decided to start doing everything as a couple.
Together, they taught religious education for 11th- and 12th-graders. For 12 years, they prayed regularly at the abortion clinic on Duke Street in Alexandria, Va. They did, and still do, attend the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. For the past 17 years, the couple has helped couples prepare for marriage.
Still, though, they were not done learning — and learning together.
In the mid-1990s, “I came home and announced to Beverly that we were going to go to graduate school,” Bob said.
Beverly, though at first nervous about taking classes for credit, agreed. They both earned a master’s in theology from Christendom College’s Notre Dame Graduate School in Alexandria — Bob in 1999 with a discipline in scripture and Beverly in 2001with an emphasis in spirituality.
For eight years, while the new St. Raymond Church was being built, they became co-directors of religious education. Though no longer working in a formal capacity for the church, Bob (using his notes from graduate school) teaches two Bible studies every Tuesday — one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
Beverly, of course, goes to every class. She’s the one who’s good with names.
Bob now “lives to teach,” he said — both the Bible studies and Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults for anyone interesting in learning more about the Catholic faith.
“My joy is to have been given this knowledge,” he said, and passing it along is essential to him.
Ultimately, the Wards built on their foundation of faith and friendship to continue to grow in their love of Catholicism and their love of one another.
“Love is a decision of the will,” Bob said. “You choose to love (the other).”
“The thing that keeps the spark in our marriage is that we’re always dating,” Beverly said. “We have a date every two weeks to go to confession. We do everything together.”
They’ve gone from praying the Our Father — the only prayer they had in common — to attending daily Mass, praying the Liturgy of the Hours and maintaining an entire prayer regimen at home.
The time together as a couple helps keep them focused on the sacrament of marriage, Bob said.
“You get the sacramental graces,” he said. “We’ve really grown closer together by being together.”
Posted with permission from the Arlington Catholic Herald, official newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington, Va.