As a newly-ordained young priest serving at St. Mark Parish in Rushford, Father David Griffin, who is now retired, conducted his first wedding ceremony, that of Desider and Dorothy Simcoe III, on Sept. 10, 1966. Today, the couple has been married for 50 years and, to commemorate their golden anniversary, the Simcoes and Father Griffin held a celebration at St. Mark's with a congregation of family members.
Father Griffin and the Simcoes also met for lunch in Daytona Beach, Fla., where the former lives in the winter. After losing touch for some time, the Simcoes reconnected with Father Griffin in 2006, while he was pastor of St. Leo's in Niagara Falls, for their 40th wedding anniversary. The Simcoes wished to let their priest know that the first couple he had ever married was still happy together after four decades.
"I told them that it was a blessing for me that my first wedding as a priest worked. I know of no other priest who can wonderfully boast that he celebrated the 50th anniversary of his first wedding," he said.
The Simcoes, who now reside in California, were serving in the military when they met in Taiwan. Desider, who served in the Air Force, was originally from California, while Dorothy had family in Rushford. Her father served in the Air Force as well. At the time, two dispensations had to be granted for them to marry because Desider was of the Greek Catholic rite and Dorothy was not Catholic.
"My dad grew up in Rushford, and my mom, primarily Farmersville Station and Rushford," Dorothy Simcoe said. "My husband is Catholic, so we contacted the parish church there in Rushford. The priest that was there at the time was leaving, but he said he'd leave a note for the new guy. That was Father David."
They had two daughters, Catherine Coolidge and Mary Byrne, and a son, Desider IV. Their children are 49, 48 and 46 years of age. They are also proud grandparents, as well as great-grandparents. Dorothy said the key to the longevity of their marriage was compromise. They were frequently apart as Desider had to travel for his career in the Air Force, which Dorothy also cited as one of their biggest challenges.
"He was in Thailand for a year. We had three kids 5 and under, and I didn't drive," she recalled. Today, the family has expanded to include five generations of Desiders, since a grandson now has the name. They have 21 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren who have lived in four states and three countries.
When the Simcoes contacted Father Griffin, they did so because they were curious to know how he was, and at the time, many people saw a marriage between a Catholic and non-Catholic as unlikely to succeed, according to Dorothy. "We just wanted to let him know that it was still working," she said of contacting him in 2006. "It wasn't anything formal. We were in New York at the time (visiting) my parents."
"I was flabbergasted when they called me 10 years ago. You can find a priest anywhere by just going to a local parish, because we all have national directories," Father Griffin added. "At our reception after the Mass on Sept. 10, we went over to the Baptist church hall next door. She had pictures all over the place, on the tables and everywhere. They were copies of the originals, and people could go around and look at them."
According to Father Griffin, there were many more parishes in the Southern Tier 50 years ago than there are now. He served as part of a missionary apostolate with headquarters in Delevan. "Every Monday, we went there for a meeting to get our orders for the week, so we all administered these parishes," he also said. "It's nice to (mention) that early activity of 50 years ago, to let people know it was there."
When he was first ordained, part of the Mass was still in Latin, particularly the Eucharistic prayer. Since Father Griffin studied in Belgium, and was ordained a month later, he replaced a priest who had also been ordained in Europe. He said while he married many couples until he retired in 2008, he does not have records of all of them. "One of the things I regret is not keeping my own book," Father Griffin mused.
"I don't even want to guess - even the baptisms and funerals. Who knows? But this is highly unusual for a priest, celebrating the 50th anniversary of his first wedding. I've never heard of it. It was interesting that the days of the week fell on the same dates this year as they did 50 years ago."